Sudan’s Religious Affairs Minister to Asharq Al-Awsat: No ISIS Elements In Sudan, But Extremists

Sudan’s Minister of Religious Affairs and Endowments, Nasreddine Mufreh (Asharq Al-Awsat).
Sudan’s Minister of Religious Affairs and Endowments, Nasreddine Mufreh (Asharq Al-Awsat).

Sudan’s Religious Affairs Minister to Asharq Al-Awsat: No ISIS Elements In Sudan, But Extremists

Sudan’s Minister of Religious Affairs and Endowments, Nasreddine Mufreh (Asharq Al-Awsat).
Sudan’s Minister of Religious Affairs and Endowments, Nasreddine Mufreh (Asharq Al-Awsat).

Sudan’s Minister of Religious Affairs and Endowments, Nasreddine Mufreh, denied the existence of an ISIS entity in Sudan, but pointed to the presence of many extremists spawned by the former regime.

“The whole world knows that ISIS is an international organization, and there are groups in a number of countries… But in Sudan we do not have a founding organization of ISIS and we can say there are individuals. I do not have a specific number for them,” he said during an email interview with Asharq Al-Awsat.

“We are not aware of the presence of ISIS at the moment, but there are some religious sermons in which extremism is emerging,” he added, stressing that his country would face all attempts to undermine the freedoms of the Sudanese components.

He emphasized that his ministry would work on combating extremism and takfiri ideas, fighting terrorism and renewing school curricula to produce rational students who would benefit their community.

“The Sudanese Islamic Movement project has been defeated in political and community life thanks to the glorious revolution,” he said, noting that a number of Islamist movement cadres were now trying to exploit mosques to promote their ideas.

“We will besiege these mosques with a serious discourse calling for moderation and the fight against extremism,” Mufreh announced.

The minister stressed that one of the tasks of his ministry and the transitional government was to strengthen the role of the youth and “employ the creative spirit in them, and enable them… to build the national project.”

He added: “We will empower women in society and maximize their religious rights… and will work to strengthen their role in building social peace.”

The minister said that he sent invitations to the Sudanese Jews, who were forced to leave their country, to return to Sudan and participate in its reconstruction.

“In a particular era from 1880 to 1969, there was a socio-economic bloc representing the Jews,” Mufreh said.

“These Jews were part of the features of society and merged into it. They worked in commerce, economics and the civil service and were highly educated,” he remarked.

He added that this group of Jews faced great pressure, especially during the era of former President Jaafar Nimeiri from 1969-1985.

“Within the framework of a new civil state and in light of this glorious revolution that has asserted that citizenship is the basis of rights and duties… I have invited all Sudanese abroad, including Jews, who have the nationality of this country, to return to live in Sudan,” Mufreh stated.

The Minister of Religious Affairs and Endowments considered that Christians in Sudan cannot be described as a minority.

“They are Sudanese and their religion is heavenly with its values and beliefs,” he noted.

Mufreh said that Christians faced persecution and very bad practices during the previous regime, adding that property stolen from Sudanese Christians during that era would be returned to its people through the Judiciary.

Christians and all people of other faiths and religions are free to practice their rituals, he concluded.

Fakhri Karim: I Conveyed Talabani’s Advice to Assad on Terrorists

Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Fakhri Karim: I Conveyed Talabani’s Advice to Assad on Terrorists

Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The late Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, excelled at delivering messages subtly. In private meetings, he spoke more freely than in public statements or interviews. His chief advisor, Fakhri Karim, often joined these discussions.

Luncheons were lavish, showing Talabani's respect for different opinions, though he rarely followed doctors’ advice.

Talabani believed that Iranian leaders were smart and hoped they wouldn’t try to control Baghdad from Tehran, citing the failed attempt to manage Beirut from Damascus.

He noted that Iraq’s independent spirit makes it hard for the country to follow the US, Iran, or Türkiye. Talabani also admitted giving refuge to 80 Iraqi officers who had fought against Iran, after they were targeted by certain groups.

Talabani praised Syria’s late President Hafez al-Assad for his invaluable support, providing accommodation and passports.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Karim revealed he had warned President Bashar al-Assad, on behalf of Talabani, that militants allowed into Iraq to fight US forces might later turn against Syria.

This, Karim noted, did happen.

After the Israeli invasion of Beirut in 1982, Karim relocated to Damascus. There, he expanded his Al-Mada organization, focusing on publishing, translation, and organizing book fairs, alongside his political activities.

This allowed him to build relationships with top civilian and military officials.

In 2000, after Bashar al-Assad came to power, he met with Karim.

“I felt Assad was eager to listen, especially given my connections with many intellectuals,” recalled Karim.

“I told him dissenting voices exist but are mostly positive. You talk about modernization and renewal; this is a chance for some openness, even in elections,” Karim said he told Assad.

“Do you think anyone could really compete with you, given your position as the Baath Party's leader with all its resources?” Karim questioned.

Karim then discussed the situation of Syrian Kurds with Assad, noting that many lack identification papers, even basic travel documents. He also mentioned seeing historic Kurdish areas in the Khabur region with their names changed to Arabic, which causes sensitivities.

“I am not satisfied with this situation. Rest assured, this issue is on my agenda, and you will hear positive news about it,” Karim cited Assad as saying at the time.

In a later meeting, after the change in Iraq, Karim met Assad several times.

On one occasion, Karim recalls conveying Talabani’s greetings and concerns about armed fighters moving into Iraq and the dangers this posed to both Iraq and possibly Syria.

“We have deployed large forces to secure the borders, but what can we do? There are tribes and smugglers,” Assad complained about the situation.

“I told President Assad that as Fakhri Karim, I couldn’t share with the Americans what I know. I assured him that terrorists enter Iraq from a specific location I’m familiar with, not from all borders,” Karim recounted to Asharq Al-Awsat.

“I also noted that Syria tightly controls its airspace, shooting down any foreign aircraft,” he added.

Assad then responded to Karim and said: “We’re prepared, let us know what we can do.”

In reality, Damascus was worried because there were reports suggesting that Syria’s Baath regime could be the next target for the US army at its borders. Additionally, Damascus was concerned about the sectarian divisions—Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish—in dealing with Iraq and the potential impact on Syria.

Repairing Kurdish Relations

Karim has spent years working on repairing the relationship between Kurdish leaders Talabani and Masoud Barzani.

This history began with the split that gave rise to the ‘Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’ from the ‘Kurdistan Democratic Party.’

Despite bloody conflicts and external meddling, Karim believes Kurdish leaders unify in the face of danger to their people and region, a pattern he expects to continue.

Karim believes that the Kurdish leadership, symbolized by Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, made a big mistake at the beginning by focusing only on regional issues, ignoring Baghdad’s affairs.

He thinks they should have aimed for a federal democratic system that respects citizenship rights.

Karim pointed out that without a unified Iraq, the region’s rights would be uncertain. He also criticized the Shiite-Kurdish alliance, which he sees as odd.

Additionally, he mentioned mistakes in failing to unify regional institutions and increasing corruption, with party interests often trumping competence in appointments.

Asked about the personal bond between Talabani and Barzani, Karim said: “Both have moved past their tough history, but they haven’t done enough for the future.”

“I want to highlight an act by Barzani that shows his character. When Talabani was sick, Barzani made it clear to anyone thinking of harming Talabani or his family that there would be consequences,” he revealed.

“This isn’t hearsay, it’s firsthand,” affirmed Karim.

“Barzani also refused to discuss the presidency or a successor during Talabani’s illness. I personally organized a gathering for Talabani’s family, where Barzani reassured them, ‘I’m here for you, I’m family.’ His words moved everyone, showing a strong emotional connection,” he added.

When asked about Barzani’s character, Karim said: “He's been a long-time friend, and our relationship has been politically aligned and personally warm from the start.”

“I see him as a loyal friend, and he's shown that loyalty on multiple occasions. He’s smart, decisive, and listens carefully, often changing his mind after thorough consideration,” he noted.

“Once Barzani commits to something, he finds it hard to go back on his word. There was a moment during negotiations with Saddam Hussein when he stood firm despite my advice to reconsider,” recalled Karim.

Regarding the aftermath of the independence referendum, Karim believes that the negative turn in the political landscape began during Nouri al-Maliki’s tenure.

Al-Maliki’s attempts to shift alliances and his refusal to compromise exacerbated tensions.

The referendum itself wasn’t the problem; rather, it was exploited by some to punish the Kurdistan Region.

However, Karim emphasized that holding referendums is a citizen’s right, and the purpose of the Kurdistan referendum was to affirm this right, not to declare independence.