Say What?

All this talk about Albashir’s latest speech is annoying. We have turned into a culture that spends a remarkable amount of time and effort making fun of things, and technology has turned into a mere means of spreading idiocy and jokes. We’ve always made fun of things because I find that that’s one of the best ways to make life easier, but really, this is getting too much. Anyway, this is not a rant about the nation’s behavior, but simply a closer look at the poorly-worded speech that was delivered in such an interesting time and fashion.
I have noted several times that an obvious change is happening, albeit not as dramatic and as fast as we would like, and definitely not out of any change of heart (in a good way) of the government, but more as a last-leg-of-the-race scramble to fix what can be fixed now that the poop has hit the fan and everyone's gotten splattered with it. Tuesday evening’s speech was an example of just that. I’m not an analyst, and do not claim to have understood the entire 45 minute talk delivered; after all, it was badly written, with ridiculous and irrelevant words and phrasing, and poorly delivered. The general opinion is that this was not what was planned to be delivered in the first place, and it was obvious that Albashir was not familiar with most of what was on the 200 pages or so he was reading from. Anyway, at some point during the speech I somehow got the idea that this surprise everyone was talking about was going to be an announcement of cease-fire and general amnesty all over the country, especially in the Blue Nile and Nuba mountains. Actually, I don’t really know where this idea of a surprise came from; but it was obviously overplayed and highly exaggerated, leading to the anticipation of some kind of miracle delivered on-air to the nation. Personally I think it was someone’s stupid idea of a joke, and everyone fell for it. Anyway, what gave me that impression was what Albashir kept repeating throughout his speech: peace, and the Sudanese identity. For those of us familiar with Albashir’s way of speaking (which means everyone), we notice right away that this doesn’t look much like what we’re used to hearing. Throughout these 24 years of the ‘Islamic’ reign, we have always been hearing a racial and religious thread of speech; it’s always about jihad and martyrdom, about crushing the enemy/rebels and ridding the nation of stray trouble makers. Albashir does not usually talk about a Sudanese identity that recognizes all tribes and races as equal, and more importantly: as entitled to their rights of a share in governance. Because after all, isn’t that what it’s about? A president doesn’t talk about a unified and equal national identity just to make sure that everyone is represented in a children’s school play. And for someone who has always spoken with outright bigotry and falsely in the name of Islam about the nation’s enemies, this is a first.
The second notable thing was the audience. It looked like a group photo of a cross-section of the nation’s history. Everyone was there: and by everyone I mean everyone. Not a single political or religious party was absent. I’m not talking about Alsadig Almahdi and the communists: I’m talking about Hassan Alturabi. My second impression upon seeing that man sitting in the front row looking as snug as a bug in a rug, was that he and Albashir were making up and getting back together. Alturabi has never been seen attending a meeting since he fell out with the NCP in 1999, and has since been harassed incessantly by them and thrown in jail or put under house arrest every now and then, all the time delivering his polite yet poisonous opinions to the world in general. What in God’s name was he doing there? And he was sitting next to Gazi Salaheldin, also a (recently) banished member of the NCP. Despite being one of the oldest and most popular members of the party, Salaheldin and a group of friends (including his wife), announced their reform intentions and renounced the party’s violent treatment and stubborn attitude towards the people late last year, and were eventually kicked out. He was also sitting in the front row, with a look of what bordered on disgust on his face. The mere presence of these people and dozens others was a sign of something. Even if not explicitly mentioned or clarified in the speech, it was obvious that Albashir was reaching out to make some kind of a deal. With whom and on what grounds? We can only assume, and really, the options aren’t that many or that difficult to predict. Whatever it was, it had to be serious and genuine enough to convince these people to accept the president’s (and his party’s) invitation. Throughout the duration of the speech, these people maintained a poker face and it looked like they were waiting for some kind of surprise as well. However, I think they already knew what was going to be said. I doubt they would have showed up without some kind of briefing.
Also among the attendees were the latest subtractions from the government: Nafi3 and Ali Osman Taha. The former looked as irritatingly comfortable as always. The latter, however, looked terrible. Rumours of an illness, probably cancer, have been circulating, and I don’t know what it is for sure, but he looked really sick. I actually felt sorry for him. These 2 and others were recently relieved from their high-ranking positions (voluntarily) in the government and the move came as sort of a surprise: after all, those removed were always the ugly and most hated face of the party, and had especially come under fire in the recent few years during the revolts. Even inside the party they were by no means favourites. Removing them from the government was a big and questionable move: I myself thought it was just a sham to shut people up, and that they would either be brought back after the 2015 elections (or whenever), or would be operating behind the scenes some way or another. On the other hand, such a public move was sure to loosen their tongues and spark the fire of revenge, and probably even push them over to the enemy’s side. And there were so many enemies to choose from! 24 years with a government of death and destruction would definitely have enough secrets and strongholds to be of use. However, no such delicious drama was delivered. All relieved members emptied their desks and quietly went home. Was it loyalty to the party and the cause? Because we know there is probably no party in the world more loyal to their own than the Muslim Brotherhood. Or was it the more likely fact that they were just as responsible for the atrocities as anyone else? Or, was it the fact that they simply had nowhere to go? People close to the NCP believe that such a bold move of removing these people could not have been done without neutralizing any possible harm they could do. Including making peace with the enemy. Which would explain Alturabi among the guests of honour at the president’s most important speech in a long time.
There are many explanations and I’m sure people with more experience in these things will have something more to deliver. However, we can’t ignore the facts: things are changing. The cracks in the regime are becoming more obvious now, but who’s side is winning is still a question. The NCP is under pressure from both the inside and outside, and calls for reform are not falling on deaf ears anymore. However, what’s also obvious is the deficiency and poor abilities of the regime, and they’re remarkable ability to bungle up even the most basic things. This speech was a prime example of that: 45 minutes of nonsense that was supposed to deliver an important message that would be clear, precise and to the point. The president was talking to the nation; this was not a closed meeting with chosen individuals. What little that could be deducted from it all was important and thought-provoking and concerned each and every individual in this country, and it should have been delivered in a much better manner. On the other hand, each and every individual in the country is far less concerned with the Sudanese identity (although we definitely can’t deny its importance) than they are concerned with healthcare that doesn’t kill people and push them into bankruptcy, and employment with salaries that are not less than what Ethiopean housemaids get, and oil prices that don’t double every 2 months and push up the price of everything else. They want education for their children and to live their lives with some dignity for a change. They want their own countrymen to stop bombing their homes and chasing them into caves, calling them slaves and animals. They want to see their tax money coming back to them instead of portrayed on the streets as fancy cars and competing monoliths of marble and steel. When I sit down in my living room and listen to Albashir talking to me on live TV, I want to hear a clear commitment and plan to end poverty and corruption and racism, and a promise for peace and prosperity. A promise that he keeps for a change. Is that so hard?
All this aside, we should keep one idea in mind: change is coming. But it’s not going to ride in on a pink pony with fireworks and cake. We have to work for it, instead of sitting around complaining about everything or wasting our time thinking up stupid jokes and memes. People need to come together, because the main advantage the regime has over us is their unity and our fragmentation, even though we outnumber them a million to one. And it’s not just about riots and slogans; it’s about killing the habits they instilled into our culture which are our greatest weakness: slacking off at work, always being late, dishonesty and lying, demanding payment for jobs half-done or not done at all. If we want this country to heal and rise, we need to start with ourselves.

And most important of all: don’t lose hope.


  1. Good post as always. I agree with most of what you said Reem. I would like to add one more thing. The speech touched on one thing that I have always lobbied for: Building a good society is a shared responsibility and the government not more than a partner in this effort. All sectors of the society have very key roles to play, that is: political parties, ngos, social activists and citizens alike.Will we take up that challenge seriously? Judging by the watsapp jokes and the facebook cartoons, I think not!


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