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Saturday, 25 November 2017

Rashid Diab in London

While talking about democratisation in the Sudan the Undersecretary of our Foreign Ministry Ambassador  Abd Elgani ElNaiem told his Chatham House audience on 17th October about the new government of National Accord, about the tens of newspapers , political parties and civil society organisations that contribute to a vibrant political landscape Rashid Diab's visit to London ,which was organised by the Sudanese Embassy/media department proves that what he said is true..The process of democratisation is on course .The space for difference and controversy is widening. Indeed Dr Diab took part in the National Dialogue because he represented an independent  voice. He is neither an Islamist nor a politician. In, London he didn't speak on behalf of the embassy and chose to attend an event by the opposition Umma Party,to which the embassy was not invited. The audience who came to  listen to his presentation at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel on 31st October  were from different political affiliations who were interested in his art and in a non-political event. Most were fed up with the Sudan's media image as a country of conflict ,strife and emergencies.
They were overjoyed by the lifting of US sanctions and were looking forward to a new page based on continued democratisation that is not impeded by isolation. The challenge of democratisation was at the heart of a talk by Dr Salah Bander ,who expressed the views of many when he welcomed the distinguished  artist at the beginning. He went on to make the valid and well-documented observation about the stability of the Sudan ,despite the years of isolation and suffering. He quoted CIA assessments that the opposition is not in a position to overthrow the regime; but he contradicted himself when he questioned the process of change that is under way. He belittled the significance of the historic 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement .He also excessively praised Dr Maryam ElSadiq AlMahdi and her party overlooking  the fact that the Umma Party's Minister of culture Abdalla Mohamed Ahmed used his own walking cane to smash the art works at the Folklore theatre in Omdurman. Dr Bander also  disregarded the paradox that the Umma Party is allying itself with SPLM  which refused peace in 1986 when Imam Sadiq Almahdi was Prime Minister. One of the most insightful observations of Dr Bander was his realization that democracy in the UK didn't occur as a finished product overnight. It  passed through stages that included turmoil, conflict and fratricidal bloodshed. It is ,of course, still being pruned, improved and protected.
The "finished product" mindset which is prevalent among Sudanese diaspora opposition activists is relevant to Rashid Diab's  experience and my own interpretation of the role of intellectuals in society. When I was offered the job of Dean of the Institute of Music and Drama by the then Higher Education Minister, Mualana Dafaallah ElHaj Yousif (a leading moderate Islamist lawyer and poet) many of my students were appalled by my acceptance. I said to them: If Shakespeare decided to stop writing and performing until the ideal government he had in mind became a reality ,we wouldn't have his poems and plays today. Some of my former students who still believe in the "finished Product" chimera  have ended up wasting their energies and in some cases lives as irrelevant cultural appendages in Europe or USA , far  from the country and people  that need their talents most.
Before his return to the Sudan, Dr Diab knew that there would be power cuts, bureaucratic obstacles and animosity from some who don't think art is appropriate or relevant; but he returned and succeeded in making his Centre a bright spot in our capital. His success is undoubtedly sweeter because it was achieved despite the power cuts and bureaucracy. He secured support from Khartoum state ,an encouraging step that shows that bureaucracy is not always an obstacle. The person who supported him is a very religious man who also plays the lute(UUD).Before he established his Centre, artists were "orphans" ,seeking exhibition space at Goethe Institute ,the British Council or French cultural Centre. That's why the warm welcome he received in London is well-deserved. He is not an individual. He demonstrates the real change that is under way in a Sudan that is not perfect (which country is?) but is confidently moving in the right direction.