Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 3 February 2004

Eid Days in the Transition to Peace


By Mahgoub El-Tigani*

Feb 03, 2003 — Amidst prevailing non-Sudanese aspects of life in Bilad al-Gharb [the West], it was an exciting opportunity for many Sudanese nationals abroad to watch the Sudan T.V. programs during the Eid days. A-toab al-Sudani traditional fashion with no head scarves is having a slow come back, as it began to cover up the silver screen by many female participants, while southern women and children participated in the programs with colorful African dresses.

A few T.V. discussions and commentaries tend to reflect a gradual move to normality through the pleasant contributions by the democracy veteran artists Mohamed al-Amin and Mohamed Wardi, and a special surprise, the Lobbans of Rhode Island who decently reminded the audience with the lovely aspects of freedoms in Sudan decades ago when they had been actively researching, teaching, and sharing hundreds of colleagues, friends, and students the courteous styles of the Sudanese daily life in Burri, Tuti, Omdurman, and the other parts of al-Assima al-Muthalatha [the national capital] Khartoum.

The return of the Sudanist American scholars Carolyn-Fluehr Lobban and Richard Lobban, Jr., to Sudan for research might probably stage a most welcome return of researchers to the country. The Lobbans returned to Sudan after a decade `or more absence for obvious reasons: the Brotherhood’s iron-clad non-intellectual rule that made a complete shut down of Sudan scientific research and academic freedoms to grow to no avail the al-Mashru al-Hadari of Hassan al-Turabi false caliphate at expense of academic freedoms up to a complete destruction of the well-thought secular education of the country.

The Sudanist American scholars who published tens of scholarly articles on the Sudanese demographic, anthropological, political, and religious affairs besides distinguished works on Sudan, including Carolyn’s widely cited Islamic Law and Society in Sudan, their co-edited Historical Dictionary of Sudan, and Richard’s 2004 "Historical Dictionary of Ancient and Medieval Nubia" returned for research in Khartoum and the northern province despite zigzagging climates of peace for which Sudan Government must take full blame since it has unnecessarily delayed the Nevasha decisive talks on Abyie, escalated civil war in DarFur, and is elusively avoiding further necessary contacts with the NDA to activate the important role of the democratic opposition in peace negotiation and implementation.

As many listeners said, "these khawajat [Europeans] must have studied the Sudan past and present: they speak clear ideas about Sudanese life, what it was, what it became, and where it might go." The unchanged clarity and integrity of the Lobbans’ studies about Sudanese struggles for freedom since pre-historical times to the present day was compared to the performance of State media programmers: "The Brotherhood primitive media dictates that the State-owned media personnel are never free to seek the whole truth about the discussed issues. They had to beat around the bush all the time to extract certain facts from their free visitors, instead of asking to the point what the audience needs to know from them," noted many commentators.

Professor Carolyn, a writer and lecturer in Sudanese anthropology, recalled when she first came to Sudan in the early 1970s: "I was taught Islamic jurisprudence by the Shari’a Chief Justice, al-Sheikh al-Gizouli, whose lessons at his office in the judiciary helped me a great deal to appreciate the flexibility of Shari’a judicial circulars to meet changing conditions in Muslim family law. Judge Najwa Mohamed Farid was another friend whom I highly appreciate, being the first female judge ever appointed in Shari’a contemporary courts," explained Carolyn’s introduction to Islamic Law and Society in the Sudan.

For Professor Fluehr-Lobban, the Sudanese women were "strong and independent," as she practically felt having lived with them for long years throughout the 1970s in Omdurman and Khartoum. "Their status is quite different from what many westerns wrote or said about women of the East." An admirer of Sudanese women’s tendencies to act independently from men, Mrs. Lobban decided to adopt the Sudanese name of Mehairah bint ’Abboud, the daughter of a tribal chief who led the Shyqiya men to defend their homeland against the invading Egyptian-Turkish armies of Mohamed ’Ali Pasha in 1821. "I too called myself ’Abd al-Fadil al-Maz, a well-celebrated Sudanese leader who took arms to fight the British authorities in 1924," said Richard.

Much of the Eid Saeed T.V. material is about "happiness for peace is coming." However, the Sudan official media, as usual, is largely composed of big lies and incredible falsification: nothing is relayed about the disasters of the DarFur State-made escalated war or the appalling conditions of the women and children who, deprived of their peaceful life, spent the Eid days in the deadly Sahara with no food or shelter thousands of miles away from their homes that the government-supported Janjaweed militias and army troops unrelentingly brutalized all over the region.

Expectedly, the Eid programs were jammed with conservative jurisprudence about al-Hajj to Mecca and Medina. One complaint is the absence of any glimpse of ijtihad [scholarly thinking] from the media programs about these occasions, let alone the national events related to peace, foreign relations, transition to democracy, etc. One relevant issue could have been the escalated poverty of Sudanese families that were virtually unable to celebrate the Eid with killing lambs in accordance with the Ibrahimic tradition. Another public complaint goes to the lacking of comparative media programs to reflect in the Sudanese ways of celebrating comparable occasions to the Muslim majority traditions such as Christian Days and the other indigenous festivals that carry similar meanings for millions of the non-Muslim Sudanese as well.

Worst of all is the tendency of program coordinators to agglomerate first vice-president ’Ali Osman as "the Nation’s peace maker" to the extent of asking children this meaningless question: "who is greater than the other, ’Ali Osman or John Garang?!" Sudan media employees must understand that peace is not any individuals’ work or concern; it is top fundamental national issue with millions of actors struggling for it of whom great ones were extra-judicially killed or still are wounded and unattended.

Peace is objective, non-individualistic, and is comprehensive. Indeed, combined media committees, made of equal members of opposition and government, must take care of media programs in this transitional period to enhance the chances for the just peace and the optional unity.

One of the best shows in the Eid programs was children dances. For some reason, the children, however, were divided into separate south and north players! All sang and danced with no head scarves, which again is a good sign Sudanese, north or south, are gradually returning to their known styles and normal habits. Southerner children offered a delicious slide of African music and dance. Still, program coordinators continued to ask northern children whether they understood the southern songs without equally asking the southern counterparts what they thought about northern songs!

Who said southern children must have understood mechanically what northern children were saying or what their dances meant so that they would not be equally asked to comment about northern shows? Why superimpose northern literature or mode in a program aiming at peace between two culturally different entities?!

Apparently, a longstanding discriminatory assumption is there: northerner media specialists believe northerners (excluding DarFurians and Beja) are the ones to know what others have to do. Well! If the whole game is aimed to increase peace and unity through media programs, then radical change is required in the prevailing programs so that northerners have to know what others do before the others do what northerners need to know.

It is obvious much work is needed to sensitize Sudan media in the transition period to pay equal weight to South and North issues, politics, arts, sentiments, and the other religious, social and cultural concerns. Sincere, strong, principled, and thoughtful unity and peace programs must replace the amateur, primitive Brothers-pegged shows that ask children about nonsensical "greatness" of government peace negotiators for cheap political propaganda.

*Member of Sudanese Writers’ Union (in exile) and the president of Sudan Human Rights Organization Cairo-Branch.

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