Last Friday, 21 January, a young Sudanese man stood out of the crowd emerging from the Friday prayers in Omdurman’s busy marketplace, al-Suq al-Shaabi, and set himself ablaze, presumably following the example of the Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi. On Monday, 24 January, al-Amin Musa, passed away on a hospital bed in Khartoum surrounded by nervous security officers. In contradistinction to Tunisia, where Bouazizi’s act evolved into an inspiration for political change Khartoum remained aloof. Musa’s death was registered in reserved if not indifferent phrasing on the inner pages on some daily newspapers in the Sudanese capital, and that was that!
The official version robbed Musa of consciousness and suggested that the young man was intoxicated with alcohol at his moment of despair. Just a few days before Musa’s act the state-sponsored Muslim clerical association in Sudan, officially the highest religious authority in the country, issued a fatwa dated 18 January prohibiting suicide in the pursuit of the expression of opinion, knowing that Islam prohibits suicide anyway. According to the clerical authority the fatwa was a response to queries from the public asking for the religious judgement on Bouazizi’s self-sacrifice.
One is tempted to caricature the u’lema (religious scholars) on state pensions, judging by their history of convenient proclamations. During Numayri’s phase of infantile socialism the same institution declared the enemies of Numayri enemies of Islam, and Numayri’s ‘socialist’ revolution the embodiment of Muslim faith. My favourite I must admit is the Bashir fatwa from late March 2009, two weeks or so after the International Criminal Court (ICC) had issued an arrest warrant for the President on 4 March 2009. In a statement closer to a petition than an authoritative religious opinion the association of u’lema addressed the Sudanese head of state asking him to stay at home and decline travel to the Arab summit in Doha, lest the ICC and its allies snap him from the sky. “We believe that many a factor have converged as to imply the prohibition of your travel for this mission, which another can shoulder. You do know that the enemies connive against you, your country, and your faith”, spoke the u’lema to Bashir. The President nevertheless travelled to Doha, and came back to a hero’s reception in Khartoum. The u’lema’s proscription was styled to invite public violation, and therefore highlight Bashir’s bravado rather than condemn it.
In the ideological matrix of today’s Sudan Musa’s gesture is more likely to fade in translation. Neither Sadiq the negotiator nor Turabi the prisoner or even Nugud the observer are ready to pick it up. Class for the time being is a denied category in Sudan’s affairs, and Musa a martyr without a cause.