University withdraws honours for Al-Bashir regime members

The council of Sudan University of Science and Technology, one of the country’s largest public universities, has approved the withdrawal of honorary degrees awarded to four members of the regime of ousted Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir – including his former vice-president – and three senior members of his political party.

The withdrawal, announced on the university website on 20 February, was ostensibly motivated by “the lack of conformity” of the awards with university regulations.

The withdrawal affects honorary degrees awarded to Ali Othman Taha (former vice-president), Abdel Rahim Mohammed Hussein (former defence minister), Ahmed Muhammad Haroun (former assistant to the defence minister), Somaya Abu Kashawa (former higher education and scientific research minister), as well as three leaders of al-Bashir's political party, namely, Muhammad Sheikh Madani, Ali Omar Ibrahim Farah and Atiyat Mustafa Abdel Rahim.

Al-Bashir’s regime collapsed after a revolution which started in 2018 and led to his ouster on 11 April 2019.

Academic views

“In my opinion, this is the right decision and it is high time to remove all catastrophic decisions made by the old regime,” Ebaidalla Mahjoub Ebaidalla, associate professor of economics at the University of Khartoum, told University World News.

“It is corruption to award university degrees just for political affiliation. We need strong regulations to prevent politically-motivated decisions at education institutions.

“The old regime committed a number of crimes against the education system, which led to the deterioration of the level of educational institutions in the country,” Ebaidalla said.

Muntaser El Tayeb Ibrahim, professor at the Institute of Endemic Diseases of the University of Khartoum, said while he could not comment on the specific merits of the withdrawal, he was prepared to comment on the “shameless drive to bestow academic honours on non-deserving political figures”.

“Stopping such practices is part of the painstaking process of restoring academic traditions, cultures of transparency and combating cultures of nepotism and corruption,” Ibrahim said.

Others have expressed surprise at the move, considering that the recipients of the degrees have not been convicted of any crimes.

Political motives

“It is understandably uncommon for a higher learning institution to rescind an honorary degree awarded to public figures including politicians and activists,” said Gamal Gasim, Yemeni professor of political science and Middle East studies at the United States-based Grand Valley State University.

“In the United States, the board of trustees of Yale University agreed in 2018 to rescind the school’s honorary degree awarded to [comedian] Bill Cosby … following accusations of sexual assault and rape. But Yale’s decision is obviously built on sound high moral ground and not being influenced by specific political motives,” Gasim said.

“The recent decision … to rescind seven of its honorary degrees … appears a bit incongruous given the current political climate in Sudan … None of the recipients … were convicted of any crimes in the country.”

He said while this did not mean recipients such as Ali Othman Taha were not politically responsible for atrocities, the university would be better advised to await the outcome of a trial before taking a decision.

“Moreover, the school should have held itself accountable for awarding such degrees in the first place,” Gasim said.

Ibrahim Onour, a professor in the school of management studies at the University of Khartoum, said any decision to award an honorary degree should be based on university regulations governing such awards. If these have been violated, then “then definitely these degrees have to be withdrawn, otherwise, I don't see any point of denying the award,” Onour said.

Not an isolated incident

Samir Khalaf Abd-El-Aal, a science expert at the National Research Centre in Cairo, Egypt, told University World News the withdrawal of the degrees was not an isolated incident in the country.

In March 2011, the University of Khartoum revoked the 1996 honorary doctorate it awarded to Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi, apparently in response to his bloody acts against pro-democracy protesters, Abd-El-Aal said.

“The awarding and withdrawal of the degrees are strong evidence of politically-oriented decisions taken by universities which compromise their independence, undermine their academic reputation and devalue their degree status.”

He said it remains to be seen what the University of Juba in South Sudan will do about its award to Al-Bashir in October 2018 of an honorary doctorate in peace and diplomacy. Al-Bashir is already serving a two-year sentence for corruption and is wanted by the International Criminal Court.