"So Omar al-Bashir looked to his left, and to his right, and saw he had no way to bring people around to him except with Islam," says Adil Abdelghani, a legal expert in Khartoum, the capital. "[Bashir] forgot that all these years he called on people to die in the south for an Islamic state, a jihad," Mr. Abdelghani says. "Unfortunately, he started with Islam 23 years ago. And [for] all these years he says, 'We apply Islam; we are Islamic.' So what Islam does he mean now?"
For years in the 1990s, the government's war against the Christian and animist southern rebels was portrayed in Khartoum as a religious jihad, a holy war for God against infidels, with its martyrs venerated.
Soon after taking power, Bashir held a rally in Khartoum, where he held aloft a Quran and an AK-47 assault rifle – the proverbial "book and the sword" that has so defined his decades of rule.
"I vow here before you to purge from our ranks the renegades, the hirelings, enemies of the people and enemies of the armed forces," Bashir declared. "Anyone who betrays this nation does not deserve the honor of living...."
Soon after, a religious fatwa declared a jihad against southern Sudan. The war had been incited by "Zionists, crusaders, and arrogant persons," the fatwa read. It concluded that "those Muslims who deal with dissidents and rebels and raise doubts about the legality of jihad are hypocrites and dissenters and apostates for the Islamic religion."
Sharia (Islamic) laws were also made more sweeping, with maximum sentences including "death and crucifixion," the punishment for armed robbery, and execution by stoning for adultery – a sentence handed down twice in the last two months, though not likely to be carried out. Flogging is a more typical sentence these days.