CAIRO (AP) — Sudan announced Tuesday it closed the Iranian cultural center in the capital and other branches, saying the establishment violated its mandate and became a social and ideological threat to the largely Sunni country.
The official statement by Foreign Ministry spokesman Youssef al-Kordofani came a day after local media reported the Iranian center was shut in the capital, Khartoum.
Al-Kordofani said the Iranian cultural consular in Khartoum and the center's staff were given 72 hours to leave Sudan. He said the top Iranian diplomat in Khartoum was informed of the decision, which came after the government closely monitored activities of the Iranian center and its branches.
His statement, carried by Sudan's official news agency, suggests Sudan is concerned over the spread of Shiite Islam in the largely Sunni country.
"Lately, it was noticed that the center had violated its mandate and the activities it is allowed to carry out in a way that has become threatening to Sudan's social and ideological security," the agency quoted al-Kordofani as saying. "It became necessary to take action and close the center and its branches."
Shiite Iran has kept warm relations with the Sunni Islamist government of Sudan for years, including close military cooperation. Israel routinely accuses Iran of smuggling weapons to the Gaza Strip through Sudan.
It is not immediately clear what sparked Tuesday's announcement. But close relations with Tehran have strained Sudan's ties with Sunni Gulf countries, who are large investors in the cash-strapped African country. Gulf countries, particularly Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia, hosts large number of Sudanese workers, as well as opposition figures.
Conservative Sunni Sudanese groups welcomed the decision. A leading figure of a Sudan order of Sufi Islam, Abdel-Salam al-Kisanzani, said the closure of the Iranian center must be followed by other moves against Shiite places of worships and schools in Sudan.
"The closure is a positive step that should be supported," he said, according to the semi-official Sudan Media Center.