Does anyone have the vision to restore this complex country?by Jamal Mahjoub / March 4, 2019 / Leave a comment
Back in November it seemed that Sudan had, surprisingly, become a tourist destination. At the pyramids in Meroë, 120 miles northwest of the capital Khartoum, we found ourselves in the midst of a group of Spanish tourists yelling loudly to one another. When I first visited nearly 30 years ago, there was no road and no resthouses. Now the country’s crumbling heritage appears in danger of overexposure.
What you are unlikely to see are local visitors. The country’s pre-Islamic history has been largely ignored, partly because of the inaccessibility of the sites, but also as a result of the conservative brand of Islam that has dominated the country since the 1980s. This development was sealed with the arrival of President Omar al-Bashir—the object of growing protests in the capital and elsewhere, but still securely in position.
The 1989 Inqaz, or Revolution of National Salvation, marked the culmination of political repression in the country. Experiments in the 1960s and 1970s to find a form of government that reflected the diverse nature of Sudan were short-circuited by military interventions. Hardline Islam became the government’s weapon of choice. Thirty years on all the indications are that this has not resolved the country’s inequalities, but deepened them.
Traditionally, Sudanese Islam has always contained a strong element of syncretism, often incorporating elements of pre-Islamic beliefs. There is a long history of Sufism, still alive today, as witnessed by the preparations for the mawlid, the Prophet’s birthday, in the main square in Omdurman where the flags of the various tariqas, or schools, could be seen fluttering in the warm air.
Two popular uprisings have passed into legend. The first in October 1964 and the second in April 1985, terminating Jaafar Nimeiri’s presidency after his descent into paranoid superstition and brutal Islamism. Both gave rise to brief flourishes of democracy that were terminated by military coups.
The flood of people into the capital over the last three decades is a symptom of ongoing crises in the provinces. Khartoum today is a microcosm of the country’s ailments. The one thing the government has consistently invested in is the military industrial complex—not the army as such but a myriad of…