Southern Sudan’s nearly certain secession from the Arab-dominated north is likely to set a dangerous precedent in an Arab world looking increasingly fractured along sectarian and ethnic lines.

Southern Sudanese voted this month in a referendum on whether to break away from Africa’s largest country. Final results are expected within weeks but preliminary returns show more than 98 percent supported independence. The vote is part of a 2005 peace deal that ended 22 years of civil war between the Christian and animist south and the Muslim and Arabized north.

Already, there are growing secessionist sentiments, exclusive enclaves and intensifying calls for autonomy in some Arab nations such as Iraq and Yemen. In countries like Lebanon and Egypt, the fault lines are widening between ethnic and religious groups, threatening to split loyalties.

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