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    “Discovering Sudan: 5 Interesting Facts about the Country’s Coups, Pyramids, and Chewing Gum”

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    Sudan is a country in East Africa where there is currently fighting between the army and paramilitary forces led by rival generals. Sudan has a history of civil strife and coups. Here are five things to know about the country:

    – Same ruler for 30 years – Sudan was ruled for three decades by Omar al-Bashir, a career soldier who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Bashir seized power in a 1989 coup during the second of two civil wars fought by the mainly Muslim north against the mainly Christian and animist south after Sudan gained independence in 1956. Under Bashir, floggings were frequently meted out for crimes such as adultery and drinking alcohol. He signed a peace deal with the south in 2005 but was accused of widespread atrocities in the western Darfur region, where he deployed a brutal Arab militia in 2003, known as the Janjaweed, to suppress a rebellion by non-Arab rebels in a war that left hundreds of thousands dead. In 2019, Bashir was deposed by the army after a popular uprising triggered by the tripling of the price of bread. The military seized power again in 2021, led by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

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    – Split in two – Sudan endured two civil wars between its northern and southern regions, the first from 1955 to 1972 and the second from 1983 to 2005. Millions died in the conflicts. Under the terms of a 2005 peace deal, the Southerners were allowed to hold an independence referendum. In January 2011, 99 percent voted to secede and the independent state of South Sudan was born six months later. The split removed roughly a quarter of the territory of what had been Africa’s largest country. Sudan also lost most of its oil fields, which are situated in South Sudan.

    – Bin Laden links – The late leader of the Al-Qaeda terror network, Osama bin Laden lived in Sudan for five years in the 1990s, investing heavily in the local economy. But he was expelled in 1996 after the US piled pressure on Khartoum to expel suspected terrorists. Two years later, Al-Qaeda bombed US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing over 200 people. The US retaliated by bombing a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum. Washington claimed the plant was linked to chemical weapons, which Sudan vehemently denied. In 2020 Sudan was removed from a US blacklist of alleged state sponsors of terror in a quid pro quo with Washington for normalising relations with Israel.

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    – Gum power – Sudan is the world’s largest producer of gum arabic, a key ingredient used in everything from soft drinks to chewing gum and pharmaceuticals. The golden blobs of resin tapped from thorny acacia trees are one of Sudan’s main foreign currency earners. Their importance to the world economy earned them a special exemption from the US trade embargo imposed on Sudan during the three decades of Bashir’s rule. Meanwhile, the trees themselves are drought-resistant, helping Sudan, which is one of the countries worst affected by climate change, fight desertification.

    – More pyramids than Egypt – Sudan’s ancient civilizations built more pyramids than the Egyptians, but the ancient tombs of Meroe, about 220 kilometers (136 miles) north of Khartoum in the desert, remain largely unexplored. Meroe was the heartland of the Kush kingdom, which occupied Egypt for close to a century until the seventh century BC. Around 250 pyramids have been excavated at the UNESCO World Heritage Site since the 1960s. But unlike the grander Egyptian pyramids of Giza, they rarely receive visitors.

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