A new state is expected to be born this week in South Sudan, separating Sudan into two countries, provided three conditions are fulfilled with regard to the weeklong referendum that began today. One is that 50% take part in the referendum, 60% approve of secession and finally that the Arab Muslim North keeps its word and acquiesces to the division of Sudan between the North and South.
It is quite certain that the first two conditions will be fulfilled. The polling stations have been mobbed, with some people sleeping there the entire preceding night to make sure that they could vote early. Residents of South Sudan have returned from abroad or found ways of casting absentee ballots.
Several hundred illegal Sudanese infiltrators , far from worrying about being detained due to their status, actually demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Sunday in support of the south's separation.
The outcome is equally clear. The Christian and pagan South's revolt against the Arab Muslim North killed 2 million people between 1983 and 2005 when a peace treaty set the stage for this week's referendum. There is little love lost for the North that revived the slave trade and used genocidal practices in an attempt to subdue the South. The referendum is being monitored by diplomats as well as some celebrities such as US actor George Clooney.
In the Arab North, the tendency was to contrast "the joy of the West and the separatists" with "the deep sadness engulfing those who have carried the whole Sudan, with its north and south, in their hearts and chests". Other Khartoum dailies warn the South that it will regret the secession. Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir warned that the South was unprepared for independence, promised to respect the vote but threatened war if oil rich Abyei Province secedes and joins the south.
These warnings do not make much of an impression on the southern voters and it is expected that they will have their week of celebration. The victory however is tinged with question marks. Since the 2005 peace deal, the southern government-in-the-making has been able to tap oil revenues. This has gone for arms purchases, including tanks that represent a sort of heaven for the erstwhile guerrilla fighters who had to make do with rudimentary weaponry and understandably remain suspicious of the North and al-Bashir. Some of the money has also gone to build luxury houses for the political leadership headed by Salva Kiir Mayardit. This has fed fears that once in power, the independence movement may prove a disappointment. With the end of the north-south conflict, there is a risk that the south will fragment along tribal lines between the Nuer and Dinka (during the Civil War the North attempted to take advantage of this fault line with a divide-and-rule policy).
Diplomatically, at the outset Southern Sudan can be expected to be pro-Western. The United States, Britain and France supported efforts to bring al-Bashir before the International Criminal Court because of his complicity in the Darfur genocide. Russia, China, India and the Arab League supported al a-Bashir's attempts to avoid such pressures.
China and Russia have consistently opposed international efforts to bypass state sovereignty to tackle human rights violations; they also fear separatism in their own countries. Sudan, as a member of the Arab League receives the support of jits members, although some are wary that Bashir will make good on his promise to institute shaaria law fully in the north in case the south secedes.
It would be a mistake to rule out China as a player in the new country. China is heavily invested in the oil industry and in both the North and South. Ironically China's opportunistic policy of staying on the good side of the regime in power may prove attractive to the new leadership in the South, in case it becomes simply yet another dictatorship.