Inside Sudan: Political Islam, Conflict, and Catastrophe

Inside Sudan: Political Islam, Conflict, and Catastrophe

Inside Sudan: Political Islam, Conflict, and Catastrophe

Inside Sudan: Political Islam, Conflict, and Catastrophe


Sudan, governed by an Islamic fundamentalist dictatorship, has come into conflict with the United States and other countries not because of its religious orientation but because of its record of human rights abuses and support for terrorism. The country has captured the attention of many Americans, some of whom feel that something must be done to combat religious persecution throughout the world and others who are appalled that almost two million civilians have died as a consequence of Sudan's civil war. As the last American ambassador to complete an assignment based in Sudan, Donald Petterson provides unique insights into how it has become what it is today. The central focus of Inside Sudan is on Petterson's experiences dealing with a hostile government. Petterson tells of what occurred after Sudanese security forces executed four Sudanese employees of the US government in the southern city of Juba. He relates what happened to Americans in Khartoum after Washington put Sudan on the list state sponsors of terrorism. He describes what he saw on his many trips into war-devastated southern Sudan. These unique observations, and Petterson's account of his return to Sudan in late 1997 to look for openings to improve US-Sudan relations, provide a timely review of our relationship with a country increasingly regarded by Washington as beyond the pale.


The most impressive sight in Khartoum is the Nile. At flood in the summer, the Blue Nile (Bahr al-Azrak), swollen by rains in Ethiopia and dropping 6,000 feet from Lake Tana, comes pouring past Khartoum and collides with the White Nile (Bahr al-Abyad) at the northwestern reaches of the city. the force of the Blue Nile is so powerful that it impedes the flow of the White Nile and backs it up for miles as the two rivers commingle and flow north to the Mediterranean.

Since I was a boy, I have been fascinated by rivers because of their beauty and their place in human history--what they have done to and for the people near them and what the people alongside them have done to themselves. in my three years in Sudan, when I was in Khartoum, hardly a day went by when I did not either drive by the Nile, run on a street alongside it, or stand at its edge. Time and again I saw it from the air when I arrived at or departed from the city. Occasionally an airplane carrying me somewhere southward from Khartoum was in sight of it for mile after mile.

Often the sight of the Nile evoked thoughts about events it had witnessed over the centuries, events whose telling sometimes has been colored by the passions they inspired. the story of today's Sudan, a country govern ed by Islamists, at war with itself and at odds with many other countries, is not one that lends itself to detachment.

What I have written in the pages that follow is largely, but not completely, dispassionate; my likes and dislikes show through from time to time. I believe, though, that those feelings have not distorted the accuracy of my personal notes, communications to Washington from Khartoum, or letters I wrote--source materials for this book.

After the American ambassador and his deputy were assassinated in Khartoum in 1973, Sudan became an emotional word in the American Foreign Service. in 1991, when it appeared I might be assigned there, many in the service regarded Sudan as a place to be avoided. the possible physical dangers posed by terrorist organizations in Khartoum, along with a harsh climate and other factors, discouraged some people from serving there. Prospective ambassadors might well have been put off by the "mission impossible" label that had been attached to the . . .

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