'Come back to this country'

After ouster of longtime dictator, Sudan calls on Jewish emigres to return

New minister for religious affairs says country is ‘pluralistic in its thought’ and Jews can come back ‘through their right of citizenship and nationality’

Nasr-Eddin Mofarah, Sudan's new minister for religious affairs, speaks with Saudi broadcaster Al Arabiya on September 6, 2019. (Screen capture: MEMRI)
Nasr-Eddin Mofarah, Sudan's new minister for religious affairs, speaks with Saudi broadcaster Al Arabiya on September 6, 2019. (Screen capture: MEMRI)

Sudan’s new minister for religious affairs called on Jews who previously resided in the African country to return following the ouster of long-time leader Omar al-Bashir.

“Sudan is pluralistic in its thought, pluralistic in its culture, in its ideologies and Islamic religious sects, and even religions. There is Islam, Christianity, and a minority that follow the Jewish faith,” Nasr-Eddin Mofarah told Saudi broadcaster Al Arabiya in an interview on Friday.

“It is possible that they [the minority] have left the country and from here we would like to call on them through their right of citizenship and nationality to come back to this country because this country, Sudan, as long as there is a civilian government, the basis of nationality is rights and obligations,” he added.

Few Jews are believed to remain in Sudan, which at its peak had a Jewish community numbering some 1,000 people.

But the creation of Israel in 1948, and a series of Arab Israeli wars, made daily life uncomfortable for many Sudanese Jews. Anti-Israel protests erupted, and rhetoric at times became anti-Semitic, bringing on suspicion, hate and intimidation.

The nationalization of big businesses in the early 1970s added to doubts about their future. Feeling threatened and uncertain, most Sudanese Jews reluctantly decided to migrate to the United States, Britain, Switzerland or Israel, leaving their homes, shops, friends and wealth behind.

In this undated handout photo, provided by Tales of Jewish Sudan, partygoers pose for a photo at Habib Cohen’s (center) house, who regularly served as President of the Jewish community in Khartoum. Many Sudanese Jews had warm relations with their Sudanese Muslim and Christian neighbors and exchanged visits during social events and holidays. (courtesy of Vivien Gilliard, Tales of Jewish Sudan, via AP)

In an interview Friday with Sudania 24 TV, Sudanese writer Haidar Al-Mukashafi said the Jewish community and Sudan was “very old” and possibly dated back 1,000 years. He also said there is a rumor circulating in the city of Merowe that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in fact from Sudan, according to a translation of his remarks by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

“There is a rumor there that Benjamin Netanyahu was born and raised in Sudan. They say that he was born in the city of Nuri, in the northern state of Sudan, and that he was raised there. In any case, this is proof that there was a Jewish presence, at least in Merowe,” Mukashafi said.

As per the potential return of Sudanese Jews to the country, Mukashafi said they had little reason to come back.

“The country had rejected them,” he said. “They have no reason to return unless there are reforms in the country, and unless there are incentives for Sudanese Jews or non-Jews to return.”

In this 1950 handout photo, provided by Tales of Jewish Sudan, a Jewish wedding is held in Khartoum synagogue, Sudan. The center of Jewish religious life, the synagogue was established in 1926 in downtown Khartoum, replacing an older small one. The synagogue was sold in 1987 after most Sudanese Jews left the country and currently is a bank. (courtesy of Flore Eleini, Tales of Jewish Sudan, via AP)

The comments by Mofarah and Mukashafi came as Sudan transitions to civilian rule following nationwide protests that removed al-Bashir. The country’s first cabinet since the autocrat’s ouster was sworn in on Sunday.

The 18-members of cabinet led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, which includes four women, took their oaths at the presidential palace in Khartoum, an AFP correspondent reported. It is expected to steer the daily affairs of the country during a transition period of 39 months.

The line-up was formed after Sudan last month swore in a “sovereign council” — a joint civilian-military ruling body that aims to oversee the transition.

The sovereign council itself is the result of a power-sharing deal between the protesters and generals who had seized power after the army ousted Bashir in April.

Members of the Sudanese cabinet pose for a photograph, with new Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok (5th from left), after taking oath at the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum, on September 8, 2019. (Ebrahim Hamid/AFP)

Hamdok’s cabinet, which has the country’s first female foreign affairs minister, is expected to lead Sudan through formidable challenges that also include ending internal conflicts in three regions. The new cabinet will also be expected to fight corruption and dismantle the long-entrenched Islamist deep state created under Bashir.

Sudan’s ex-president Omar al-Bashir appears in court in the capital Khartoum on August 31, 2019, to face charges of illegal acquisition and use of foreign funds. (Ebrahim Hamid/AFP)

Bashir had seized power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989 and ruled Sudan with an iron fist for three decades until his ouster.

It was a worsening economic crisis that triggered the fall of Bashir, who is now on trial on charges of illegal acquisition and use of foreign funds.

The key challenge facing the new government is reviving the ailing economy.

According to doctors linked to the umbrella protest movement that led to Bashir’s fall, more than 250 people have been killed in protest-related violence since December. Of that at least 127 were killed in early June, during a brutal crackdown on a weeks-long protest sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum. Officials have given a lower death toll.

Under Bashir, long-hostile ties with Israel appeared to warm.

In January, Bashir said he was advised to normalize ties with Israel in a bid to help to stabilize the growing domestic unrest that threatened his iron-fisted rule of the country.

Israel has long been wary of Sudan, which was traditionally seen as close to Iran. However, in early 2017, Khartoum joined Sunni Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in severing its ties with the Islamic Republic.

The country has also appeared to make overtures toward Israel. Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour said in a 2016 interview that Sudan was open to the idea of normalizing ties with Israel in exchange for lifting US sanctions on Khartoum. According to Hebrew-language media reports at the time, Israeli diplomats tried to drum up support for Sudan in the international community, after it severed its ties to Tehran.

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