Sudan - South Sudan map
Sudan - South Sudan map

CAIRO - Sudan has closed all Iranian cultural centers in the country and expelled the cultural attaché and other diplomats, fearing they had become a threat to society, the foreign ministry said Tuesday.

The expulsions were linked to government concerns that Iranian officials were promoting their Shi'ite brand of Islam in the largely Sunni country, where many people follow the traditional Sufi tradition.

FILE - President Omar al-Bashir called for Sudanes
Sudan President Omar al-Bashir

The Iranian Cultural Center and its branches had exceeded their mandates and "become a threat to intellectual and social security," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The country, isolated by U.N. and Western sanctions partly linked to its conflict in Darfur, has sought allies and donors across the sectarian divides in the Middle East and farther afield. That has often left it balancing competing interests and loyalties in the complex web of regional rivalries.

Sudan President Omar al-Bashir came to power in 1989 in a bloodless coup backed by Sunni Islamists.

After a 2012 airstrike that Khartoum blamed on Israel, Sudan turned down an Iranian offer to set up air defenses on its Red Sea coast, fearing it would upset Tehran's regional rival, the Sunni superpower Saudi Arabia, Sudan's foreign minister said in May.

But Sudan has also received delegations from senior Iranian politicians.

Saudi Arabia, a key regional ally of the United States, has been locked in a contest with non-Arab Shi'ite power Iran for influence in the Middle East.

The rivalry has effectively divided the region into two camps, with countries allied with either Saudi Arabia or Iran.

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