Sudan is entering new territory and its future has never been so unpredictable. Most Sudanese consider South Sudan's independence something of a disaster for the future of this now shrunken nation. The loss of the oil revenue since the south obtained independence has sent the Sudanese economy on a sharp downward spiral and the cost of basic daily goods has skyrocketed.
While the conflict in Darfur has reduced in intensity (though it is still not over) the security situation elsewhere has taken a serious turn for the worse. There are near-constant fears of renewed war with South Sudan over the oil-rich flashpoint region of Abyei, which is claimed by both countries. Also, since 2011, there has been serious conflict (stemming from the fact that provisions laid out for them in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement have never fully been implemented) in the Nuba Mountains and other parts of South Kordofan as well as Blue Nile state. With outside observers banned from the area it's very hard to get a clear sense of what is happening, but many accounts speak of widespread aerial bombardment by Sudanese air-force planes and the specific targeting of civilians.
Add all these things together, throw in some Arab Spring inspiration and you get a recipe for disaster. Dissatisfaction with the al-Bashir government is growing by the day and street protests have taken place in Khartoum and a number of other major urban centres. Talk to people in the privacy of their own homes and many will say that the current government doesn't have long left to live. High youth unemployment is another major concern. Many young Sudanese, including university students, are devoid of perspective and seek to emigrate to Europe.
Many outside observers agree that the al-Bashir government is starting to loose control. But what will come next nobody knows. One thing that is likely, though, is that Sudan will look increasingly toward the Arab Gulf States and China for financial and political support while its new neighbour, South Sudan, will be more under the influence of East Africa and the West.
Sudan's 41 million people are divided into many ethnic groups. Some 70% of Sudan's population is of Arab descent; much of the remainder of the population consists of Arabized ethnic groups such as the Nubians of the northern Nile valley and the sword-wielding Beja of the east. There is a significant nomadic population concentrated largely in the west and east. About 97% of the population is Muslim (Sunnis, mostly), but there are populations of Coptic Christians throughout the country. The people of the Nuba Mountains practise a mixture of Islam, Christianity and shamanistic beliefs.
Northern and western Sudan are vast, desolate areas of desert that support little life, and Nubia in the northeast is semidesert. Except for a few mountain ranges, the country is largely flat. The Nuba Mountains are a surprising splash of green among the desert beiges, while the far south positively glows in green. Sudan was once crawling with animals big and small, but years of hunting and war have obliterated Sudan's wildlife and wildlife conservation remains way down the government's list of priorities.
It's not all bad news though, the swamps of the Sudd are rumoured to be home to hundreds of thousands of antelope, and Dinder National Park near the Ethiopian border is seeing a resurgence of governmental interest.
Marine life in the Red Sea is prolific and incredibly diverse. The reef system off the Sudanese coast is incredibly rich and healthy, with more than 300 species of coral and hundreds of tropical critters – not to mention pelagics, including sharks, manta rays and dolphins.