Arab Identity and Ideology in Sudan: The Politics of Language, Ethnicity, and Race

  • Created : 03.05.2017 00:23
  • Last Updated:03.05.2017 00:26
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The article examines development of Arab ident identity in Sudan and impact of Arabization policy from a historical perspective. The author inquires the development of Arab identity in three periods: colonial era, Anglo-Egyptian condominium, and post-colonial Sudan. She concludes that although Arabization has continued over decades and that Arabic has become the lingua franca of the country, it was not successful in transforming all modern day Sudanese accept the Arab identity.  

Sharkey argues that Arabization in Sudan occurred in two major ways. First, slaves coming from Ethiopia, Southern Sudan and western regions and their descendants incorporated into Arabic-speaking families. Second way of Arabization is through alliances between African tribes of the Darfur and Arab pastoralists like Baggara. Once African tribes gained large herds of cattle, they changed their communal affinity by changing to the way of life towards Arabic culture. Therefore, over years through intermarriages and common way of livelihood led to the Arabization of several African tribes. The author, however, notes that it is difficult to identify the exact moments of convergence from one linguistic or ethnic identity to the other.  

During colonial era, the British maintained local hierarchies and favored self-defined Arabs at the expense of everyone else. Britain deployed people who had education and political know-how to various parts of the country. Almost all of these educated people were Arabs. These Sudanese soldiers and officers assigned to the rural parts of Sudan helped Arabization of the remote areas. With the British rule, the name Sudan has begun to be an adjective for the name of the land, a name differentiating the colony from Egypt.  

Sharkey also emphasize that with the rise of nationalism and independence movements against the British, more people began to identify themselves as Sudanese. She argues that the educated Northern Sudanese, who were excited about assuming power from the British and becoming the rulers of the land, wanted to show that Sudanese are different from Egyptians and that Sudan is not as diverse as it is thought to be. During the decolonization era, Sudanese identity gained more strength although not consolidated.  

With the independence of the country, post-colonial administrations took steps to dismantle the colonial policies that kept the Southern Sudan distinct from the North. Sudanese governments wanted to spread Arab identity and the use of Arabic language to the Southern Sudan as well. But the rebel leaders in the South rejected the idea of single language for the whole country and called for declaring English as official language with Arabic. But the Southern Sudanese did not welcome the Arabization policy and imposition of Arabic at the expense of vernaculars. As a result, the civil war between the North and the South took an ethnic dimension over years.