September 1, 2014 (KHARTOUM) – Sudanese authorities on Monday ordered the closure of Iranian cultural centre in the capital Khartoum, and other states, Sudan Tribune has learnt.
- Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir (L) and the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khamenei, in Tehran on 26 June 2011 (FARS)
The Iranian cultural attaché and the staff at the Khartoum centre were also asked to leave the country within 72 hours.
The government has not issued any official explanation for the abrupt move but the foreign ministry today summoned the Iranian charge d’affaires and informed him of the decision.
Some press reports have suggested that the Sudanese government’s decision was motivated by warnings made by religious circles as well as the media about the spread of Shiite ideology among Sudanese youth after the intensification of activities by the office of the Iranian cultural attaché in Khartoum.
A radical jihadist group under the name of “Hamza Group for Preaching and Jihad” issued a statement last month threatening the former managing director of Kenana Sugar Company Mohamed el-Mardi Tijani and religious cleric al-Nayel Abu-Guroon after accusing them of promoting the Shiite sect.
Egyptian media figure Ahmad al-Maslamani stirred a controversy last month after talking on his show about the spread of Shiite ideology in Sudan through the Iranian embassy in Khartoum, adding that the number of Shiite followers in the Sunni dominated country reached 12,000 people mostly from university students who attend weekly workshops held by the cultural attaché of Iran.
Al-Maslamani argued that Sudan is moving in the way of danger as a result, because the spread of Shiite ideology in Sudan creates an internal discord.
He played a YouTube video of a Kuwaiti Shiite cleric by the name of Yasser Al-Habib speaking about how Shiite in Sudan are persecuted and called for a revolt against president Omer Hassan al-Bashir.
GESTURE TO ARAB GULF STATES?
The move contrasts sharply with warm political ties between Khartoum and Tehran which has angered Arab Gulf states particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and led to strained relations with them.
Over the past few years there have been mounting signs of deterioration in relations between Khartoum and Riyadh.
Last year, Saudi Arabia closed its airspace to the plane carrying the Sudanese president on his way to Tehran where he was scheduled to attend the inauguration ceremony of president-elect Hassan Rouhani, thus forcing him and his delegation to return home.
Observers speculated that Sudan’s growing ties with Iran could have irked the Saudis, prompting them to block Bashir’s flight.
Saudi authorities emphasised that Khartoum did not obtain prior clearance for the flight, but Sudanese officials insist that they have followed all required procedures.
Sudan has regularly allowed Iranian warships to dock in Port Sudan across Saudi Arabia drawing concern by the United States and its allies in the Gulf.
The Saudi pro-government Al-Riyadh newspaper blasted Khartoum over the Iranian warships, questioning the logic behind the relationship between the two countries in a heavily critical editorial published last year titled “The fall of masks between Iran and Sudan”.
“Bashir’s government resorting to a state that is in political and security odds with most Arab countries has no logical justification,” the newspaper said.
The editorial accused the Sudanese government of “conducting naive policy”, saying it had turned the country, despite its enormous potential, into a marginalised nation that is unable to attract Arab or foreign investors.
In May, Sudanese foreign minister Ali Karti reiterated that Sudan’s ties with Iran are normal and not special with public cooperation in known military aspects.
“This is not true, our relationship with Iran is very normal and below the level [you would expect] between two Muslim nations and particularly that Iran stood much with Sudan in all international forums and defended it a lot,” he told London-based al-Hayat newspaper.
“But there is a minor need for Sudan in light of the security challenges facing the country , and we have said this over and over that Sudan benefits from its relationship with Iran in a limited way in the field of maintenance of some of the weapons produced by some Sudanese factories,” Karti added.
He criticised local media and even the Sudanese army for overstating the issue of docking of Iranian warships in Port Sudan which appeared to concern these countries.