Last month, Sudan was roiled by a backlash of anti-austerity demonstrations. A media blackout was imposed after the seat of governance Khartoum became the bull’s-eye of the target for irate citizenry. I made an appointment to sit down with a man who lives in my area, a Sudanese who is well acquainted with the political climate in Khartoum.
Mohamed Elhassan was nominated as the presidential candidate for the National Reform Party in April 2010 to make a run against President Omar al-Bashir. On October 25, I spent several hours with M Elhassan to learn a bit more about the country of his birth. He was born in a small village along the White Nile, but he belongs to the largest tribe in Sudan. He resides in the US but he retains many religio-political alliances in the land of native soil. We discussed his perceptions of the US. He spoke of his interface with Terry Jones during the time when a Qur’an burning was the news of the day. He shared regarding his dry run for the presidency and his future political aspirations. This column represents a synopsis of our convivial time together. When the intellectual palate is graced with a shared plate of delicacies and a carafe of Sudanese coffee, it is time well spent. My gratitude is extended to Mohamed Elhassan for the gift of time.
Question: Sudan received its independence in 1956. Since that time, the nation has experienced little more than a decade of relative peace. What are the primary contributing factors to the continuous unrest? What is lacking in the political landscape?
Answer: When we achieved our independence in 1956 we inherited a very strong country from the British. They left us with democratic traditions. In 1958 we had our first military coup. In 1964, the people rose up and we experienced a season of democracy until 1969, when another military coup successfully installed Jaafar an Nimeiri as president...Essentially, the continued unrest is due to military interference in the democratic process. The military kill people for their thoughts. There is no freedom of expression.
Question: What does Sudan have to offer in terms of a viable contribution to the world stage? As you sit across from me, tell me why I should care about Sudan?
Answer: I lived free in Sudan for many years. The majority of the people are generous, humble, nice and very open-minded. Sudan used to be a melting pot. We were a melting pot long before the US existed. Nobody would ask your religion. These things did not matter. If you came as a visitor to a home, an animal would be slaughtered and cooked for you. We lived together in peace. A majority of the people comes from a Sufi background. We are Sufi descendants. My own grandfather was a student of one of the greatest Sufi masters in the Sudan. We are part of the Qadiri order of Sufi. So we are peaceable. Overall, the Sudanese are very humble people.
Sudan has the Nile, which has the sweetest water in the world, and 23 rivers and resources like gold and oil. But today the Sudanese are ruled by this: one man, one idea, one plan. There is a lack of democratic principles. With free elections and democracy, Sudan has much to offer.
Journalist’ education note: Silsila is the term used for a chain of command that denotes who a student mentored with, and who his teacher mentored with, all the way back to a Sufi master of note. Some of these spiritual lineage chains date back to prior centuries. I was offered the opportunity to study with a Naqshbandi Sufi master several years ago.
Question: The US lists Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism and US firms have been banned from doing business in Sudan since 1997. Do you believe that state-sponsored terrorism is a very real problem for Sudan? Is Sudan a place for terrorists to harbour or is it merely a transit corridor?
Answer: State-sponsored terrorism is a big problem. There are the training camps, the barracks for jihadists, bomb factories, etc. There has been a lot of this type of activity since the current president took office. The Sudanese passport is despised because of this.
Question: You were nominated as the presidential candidate for the National Reform Party with very little notice. What issues complicated your presidential aspirations?
Answer: I received the news of my nomination while performing Hajj. After accepting the nomination of the National Reform Party, President al-Bashir sent men into the mosques with bribes. There were also members of the National Reform Party who accepted bribes. There was no real democratic process in the election.
Question: It is possible that you are more well known here for your defence of the Qur’an when Terry Jones put the Qur’an on trial for “crimes against humanity”. You have your detractors. So why did you choose to involve yourself directly in this event? In essence, you functioned as the defence attorney.
Answer: As a Sufi, I have a different understanding of the Qur’an. Our understanding of the Qur’an is softer than that of many people. We lean more heavily on the text revealed in Mecca than the Madani text. We do not read the text in the same manner as those who want to engage jihad.
Question: Do you intend to run again as a candidate for the presidency and if so, what do you have to offer the Sudanese voters?
Answer: I will begin the process again in 2014 under the banner of a Democratic Reform Party. I will take the good people from the National Reform Party, the ones who stood with me. I live in the US. Sudanese study in the US, mix it with what we have and want to give it back to our people The Sudanese people are in hunger and pain. I want to be involved in alleviating these situations.
The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at email@example.com