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Sudanese in Iowa City react country’s possible split

BY AUDREY SMITH | JANUARY 24, 2011 7:10 AM

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University of Iowa student Aisha Elshafie came to the United States from the Sudanese region of Jazeera in 2004. There, most of her family is imprisoned for refusing to support the government.

Like Elshafie, many Sudanese refugees have suffered oppression from the nation’s current government. The situation — steeped in ethnic and religious conflict — has led to a referendum calling for the country to split. And as North and South Sudan prepare to become separate nations, Sudanese living in Iowa City have mixed opinions about the divide.

Grace Nyoma, a UI student of clinical laboratory science from Juba, the capital of South Sudan, favors secession.

“Let’s try to be on our own and try to build ourselves and see how we are going to make it,” she said. “We want to try to be on our own.”

But Imaedeen Hamed, a UI student in the School of Social Work, originally from North Sudan, described the referendum as a bitter resolution to a decades-long conflict, and he expressed pain over the inevitable results.



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“My feelings [about the referendum] are really ambivalent,” said Hamed, a native of Khartoum. “The whole is my country.”

According to the Associated Press, more than 98 percent of voters in and around Juba have voted for secession.

Because of the large numbers of southern Sudanese refugees living abroad, poll stations were set up in numerous countries, including eight in the United States.

UI freshman Shayma Elsheikh said that while the people of Sudan differ in their opinions of the referendum, most agree the existing government is in need of a change.

“The central issue [in the country] is corruption and racism,” she said.

The Sudanese government has imposed Islamic code on both the predominately Muslim North and the Christian and animist South, one of the many reasons the South has voted overwhelmingly in favor of secession.

People of the North also oppose the actions of the government, especially its imposition of Sharia law, the Islamic code that includes the requirement for women to cover their bodies.

“Citizens have to have equal rights,” Hamed said. “You can’t impose Sharia laws on me when I am not a Muslim.”

But many wonder whether the referendum will cause Sudan to experience a return to civil warfare instead of granting peace.

“It all depends on what the Sudanese government does,” said Lyombe Eko, a UI journalism associate professor and former member of the African Broadcasting Union. “If the government does not respect the referendum, then the war will start again.”

But while some see the referendum as a temporary solution at best, others such as Nyoma express hope.

“It’s time for us to start even though it’s starting from zero, starting from the beginning, as long as we know we can impose our own rules,” she said.


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