Declaring that the Clinton administration has "refused to deal with the moral, religious, and human-rights crisis in Sudan," Hudson Institute fellow Michael Horowitz left his think tank confines Feb. 1 and got himself arrested in front of the State Department. The 61-year-old scholar and former Reagan aide has been at the forefront of what has been a largely rhetorical debate, with Christian groups and human-rights advocates on one side, and the Clinton administration alongside investors in Sudan on the other. At stake: how to treat an entrenched Muslim regime that controls the largest land mass in Africa, holds recently discovered oil reserves, and wages war against its Christian population.
Mr. Horowitz told WORLD that he confided his plans to the State Department in advance. So when he trespassed at the main entrance, a Sudan desk officer met him and offered Mr. Horowitz a meeting on the spot with Susan Rice, assistant secretary of state for African affairs. Not good enough, Mr. Horowitz replied.
"I said at this point this issue needs to be dealt with at the level of the secretary [of state] and the president." That being out of the question, Mr. Horowitz was asked to leave the restricted premises of the Foggy Bottom complex, first by the chief of building security, then by D.C. police, who were summoned to the scene. When he refused, he was arrested for trespassing and disobeying an officer. He was held in handcuffs until his release over three hours later.
What has activists on Sudan heated enough to break the law? They say the executive branch just won't pay attention. Sudan's war of attrition continues, with Muslim fighters from the regime, based in the north, bombing and pillaging Christian villages in the south. Military forces backed by the Islamic government in Khartoum, the capital, have been fighting rebel groups also in the south since 1983, when Islamic rule became the law of the land. Casualties from the war are believed to number over 2 million. Activists say this is ethnic cleansing, and on a scale too large not to show up on the Clinton foreign-policy radar. Frustration peaked this year after Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated publicly that a campaign against Sudan "is not marketable to the American people."
Her remarks came in spite of the determination of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which said action against Sudan should be its first order of business. Commission members met with President Clinton and his aides last October to urge the president to use existing executive power to impose economic sanctions. The panel also called on the president and Ms. Albright to speak out against Sudan's persecution of Christians.
The administration has made no move toward public-policy statements or sanctions. Instead, it bolstered imports for soft-drink manufacturers by allowing them to continue to purchase gum arabic from Sudan. (Sources for gum arabic exist elsewhere in Africa, particularly in U.S.-friendly Chad.) The Clinton team also ignored a Dec. 9 letter appealing to the president to end a U.S. food-distribution policy that allows the Khartoum government to block U.S.-financed food aid from entering the southern, Christian-dominated areas of Sudan. It, like other parts of the country, has been plagued by war-induced famine.
Mr. Horowitz told WORLD there has been no reply to that letter. "The time for polite protest has passed," he said. "I now believe that standard processes of political discourse will no longer alter the administration's policies towards the Khartoum regime."
Security insiders agree with that statement. As ethnic fighting and humanitarian tragedies go, Sudan is "not a blip on the radar screen," according to Earl Tilford, director of research at the U.S. Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute. "What they are doing to Christians does not seem to meet a strategic concern, and the military is not looking for any new missions."
The campaign is moving forward even without administration cooperation. Organizers who want to isolate the Islamic regime met the day after Mr. Horowitz's arrest to plot further acts of civil disobedience. Members of the coalition include respected human-rights groups, like Freedom House and the Institute on Religion and Democracy; African-American church leaders, like Chuck Singleton, pastor of the 10,000-member Loveland Church in Los Angeles; evangelical leaders like Prison Fellowship head Chuck Colson; Catholic and Episcopal advocacy groups; and a bipartisan collection of House and Senate lawmakers.
They hope to launch a new phase of activism by mid-March, one that will feature stepped-up, grass-roots activities across the board and more arrests. Mr. Singleton said he would follow the example of Mr. Horowitz in protesting to the point of handcuffs.
Organizers see themselves imitating the successful protest campaign 15 years ago against South Africa and its apartheid policies. Then, student demonstrators led by liberal activists and Democrats in Congress turned up the volume with arrests outside the South African Embassy in Washington. Although then-President Ronald Reagan opposed sanctions, former Reaganites like Mr. Horowitz now say they were the catalytic remedy.
The activists are buoyed by some recent success. Since the end of last year, major U.S. pension funds have divested their stock in Talisman Energy, a publicly traded Canadian oil firm with a 25 percent stake in a new Sudan pipeline project. Human-rights organizations charge that foreign oil investment will finance continued government attacks on Christians and other abuses. As a result, Talisman stock has plummeted. Major funds pulling their investment include the Texas Teachers' Retirement Fund; TIAA-CREF, the world's largest fund; CALPERS, California's retirement fund; and the New Jersey state teachers' pension fund.
Talisman also is running into trouble at home, with Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy threatening sanctions against Talisman. Last week he delayed the release of a report into Talisman's Sudan activities until a decision on how to deal with the energy firm's activities could be reached. Canadian sanctions would add sanctions pressure to the Clinton administration.
Sudan's rebels and Christian leaders are not waiting on the Clinton administration. The dominant rebel group in the south, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), announced early this month an alliance with the South Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM). The SSLM pledged to work with the SPLA for both self-determination in the south and religious pluralism, which is prohibited under the current Islamic regime. Wal Duany, SSLM's chairman, is a prominent evangelical Christian leader.
Meanwhile, Sudan's Islamic leadership is consolidating power behind President Omar el-Bashir, a fundamentalist cleric who was once regarded as a figurehead for political strongman Hassan Turabi. Mr. Turabi was parliamentary speaker and the head of security forces until he was deposed by Mr. Bashir last Dec. 12. Analysts say Mr. Bashir will likely move Sudan away from its isolation within Africa and will court foreign oil investors, but he shows no signs of ending the regime's war on Christians.
Mr. Horowitz staged his civil disobedience on the eve of the annual National Prayer Breakfast because, he said, "I thought it was terribly important when Christian leaders were gathering with the president that they not be silent about the slaughter of fellow Christians. It is not consistent with Christian witness."
And what would Mr. Horowitz, who is Jewish, know about Christian witness? For over five years now, while many U.S. Christians have been silent, he has fought persecution of Christians in other countries. He contends that Christians are the Jews of the 21st century, the "canaries in the coal mine"-their treatment suggests whether others will be oppressed. "I have spent a lifetime trying to make things happen through planting a letter, congressional hearings, meetings, committees-all how the political process works," he said. In the case of Sudan, however, he believes it is important to take persuasion to a new level. "If some stuffed-shirt lawyer like me can do it, others can do it, too."