Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Suad Ibrahim Ahmed: “I am fighting”

Death robbed me of another ‘teacher’ this Sunday. Suad Ibrahim Ahmed, a veteran Sudanese communist, passed away in a Khartoum hospital in the early hours of 29 December at the age of 78. Born into a family of prestige and wealth, Suad chose the perilous path of the counter-effendi the moment she awoke to political consciousness as one of a few female students in Khartoum University in the late 1950s. Her father, Ibrahim Ahmed, was a distinguished politician of the Umma Party of a liberal mould and minister of finance in Abdalla Khalil’s cabinet. The daughter was raised in the shell of Khartoum’s grand and great, one she broke out of with the tool of mind. 
Suad Ibrahim Ahmed (1935 - 2013)
 photo credits Isam Hafeez
Talal Afifi, the man behind the Sudan Film Factory, introduced me to Suad. We visited her in her Khartoum (2) house, a history book by itself, for a video interview as part of a project to document the experiences of those distinguished Sudanese communists who lived through the 1971 purges and came out alive. Talal chose the title “We survived” for the series but it never saw completion, partially because of the stubborn resistance of many to speak about events they felt were still very much contemporary. It was in Suad’s house that the last meeting between the commanding officer of the 1971 communist coup Hashim al-Atta and the party chief Abd al-Khalig Mahjoub took place. Both men did not survive. Hashim was executed by firing squad in al-Shajara military base south of Khartoum and Abd al-Khalig died on the gallows of Cooper Prison in Khartoum North. Suad did survive, one of four women elected to the thirty three members Central Committee in the Communist Party’s historic 1967 general convention, next to Mahasin Abd al-Aal, Naima Babiker al-Rayah and Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim. I asked her how she landed in the communist bosom considering her background and education. She answered in the sharp tones of a militant: ‘The Origin of the Family’ referring to Engels’ book ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’. For many a feminist in Sudan, Suad was the woman to look up to, assertive, defiant and incorrigibly political. Alas, many of her admirers in recent years overlooked her politics in favour of her symbol. 
In her study, Suad had a desktop PC that she commanded with fingers severely disfigured by rheumatoid arthritis, one of several diseases she had to suffer in her later years. She was persistently in pain but brushed off sympathetic questions about her health with the answer: “I am fighting,” and a fighter she was. She was fired from government service in the statistics bureau in the early 1960s for opposing the flooding of Halfa and the eviction of its residents to make way for the construction of the Higher Dam in Egypt. The government of Ibrahim Abboud probably regretted the move, since it prompted Suad to become a full time journalist for the ‘The Voice of Women’, the surgically subversive publication of the Sudanese Women Union at the time. A Nubian herself, Suad continued to champion the cause of her people in the face of dams and displacement till her last breath, a legacy that won her the name “Mother of the Nubians”. 
Unlike many fellow Sudanese communists, Suad had the indispensable skill of making and managing money judiciously, capacities that she possibly acquired from her father, and also her husband, the late Hamid al-Ansari, one of a handful of Sudanese businessmen who associated with the Communist Party and probably funded it in its heydays. Hamid is remembered for his brave refusal to testify against Abd al-Khalig Mahjoub in the military tribunals set up by the revenge-thirsty Nimeiry following the defeat of the 1971 coup as bullets burst through the bodies of the accused officers within hearing distance. Suad spent money on the causes she believed in, a lot of it. She set up a centre to teach threatened Nubian languages in Cairo in the 1990s and continued to support initiatives and individuals in Sudan whenever need arose. Suad the Nubian will be missed by many; others will miss the feminist; some the communist. I will miss that invincible spirit, the emaciated white-haired woman seated in her study, her twisted swollen aching fingers defiantly tipping messages of solidarity letter by letter, each typo requiring excruciatingly painful repetition.

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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.