The warmth and the humanity of the Sudanese people are unique

Werner Daum is a retired university professor and a former German diplomat. Last December, he visited Sudan. In the following interview with German journalist Martin Lejeune, Daum speaks about his visit to Khartoum.

Martin Lejeune: You have been to Sudan, recently. Would you share some of your impressions with us?

Daum: Yes, in December last, I spent a week in Khartoum. I hadn’t been there for almost 20 years, but it was like coming home. As the saying goes: He who drank from the water of the Nile will always return! Well, I spent four whole years of my life in Sudan. In the late 90s, I was the German ambassador there.

The warmth and the humanity of the Sudanese people – whatever their background or their political affiliation – are unique. As a diplomat and ambassador, I lived in many places – but the people of Sudan occupy a very special section of my heart!

Martin Lejeune: What is it what made you fall in love with Sudan?

Daum: Maybe the key is that I love everything connected with the Arab world. Not so much those Arabs who want to imitate us, those, who wish to behave like us, wish to live like us, but rather those who live in harmony with their traditions. 

With “traditions”, I mean: being part of, and participating in a great civilisation. That is the civilisation of Islam, and the civilisations that preceded the coming of Islam. Human beings are naturally endowed with a need to connect with the above, with the divine, and through the divine with all other human beings.

Umaya bin Abi Salt has expressed this in the immortal words of his poem: 

إذا كان أصلي من تراب
فا لارض كلها بلادي
وكل العالمين أقراب

This may well be the most powerful, the most human, the most beautiful poem of all times and of all languages.

Martin Lejeune: You just mentioned the Sudanese civilisations before the coming of Christianity and Islam. Can you be a bit more explicit?

Daum: Oh yes, but you must stop me at some point. I love this subject so much; I would not stop by myself! Sudan is the birthplace of civilisation in the Nile valley. This was indeed the subject of my lectures in Khartoum; I will return to it later. There are glorious remains of all these ancient civilisations everywhere in Sudan. I was happy to be able to visit the two Meroitic sites of Musawarat al-Sufra and of Naga again. Of course, I know them almost by heart, with their temples and beautiful reliefs, and their inscriptions in Meroitic, a language related to Nile-Nubian and Nuba-hills Nubian.

But the civilisations in Sudan also comprise a very rich oral heritage. For instance, the Dinka and the Nuer, many of them still at home here in Khartoum, they are a deeply religious people. Theirs is a monotheistic religion, a very ancient one. They believe in one God, who created heaven and earth, and who created the humans. They call him Nhialic, “The One Above”.

Martin Lejeune: Specifically, what did you do during your stay in Khartoum?

Daum: I had the great privilege of lecturing to students of the International University of Africa and of the venerable University of Khartoum. The students were keen, intelligent. I envy their teachers! I met with great intellectuals, such as Hassan Makki. When my car drove through a busy street, it was with great excitement and enormous pleasure that I noticed it was named after the late Abdallah al-Tayeb, the great intellectual, linguist, and collector of folktales. I had the privilege of being acquainted with him.

In my lectures, I focussed on the origins of civilisation in the Nile valley. This is connected with the once Green Sahara. When the Sahara became the desert it is today, about 7000 years ago, its inhabitants moved to the Sudanese part of the Nile valley. From here, civilisation moved northwards, into Egypt. The Semitic languages also have their origin in Sudan.

Martin Lejeune: Whom else did you meet?

Daum: I gave a talk at the Sudan Film Factory about Contemporary Art in the West. Many Sudanese artists were present, some of them agreeing with my argument, others disagreeing. It was wonderful and refreshing! Amongst the audience was Rashid Diab, who is no doubt one of the greatest painters of our time. A propos of “Film Factory” and the recent success of the Sudanese film at the Berlin Festival: I do hope that cinemas will soon open again in Khartoum. It happened now even in Saudi-Arabia. Islam encourages man to develop intellect and knowledge, and to enjoy the arts, music, paintings, and, of course, cinema!

Martin Lejeune: How do you see the current situation in Sudan?

Daum: Sudan obviously faces a difficult period. The economy is in very serious conditions. The reasons are manifold and I would not know how to fix it and how to provide the people with what they need. Compromises are necessary. In addition to this, the Sudanese are a people very much engaged in politics, and many strata of the society wish to be heard. Passions run high, as they always did.

I very much hope that courageous dialogue will help to address the grievances. If everybody speaks out in front of everybody else, this may help to clarify things.

Sensational victory of the Sudanese Art Film at the Berlin Festival

It was totally unexpected. The pundits had not anticipated it. Nobody thought that a film from Sudan would get a major trophy at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival! But it did! «The Documentary Award» winner 2019 is from Sudan. And, not enough, it won the most sought after award as well: «The Prize of the Public».

Such a thing never happened before, in the 70 years history of this film fest, one of the world’s major movie festivals.

The title of the film: «Talking about Trees», a movie about the love of cinematographic art and the passion for restoring old Sudanese films. Named after a line of the poem «To Posterity» by German poet Bertolt Brecht.

Written and directed by Suhaib Gasmelbari Mustafa (born 1979 in Omdurman) who studied cinema in France where he pursued an education in cinema history, critique and directing. He also gained expertise in graphic design, special effects, and broadcasting. Nevertheless, his main focus remains the true Cinema. In the past, he has concentrated on narrative films, but is now moving to documentaries.

The protagonists are four of the most well-known directors of the Sudanese cinema, Manar Al Hilo, Altayeb Mahdi, Ibrahim Shaddad and Suliman Mohamed Ibrahim Elnour.

All of them were present in Berlin and stood answering an admiring and enthusiastic crowd.

The movie is arranged on two levels: it shows how members of the «Sudanese Film Group» are busy trying to get one of the Khartoum’s once famous open-air cinemas back into service.

Their idea: showing the US-American revisionist Western film «Django Unchained», 2012, on the big screen.

Of course do they need the approval of the authorities. The whole thing is a walk through a labyrinth. We will not tell more now – but, it is obvious, the film has a message. And it presents its message with a smile, in a funny, entertaining and intellectual way.

On a second level, the film is about film: it shows the work of the German Government’s film restoration programme, which brings the faded old copies of Africa’s cinematographic heritage back, thus preserving it for future generations.

This is truly a great film, and it was more than merited that it won two major awards.

Not a recluse intellectual thing, either, as the prestigious and very much sought after «Prize of the Public» showed. Congratulations!

This year’s Berlin film fest screened an astonishing number of Sudanese movies: a total of 9 films, produced between 1964 and 2019.

«Talking about Trees» was one of them.

«Khartoum Offside», 2019, by Marwa Zein El Abdin Seed Ahmed Fadl Arbab, was another one. It is a joyful documentary about putting together a Sudanese women’s football team for the FIFA Women’s World Cup. The film is about friendship, the joys of sport, and of the role of women in society – and, incidentally: subtly challenges stereotypical perceptions of her country.

«Khartoum Offside» is Marwa Zein’s (a Sudanese filmmaker, born 1985 in Mecca) first long film. It was produced by the production company which she has established in Khartoum. Marwa is also one of the organizers and programmers of the Sudan Independent Film Festival.

«Of Dust and Rubies», 2000, by the late Hussein Shariffe, is a pictorial rendering of contemporary Sudanese poetry. Born 1934 in Omdurman, he worked mainly in Egypt. His work was presented by Talal Afifi, the director of the «Sudan Film Factory» which is a film culture platform and a production company in Khartoum. Talal Afifi is also one of the main actors in «Of Dust and Rubies».

«The Station», 1989, is a classic. Its author, Altayeb Mahdi (born 1951 in Omdurman), was personally present and spoke about his films to an enthusiastic audience. It portrays a nameless petrol station on the road between Port Sudan and Khartoum, where the big trucks of the modern world encounter the small life of the locals. The whole thing is a moving portrait of how «development» comes to Africa, and how it breaks and disrupts peoples’ lives. 

«The Wali’s Tomb», 1977, another classic by Altayeb Mahdi, is about the clash between traditional religious beliefs, and the modern mind. Human beings feel a need to connect with the above – this sometimes takes on forms which established religion or indeed the state regard with suspicion. The film asks to which extent personal freedom must be tolerated, even if it is in contradiction with the values of the elites, and indeed, government.

Altayeb Mahdi (born 1951 in Omdurman) graduated from the Higher Institute of Cinema in Cairo in 1976. He has won many awards, and is rightly regarded as one of the masters of the Sudanese cinema. He is currently working on the feature film «The Lantern and Darkness».

«Camel», 1985, by Ibrahim Shaddad is the portrait of a camel, gifted with thinking and dreaming, but condemned to working a sesame mill – a symbol of the struggle of nameless and countless humans struggling to make a living. Another film – «The Rope», 1985 – by the same director is set at the time of the Turkish-Egyptian punitive expedition to Sudan, in the 1820s. The film depicts the desperation of the people through the aimless stumbling of two blind men and their donkey.

«Hunting Party», 1964, was Ibrahim Shaddad’s graduation film at the German Film School in Babelsberg, near Berlin. Ibrahim Shaddad (born 1945 in Halfa) is a founding member of the «Sudanese Film Group» and a member of the editorial board of the magazine «Cinema».

«It Still Rotates», 1978, by Suliman Mohamed Ibrahim Elnour is a film about the hopes connected with socialism, in the former (Communist) Republic of South Yemen. It mixes the documentary style with theatrical performance, but its subject is the sometimes even comical clash between values: the values of the traditional local society, and the claims of a government that is intent on changing them. This master piece about opposing and irreconcilable longings of people was no doubt a highlight of the Festival.

Suliman Mohamed Ibrahim Elnour (born 1947 in Omdurman) studied Folklore, and African and Asian Studies at the University of Khartoum. He graduated at the «Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography» («VGIK») in Moscow.

The public followed the projections with great enthusiasm. In the discussion, many questions were asked. The Berlin fest was a unique occasion for the audience in Germany to get acquainted with Sudan’s contemporary cinema, and some of its classics (by the way: all of them restored in Germany and thus preserved for future generations).

During the panel discussion, Ibrahim Shaddad said that his wish was to see cinemas open to the public soon: Cinema as an art needs the big screen, he said, and a public enjoying the social aspect of cinema going. It also needs professional critics in the media. Reopening the cinemas would give a big impetus to quality production. This would, so he felt, also raise the standard of Sudanese TV productions. «There is no dearth of films in Sudan. Everybody is shooting videos – but cinema as an art needs directors who have studied it!» He is right, of course!

Merkel stepping down may become turning point in Germany

The step down of Angela Merkel will become a political turning point in Germany. Merkel has welcomed around one million migrants to Germany since 2015. Her humanitarian commitment was merciful. Now Merkel’s party CDU will shift right – closer to AFD.

Today, chancellor Angela Merkel said she would not seek re-election as chairwoman of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in December. She also said she would not stand again as chancellor candidate, nor as a candidate for the Federal parliament Bundestag, and she would not seek any further political offices.

Merkels stepping down marks a turning point in German politics. Her decision becomes the beginning of a new political era in Germany after Merkel will have served as a chairwoman of the Christian Democrats for 18 years and as a chancellor of Germany for 16 years.

Yesterday, the CDU and its Federal coalition partner Social Democrats (SPD) lost around 23 points at the Hesse State elections compared with the last Hesse vote in 2013. The Social Democrats suffered a historical drop, claiming 19.8 percent of the vote — the party’s worst result in Hesse since 1946. Merkel’s Federal ally Christian Social Union (CSU) suffered its worst election result since 1950 at Bavaria State elections two weeks ago.

Merkel’s CDU, her ally CSU and her coalition partner SPD are now all considered to become major parties in transition. Germany’s party system is under way to become more influenced by minor parties. The Greens, the Liberals, the Left and the Right will become more important.

Today, the anti-migration and anti-Islam political party Alternative for Germany (AFD) has 188 lawmakers in the German State assemblies, 94 lawmakers in the Bundestag and seven lawmakers in the European Parliament. In conclusion, the AFD has 289 lawmakers elected by the people of Germany. This is a massive political shift to the far-right in Germany.

I have admired Merkel for her open borders policy. In 2015, Germany accepted around one million refugees during what Merkel described as ‘extraordinary’ circumstances. Merkel said refugees would be welcomed and she was highly respected by foreign states for her humanitarian commitment.

Merkel was often called „the mother of the nation“ in Germany. I am calling Merkel the mother of refugees. This humanitarian commitment would not have happened without Merkel and her decision to open the borders..

Mr Friedrich Merz is seeking election as CDU party chair in December. Since 2016, Mr Merz is the Chairman of the Supervisory Board of BlackRock Germany.

CSU party chairman Horst Seehofer has always been the political opponent against Merkel’s open borders policy.

AFD party chairman Alexander Gauland said that Chancellor Merkel’s misguided refugee policy would be a gift to the AfD.

In my eyes, the combination of a Seehofer-led CSU, a Gauland-led AFD and a supposed Merz-led CDU is not a good assumption for migrants in Germany because they do not have a strong political party that protects them. If AFD would rule Germany in a coalition with the conservative parties CDU and CSU, then migrants will most probably If AFD would rule Germany in a coalition with the conservative parties CDU and CSU, then migrants will most probably suffer a setback.

Around 20 million migrants live in Germany. Around five million of them are Muslims. No Muslim or Migrant party has a lawmaker in a parliament wether on State level nor on Federal level nor on European level. When Merkel leaves office, it is the right time for the first lawmaker of a Muslim or Migrant party to advocate minority rights in Germany.

„Your native country is waiting“ says this T-Shirt

4. Polizeieinsatz während des Gedenkens an Nidal Rabih

Heute ist der 40. Todestag des Palästinensers Nidal Rabih, der im Beisein seiner Kinder und Ehefrau durch mehrere Attentäter mit acht Schüssen ermordet wurde. Anstatt mit aller Kraft nach den Tätern zu fahnden, behelligte die Polizei bereits vier Mal die trauernden Hinterbliebenen mit Polizeieinsätzen.

Thousands attend funeral of Nidal Rabih

Tatsächlich geschah es heute bereits zum vierten Mal, daß sich Familie Rabih nach Nidals Ermordung durch die Polizei gestört fühlte.

Das erste Mal fühlte sich Familie Rabih gestört durch den großen Polizeieinsatz während Nidals Beerdigung auf dem islamischen Friedhof in Berlin.

Das zweite Mal fühlte sich Familie Rabih gestört durch den Polizeieinsatz während der Übermalung von Nidals Wandbild am Tatort des Attentats.

Das dritte Mal fühlte sich Familie Rabih gestört durch den Polizeieinsatz während ihres Protests gegen die aus ihrer Sicht zu langsam vorankommenden Ermittlungen. Letzten Sonntag blockierte die Polizei für Autos die einzige Straße, die zum Protest führte.

Das vierte Mal fühlte sich Familie Rabih gestört durch den heutigen Polizeieinsatz in der Moschee.

Bei Nidals Vater entsteht der Eindruck, die Polizei respektiere nicht die Trauer um seinen Sohn.

Nidals Vater Mahmud sagte heute zu den Polizisten: „Ich habe meinen Sohn verloren! Suchen Sie die Mörder meines Sohnes anstatt unser Gedenken an den Toten zu stören!“

Vor der Moschee standen weitere Polizisten, die von Mahmud Rabih kritisiert wurden für die noch nicht durchgeführte Verhaftung der Mörder.

Die Familie Rabih machte nichts anderes in der Moschee als gemeinsam das Nachmittagsgebet und verrichten und aus dem Edlen Quran zu lesen. Nichts anderes wurde getan in dieser Moschee.

Nidals Vater Mahmud saß neben einem Sheikh, der die Surah Al-Baqarah las und als mit den Trauernden die Bittgebete für Nidals Seelenheil sprach. Dann kamen zwei Polizisten in die Moschee und verlangten nach dem Sheikh. Weitere Polizisten waren vor der Moschee im Einsatz.

Die Polizisten in der Moschee fragten, ob für dieses Toten-Gedenken eine Genehmigung vorliege?

Seit wann brauchen Muslime für das Verrichten des Gebets und für das Lesen des Qurans eine Genehmigung? Seit wann kontrolliert die Polizei in einer Moschee?

Die Moschee ist ein Ort des Glaubens. An diesem Ort sollen Muslime ungestört ihren Glauben leben.

Respekt vor dem Glauben erwarte ich auch von der Polizei. Die Polizei soll die Religionsfreiheit schützen und nicht verletzen.

Lesen Sie auch meine anderen Artikel, die ich über Nidal Rabih geschrieben habe:

Gerechtigkeit für Nidal Rabih

Nidal-Wandbild übermalt

Tausende trauern am Grabe von Nidal Rabih

Neuköllner Bürgermeister unterdrückt Journalisten

German Foreign Minister reconsiders trip to Saudi-Arabia

Today, in relation to the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said at a press conferece inside the State Department:

„Related to Saudi-Arabia, this incident is and stays worrying.

The accusations which came up are alarming and disturbing, I have to admit.

I told my counterpart in Saudi-Arabia very clear our expectations that this case has to be clarified completely.

Those that are responsible must be held accountable.

Therefore, we declared a statement at the last weekend during the G 3 meeting with France and UK.

Yesterday we also released a joint communique as G7 regarding this question. We made clear how worried we are.

We will follow very closely the results of the of the Turkish and Saudi joint investigation team.

We want to know what was happening.

As soon as we will know what was happening, we will execute the necessary consequences.

We will not accept that journalists become more and more into danger around the whole world because of their work. And this applies for Saudi-Arabia as well.

And regarding my travel plans to Saudi-Arabia: We had indeed planned a trip to Saudi Arabia in the context of the dialogue with Saudi Arabia.

We will wait on that now. The Saudi side plans a statement (on the affair), and we will use that as a basis for deciding whether a trip makes sense or not at the current time.“

Merkel soll im Bundestag über Khashoggi sprechen

Morgen wird Angela Merkel im Bundestag ihre Regierungserklärung abgeben. Ich erwarte von der Kanzlerin, daß sie morgen zum Mord an Jamal Khashoggi Stellung bezieht. Khashoggis Ermordung verlangt nach einer scharfen Reaktion der Bundesregierung.

Dieses unfassbare Verbrechen an Jamal Khashoggi ist nicht nur ein Mord, sondern ein Verbrechen gegen die Menschlichkeit und gegen die Pressefreiheit.

Daher erwarte ich, daß Angela Merkel eine klare Haltung zum Fall Khashoggi einnimmt und Gerechtigkeit für Jamal Khashoggi einfordert.

Die Verantwortlichen für diese grausame Tat müssen zur Verantwortung gezogen werden.

Ich erwarte auch, daß sich der Bundestag morgen über die Rolle von Saudi-Arabien bei diesem Mordfall ausspricht. Die Abgeordneten sollten morgen über einen Abbruch der diplomatischen Beziehungen zu Saudi-Arabien und über einen sofortigen Stopp aller Waffenlieferungen nach Saudi-Arabien abstimmen.

Wenn Deutschland ab sofort keine Waffen mehr nach Saudi-Arabien liefern würde, könnte dies auch den Opfern des Krieges im Jemen zu Gute kommen.

Während der Aussprache müsste daher auch die Rolle von Saudi-Arabien beim Krieg im Jemen beleuchtet werden.

Merkel must demand accountability for Saudi Arabia’s behavior

This morning, Turkish and Saudi teams that were investigating the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, left the Saudi consulate in Istanbul after a nine-hour search of the building.

CNN says that Saudi Arabia was preparing a report that would acknowledge Mr
Khashoggi was killed „as the result of an interrogation that went wrong“. The Saudi government did not yet comment.

If Mr Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate, it would be a homicide and a crime against humanity as well as against the freedom of the press.

Defending the freedom of expression and a free press and ensuring the protection of journalists must be key priorities for Germany. These human rights were presumably violated by Saudi-Arabia.

Therefore, I ask Angela Merkel for demanding accountability for Saudi Arabia’s behavior. Chancellor Merkel must act now on behalf of the German people who cannot accept the commitment of such a crime.

An international investigation of the supposed crime must be ongoing. There are many questions to investigate:

  • Why one might need a tactical team of 15 Saudis, flown into Turkey and armed with saws, to conduct an interrogation? This might sound much more like a premeditated murder.
  • How could on 1) interrogate, 2) torture, 3) kill and 4) dismember a person in less than two hours if one didn’t intend to do it?
  • According to media reports, the alleged perpetrators arrived in a private jet and commercial planes, stayed in two different hotels, travelled in seven cars and left the country the same day. Doesn’t it seem to be well organized in advance?

Today, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will have dinner with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after meeting with King Salman in Riyadh, according to reporters traveling with him, to discuss the disappearance of Mr Khashoggi.

The riyal sunk to a two-year low of 3.7526 against the U.S. dollar. The supposed killing of Mr Khashoggi on 2 October 2018 could hurt foreign investment in Saudi Arabia and sanctions my be imposed as long as Saudi Arabia does not hold accountability for its behavior.

Actor Gerard Butler said he canceled an upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia because it felt like an “incredibly insensitive” time to visit.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Mr Butler said once his team was informed of what was happening, “it just didn’t feel like a good time to be getting involved. It just didn’t seem like a situation that we would want to get into and as that situation hasn’t concluded, and there are no definite answers, and it’s not for me to be coming up with solutions.“