Sudanese commentators are bewildered at the decision of the NISS to ban al-Intibaha from publication till further notice, bearing in mind the implicit official approval it enjoyed over the past years of the interim period. al-Intibaha’s generally racist argument for secession of the South, coming from a Northern platform, captured the fatigued imagination of riverain chauvinism, and echoed the siege mentality of a now decadent NCP elite. Most supporters of al-Tayeb Mustafa’s opinions, owner of the paper and lead columnist, occupy the NCP Newfoundland of state patronage. To them a go-back to Sudanese party politics, Umma and DUP, would mean an end to their careers and state-sponsored prestige, foreigners as they are to the machinations of the, once upon a time, ruling families and networks. Similarly a forward to a governance system that includes junubiyeen (Southerners) and gharaba (Westerners) would threaten their hold on power and dilute their influence in a sea of the ‘marginalised’. As such they can only claim a defensive ideology aggressively opposed to re-structuring of the state.
The ban of the paper nevertheless posits Khartoum’s liberal opposition with a dilemma: In form they feel committed to the notion of free speech, freedom for all. Already the Sudanese Journalists Network, a loose association of like minded anti-NCP journalists has voiced a demand to lift censorship and reverse the ban on papers, foremost al-Intibaha, the closure of which a statement by the network described as a “pronounced violation of all rights and laws”. In content the same journalists have persistently demanded the control of al-Intibaha’s racist outpourings. Some of them actually got involved in lengthy tit for tat verbal confrontations with al-Tayeb Mustafa. Now they are caught up in the paradoxical trap of defending al-Intibaha’s freedom on the basis of liberal equality, al-Intibaha ambiguously in the position of victim from within.
Such a situation is only penetrable through a qualifying stance, freedom for whom? And to do what? The question of banning or releasing al-Intibaha is a wrong one, since it invites wrong options. al-Intibaha is on no account a victim of state oppression. It is the voice of the oppressor rebranding for redemption. A similar escape from ideological defeat has been granted Turabi and Co on the grounds of partnership in the opposition à la ‘an enemy of my enemy is my friend’. Instead of defending al-Intibaha’s false freedom, the demand should be the judicial prosecution of the paper and its party, the Just Peace Forum, on constitutional grounds in a process that pulls in the NCP power bloc that funded and supported al-Intibaha till it exhausted its purposes. Instead of offering al-Intibaha the recognition of a victim and the attire of a freedom fighter, the duty is to discredit the paper’s ideology, dismantle the organisation around it, and to expose the hypocrisy of its ban.