Friday, September 30, 2011

The Hidden War Against Female Journalists in Sudan

Amal Habbani, one of Sudan's leading female journalists, has 12 years of experience and a master's degree, but she can't find a job.

"I remember that day very well. I went to work on the 9th of March and I was told that I was suspended for being an activist," said Habbani.

"No newspaper wants to hire a trouble-maker," she told me in a cafeteria near the Northern Khartoum Court, where we were supposed to attend the trial of Fatima Ghazzali, a journalist facing charges of defamation for writing about Safia Ishaq, a young activist who was arrested and subjected to gang-rape by the security forces in February after participating in a protest.

Habbani is a familiar face in every protest for freedom of speech and women's rights. Her writings and activism have caused Sudan's state security to file a number of charges against her.

Although at least 10 journalists were charged for writing about Safia Ishaq, only Habbani and Ghazzali went to jail for it.

Ghazzali was sentenced after refusing to pay a 2,000 SDG ($650) fine for "publishing lies." A few weeks later, Habbani refused to pay the same amount and chose a month-long sentence instead.

Margot Wallström, the special representative of the UN’s Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, commented on the charges against the journalists by saying: “Rapists--not reporters--must face criminal charges in the Sudan.”

Women journalists in Sudan are not only tried under Sudan's controversial 2009 press laws, they are also subjected to the infamous public order laws.

The pubic order laws are carried out by special forces called "the public order police" and their main aim is to fight social corruption and uphold moral values in Sudan.

In the beginning of 2011, I attended a meeting organized by No to Women Oppression, a group that fights against the public order laws. A few minutes into the meeting, we realized that as women, we are more scared of the public order laws than men.

We concluded that the laws target female students and professional women: journalists, activists and even lawyers, and that they specifically affect the full participation of women in the public space.

"I'm constantly harassed when I'm trying to get information for articles I'm writing, but I can't report it," said Amina*, a journalist in her early 20s, who did not want me to use her real name.

Amina is mainly scared of ending up like Lubna Hussein, a journalist who was arrested by the public order police in 2009 for "indecent clothing."

"Lubna Hussein was an active journalist who wrote a controversial column. They just had to create a case against her," said Amina.

The sentence for "indecent clothing" is getting lashed.

Habbani is battling a case against her by the public order police for writing an article in support of Lubna Hussein. She's being sued for 10 million Sudanese pounds ($3.5 million).

Published @

Published @Blogher network

Monday, September 26, 2011


I've been feeling really depressed lately. I came across an opinion piece about Sudan a few weeks ago and it talked about how Sudan needs good "PR" and I kept thinking ..Sudan does not need PR, it needs CPR.

I can not live in the Khartoum state bubble and isolate myself from other states, Sudan's endless periphery. The isolation doesn't make sense anymore.
I sometimes write about Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and it feels so distant to me. I tell my friends, " How long can you contain a conflict? I'm waiting for it to reach us.."

"It is only a matter of years , then we have to say, we are from Khartoum state," joked a friend of mine.

We were only joking when we spent 20 minutes talking about the separation of Khartoum state on the way from Khartoum to Bahri a week ago.

"You might have to work at Ivory (a fast food place) since it is close to you and you need a permit to go to Khartoum," said my friend H to M. They both live in Bahri.

"Imagine if I need a visa to come see you M, you live ten minutes away," I said.

The jokes continue.

I think I have become really angry since the south separated. I'm so frustrated at Sudan, I sometimes find myself looking for jobs in Dubai.

Sudanese people need CPR. My mum said the nation has changed, we are zombies. Why are we silent about the ever-increasing prices?

I don't know.

I had to think twice the other day when I wanted to make salad. The tomatoes are so expensive now, I just couldn't be selfish. I used two tiny tomatoes, leaving the bigger ones for the rest of my family.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sudan: New Conflict Displaces Thousands

Published @

KHARTOUM, Sep 17, 2011 (IPS) - The Sudanese government says that a majority of the tens of thousands of people displaced by the fighting in the country’s Blue Nile state have started returning to the area. This is despite reports by local and international aid agencies that say people are still fleeing the region.

On Tuesday the United Nations estimated that over 100,000 people have been displaced by the fighting that began two weeks ago. On Sep. 1, Blue Nile became another conflict area in Sudan when fighting erupted between forces loyal to the north Sudan faction of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) – the ruling political party in South Sudan originally formed to oppose Sudan’s rule – and government’s Sudan Armed Forces.

The Sudanese Red Crescent Society estimated that 35,000 households have been affected since fighting began in Blue Nile at the beginning of September. The U.N.’s Refugee Agency reported that 16,000 refugees fled the area into Ethiopia.

But Magdi Abdulwahab, who is responsible for compiling reports on the Blue Nile for Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP), said that the state is stabilising and internally displaced persons are returning to safe regions in Blue Nile and neighbouring states. Blue Nile is one of Sudan’s 15 states. It borders South Sudan to its west and south, Ethiopia to its east and has a population of just over 800,000.

"Seventy percent of displaced persons in places like Sennar (a state bordering Blue Nile) and Senja, the capital of Sennar, are returning," he told IPS.

He said government had urged the IDPs to return for the harvest. "The government is asking people to return as this is the agricultural season and the livelihoods of most of the state's citizens are tied to agriculture and livestock," said Abdulwahab. He added he receives daily reports confirming that the situation in the state is calm.

Media reports have shown that most of the heavy fighting has occurred in Damazin, the capital of Blue Nile state, and Kurmuk, a SPLM-controlled town near the Ethiopian border.

But political anaylsts say that the conflict has been a long-time coming.

Even the former governor of Blue Nile, Malik Agar, who has since been fired by government, warned of the possible conflict in the area since June. He said it would occur if government and the SPLM failed to complete the remaining proposals of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which was signed between both parties to end the country’s 21-year civil war. A military representative, Commander Yahya Mohamed Kheir, has since replaced Agar as governor and a state of emergency was enforced in the state.

Government and the SPLM were supposed to resolve various issues, including those of oil revenues, border demarcation and military arrangements in the border areas of Abyei, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile before South Sudan's secession in July.

But by late July, the Sudanese government still had a heavy military presence in Blue Nile and Agar had called for a review of the CPA on this matter. (Agar is also the chairman of SPLM-North, a faction of the SPLM that is comprised of people from Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan.) The Sudanese government called for the dissolution of the SPLM-North’s army, but Agar wanted further guarantees about the future of his soldiers.

"Agar did not refuse dissolving the army in principal, he asked for a political arrangement to secure the soldier's future in the Sudanese army, or as civil servants, or as members in their communities," said Dr. Khalil Al-Madani, the Dean of the Faculty of Commerce, Economic and Social Studies at Nileen University in Khartoum. He is also the head of a team of experts working on the council involved in the popular consultations between Blue Nile state and Sudan’s government. This is a CPA-mandated process that allows both Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan to voice their opinions on political and administrative arrangements with the government and to even vote for autonomous rule.

"The war did not happen now, all the factors leading to war were present, but it ignited now," said Al- Madani.

Al-Madani added that matters were tense as far back as April 2010 when Agar had won the governorship of Blue Nile by popular vote and the Sudanese government had been reluctant to acknowledge his victory.

"Agar believed that the government would cheat him out of the governorship, their decision could have unleashed a war at the time. But when they announced his victory, they stopped (a possible) war in Blue Nile," explained Al-Madani.

Blue Nile is an important state in the desert-like Sudan. The area is rich in livestock and agricultural resources and until last year, Blue Nile was the source of most of Sudan's hydroelectric power through the Al Roseires Dam. But it is also very poor. "There are no services, no schools and no access to water even though it has a lot of resources," Al- Madani told IPS.

Before the conflict, Blue Nile state was in the final phase of the popular consultations, which would have led to a decision on whether the state would call for a referendum to cede from Sudan. The popular consultations were delayed and the council responsible for carrying out the popular consultations wanted Agar to extend the period for another six months.

"Agar refused the proposal because he was not consulted before a decision was made to extend the timeframe. The protocol of the popular consultation states that the process should be finished before the secession (of South Sudan)," said Al-Madani.

However, the council that oversees the popular consultation process is made up of NCP and SPLM members and since both parties clashed on the matter, there was no one to meditate.

"The security arrangements, the collapse of the Addis Ababa agreement (an agreement on settling the security and military disputes and engaging in a political partnership) and the popular consultations… they are all reasons for the conflict. But the mistrust and suspicion between Agar and the government is the main ignition for the war. Nobody believes anybody," said Al-Madani.

Mohamed (name has been changed), who has been working on a project to monitor the popular consultations in Blue Nile since August 2010, said that the conflict was partially predicted.

"When there is tension between parties that work together you can expect all kind of problems," he told IPS.

He added that going back to the popular consultations is the only way out of this crisis. However, Al-Madani added that Agar had been democratically elected to his post as governor and his firing on Sep. 2 was against the constitution. "Since Agar was elected by the state through a vote, he could only be disposed of by the state and this is according to the constitution," explained Al-Madani.

Meanwhile, government insists that the state is returning to normal. Abdulwahab stated in a phone interview that the only problematic area was Kurmuk, but that government had issued a call to the SPLM for peace in the state.

"The conflict will be resolved soon, through negotiations or the battlefield," he told IPS.

Al-Madani, who has spent long periods of time in Blue Nile, believes that negotiations are the only way out.

"There is war in Darfur, in Southern Kordofan and now in Blue Nile. There will possibly be a conflict in East Sudan. We have been facing the same problems for the past 22 years. The government needs to come up with a political resolution, 95 percent of internal wars in the 21st century were resolved politically," said Al-Madani.

On Sep. 12, the Sudanese parliament endorsed the extension of the state of emergency in Blue Nile and voted for the continuation of military action by the Sudanese army.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Review: Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela

Lyrics Alley

I have waited years, literally years, for this book.

I read Lyrics Alley in a single sitting. I was flying to Libya from Dubai in early February 2011. Other than the fact that it is written by one of my favorite authors, Leila Aboulela, and it is set in Sudan, my country let me tell you some background on how I managed to get my hands on the book.

I have waited years, literally years, for this book. I have read and re-read her other books and short stories; when I interviewed her over email for an English-daily newspaper in Khartoum last year, she told me: "to stay in touch so I can be one of the first to read Lyrics Alley".

The book came out in January 2011. My mother got sick and wanted to come see her doctor in Cairo so we arrived in Cairo on 26 January, two days before the first Friday of anger.
In my opinion, the book is centered on two themes. The first is the conflicting Sudanese vs. Egyptian identity which divides many characters.

We spent the next week barricaded inside our compound, glued to the television screen and using our scarce resources to support the young men who were taking shifts guarding the compound during the first days of Egypt revolution. Hoards of men sitting in chairs or standing with guns, knives and random kitchen utensils turned weapons. The United Nations deported us to Dubai a week later, it was a mandatory evacuation for UN families and my father was still working with the UN at the time.

I bought Lyrics Alley on the way to the plane to Libya at Dubai International Airport. It was the last money we had and I spent it on the over-priced hardcover book and Bidoun, an arts and culture magazine.

A World on Papers…

In the beginning of the book, we learn that the book is inspired by Hassan Awad Aboulela (1922-1962), a relative of the writer and one of Sudan's most imminent poets. The book tells the story of a well-rooted family in Omdurman, the Abuzeids who live on Al Morada Street where the former residence of the Aboulela family is situated and across the street from my present house.

In my opinion, the book is centered on two themes. The first is the conflicting Sudanese vs. Egyptian identity which divides many characters especially Mahmoud Abuzeid, who is married to Hajjah Waheeba, a traditionally Sudanese wife and Nabilah, the cosmopolitan younger Egyptian wife who disapproves of all things Sudanese.

This theme is reminiscent of the minaret which centers on a Sudanese woman and an Egyptian-Sudanese family, Aboulela's own ancestry feeds into this subject, her mother is Egyptian and her father is Sudanese.

She was born in Cairo but was raised in Khartoum. She is consistently torn between these two identities. In the book, the attitudes are similar to real-life attitudes, the Sudanese are suspicious of the Egyptians and the Egyptians look down upon the Sudanese as their less sophisticated neighbors.

Leila began writing fiction in 1992 and has published three books and a collection of short stories. She currently divides her time between Scotland and Qatar.

The other theme is the marriage of fiction with non-fiction. Fiction is intertwined with non-fiction for a person familiar with Sudanese history.

I kept noting the resemblance of the Abuzeid family to the Aboulela family; their residence in Omdurman, their involvement in business and their admiration for Victoria College in Alexandria, considered the Eton of the Middle East at the time.

Nur Abuzeid , the son of Mahmoud Abuzeid was paralyzed in an accident in the beach in Alexandria. Hassan Awad Aboulela's was also paralyzed in a similar tragic accident in Egypt. Both characters used poetry to escape their painful reality. They were well-educated and had a bright future ahead of them. An education at Victoria College followed by college at Cambridge or Oxford and a good job back home in Sudan.

On his accident, Hassan Aboulela wrote:

"In you Egypt are the causes of my injury. And in Sudan my burden and solace."- These words are from "Travel is the Cause," a song performed by Ahmed Al Mustafa, the pioneer of modern Sudanese music. Aboulela also wrote Rahmak ya Malak "Have Mercy, Angel", which Ahmed Al Mustafa performed with iconic Lebanese singer, Sabah in an Egyptian film.

“Travel is the Cause” was memorized by almost all of the Sudanese population at the time.

As much as Nur's accident shook the Abuzid household, life moved on.

I finished the book as we were landing in Libya. Two weeks later, we would get evacuated one more time as Libya's own revolution was underway.

I recommend Lyrics Alley not only because it is a powerful representation of Sudan's social and cultural history, but because I was reading it under duress and after I turned the last page, I felt an overwhelming peace of mind.

More About the Author:

Leila Aboulela was born in Cairo in 1964. She moved to Khartoum and was educated at the American school and then the University of Khartoum. She moved to Britain with her husband and studied Statistics at the London School of Economics.

Published @