By: Talal Nayer
Political situations profoundly influence the art of cartooning in Sudan. Forms of governance and political circumstances became very decisive and contributed significantly to the matter of appearance and continuity of cartoonists. Also, it had a strong influence on the issues discussed by the artists. Every political regime brought a new vision and widely contributed to the formation of the conditions for art and culture in the country.
After the success of Intifadat April[i] in 1985, the newly elected government of Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi[ii] sent the main army-generals of The Second Dictatorship[iii] of Ja’afar Neimeri[iv] in prisons. Everybody was cheering joyfully to see the dictators behind bars. The Sudanese cartoonist Salah Hamadah[v] was editing and drawing a satirical page entitled In (Minn Ghair Za’all)[vi] in al-Seyasa newspaper. Hamadah was responding to the letters had been sent to his page in May 1989, a message came from a reader who made fun of the imprisoned army generals that seemed under total control of the newly born Sudanese Democracy:
Reader: From where did you gain this aristocratic attitude?
Hamadah: …after visiting the prisoners of Intifadat April!
Other reader wrote to Hamadah about the booming success of al-Seyasa newspaper and its high-selling:
Reader: I am afraid about al-Seyasa from arrogance. What are you afraid of about al-Seyasa?
Hamadah: I am afraid of the Coup d’état.
Hamadah wasn’t sure about the situation of the unsecured democracy. al-Seyasa means in Arabic (The politics), and the respond of Hamadah could also say and understood as: “I am afraid about our politics (our democracy) of the Coup d’état.”
The whispers and the conspiracy theories about the coup were spread out around Khartoum since the Islamist officers in the Sudanese Army sent a memorandum to the Prime Minister al-Sadiq al-Madhi on February 20, 1989. Everybody was considering the note as rumors that cannot be a threat to the ruling coalition or democracy. But after four months, the prophecy came from the dark joke of Salah Hamadah turned to be a nightmarish reality:
The Coup d’état took over the politics and democracy. The military troops attacked the young Sudanese democracy again; it was the Coup d’état of the Islamic National Front[vii], and from there it was the beginning of The Third Dictatorship on June 30, 1989, and which is ruling until now.
Omar Al-Bashir orchestrated the military coup changed the country dramatically; in a few days after the Coup d’état the Islamists opened detention centers where many civilians where had been tortured and killed. Al-Bashir is ruling Sudan by iron-fest for 30 years, years full of blood, tears, and fire.
After many broken and defeated uprisings during the last 30 years, in December 2019 arrived the latest wave of the revolutionary uprisings to hit the position of Omar Al-Bashir who was preparing himself to the elections of 2020. The 75 years old dictator was planning to remain power forever after changing the constitution a few weeks ago, but now his authority is surrounded by doubts, and ringed by the protesters, and the artists have their share of promoting and popularizing the revolution.
The political cartoonists in Sudan face challenges to communicate with the ordinary audience and traditional newspapers, but they took advantage of the internet platforms and social media in a smart zig-zag move of to trick the censorship of the ruling military government of Omar al-Bashir. Charles Darwin once said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change”. The Cartoonists are artists of re-adaptation and surviving because they can always sharp their minds and find a way to escape if there are harsh conditions: firstly artists had started to paint on walls of caves and churches, and now they publish their drawings in the Cyberspace when they face censorship. The artists were drawing by pens and paints, now some of them bring by pixels. The political cartoonist is livings prove that cartooning is the art of surviving.
I guess the role of the cartoonists and the artists went beyond “documentation the events,” to involve in the movement that supporting democracy and freedom in Sudan. The Sudanese artists are the natural ally of all freedom fighters in the country. Woody Allen[viii] said once: “There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman?”. If Woody Allen was born in Sudan, he would not mention insurance-sales-associates; instead, he will criticize the brutal militarists who legalize censorship and break records on illegalities of human rights. I had solitary with all artists who are anonymously active, and I hope someday they will find people appreciate their efforts to support and promoting democracy and will celebrate it publicly someday.
The experience of art usually puts the cartoonists in an existential self-confrontation about the meaning of individuality and the question of self-definition among the society, and about the role of art in front of politics. This uprising is livings prove that the cartoonists have enough sensitivity to take in their consideration the value of the individuals and the strong solidarity and bring a political statement, an opinion against the generalizations and stereotypes, a unique idea with fantastic drawings.
The seriousness of political cartoonist comes that he/she stands at the intersection of many creative fields, and the cartoonist can freely borrow tools and abilities from these arts and after some installation and rearrangements he/she creates a machine full of high effectiveness; a mechanism that could originate and change the public opinion, a device with destructive capability. In little colorful cartoons, many cartoonists highlighted astutely about global politics.
The cartoonists generally had the impressive power that could create the possibility of a positive contribution that could rehabilitee the world, and make it a better place of living. The Ninth Art; cartooning, has the ability of interpenetration between all the other eight branches of art. That could contribute to the reinforcement of acceptance of others.
Artists draw and document human history. With brushes, they capture all human motions, their happiness, and sadness, victory and defeat. The artist can freeze history in one painting and the painting becomes “… just another way of keeping a diary” as Pablo Picasso[ix] said, and now the cartoonists in Sudan are writing the diaries of the revolution, a diary was written writing with cartoons, and a revolution to bring the Fourth Democracy.
[i] Intifadat April: Intifadat, Intifada, or Al-Intifada mean in Arabic (uprising). On 6 April 1985, senior military officers led by Gen. Abdul Rahman Suwar ad-Dahab mounted a coup. Among the first acts of the new government was to suspend the 1983 constitution, rescind the decree declaring Sudan’s intent to become an Islamic state, and disband Nimeiry’s Sudan Socialist Union. However, the “September laws” instituting Islamic Sharia law were not suspended.
[ii] Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi: Also known as Sadiq al-Mahdi; (born December 25, 1935) is a Sudanese political and religious figure who was Prime Minister of Sudan from 1966 to 1967 and again from 1986 to 1989. He is head of the National Umma Party and Imam of the Ansar, a Sufi order that pledges allegiance to Muhammad Ahmad, who claimed to be the Mahdi, the messianic savior of Islam in 1881.
[iii] The Second Dictatorship: First, Second, and the Third Dictatorship are terms used commonly in the Sudanese political contest to describe the military regimes. The First Dictatorship was under Ibrahim Abboud (1957-1964), and the Second Dictatorship was (1969-1985), and the Third Dictatorship (1989-now)
[iv] Ja’afar Neimeri (1930-2009): Neimeri was the President of Sudan from 1969 to 1985. A military officer, he came to power after a military coup in 1969. With his party, the Sudanese Socialist Union, he initially pursued socialist and Pan-Arabist policies.
[v] Salah Hamadah (1960-2009): Hamadah was a Sudanese cartoonist and satirical writer.
[vi] Minn Ghair Za’all: A satirical page of al-Seyasa newspaper edited the Sudanese cartoonist Salah Hamadah from 1986 until 1989. Minn Ghair Za’all means in Arabic, (Without Anger).
[vii] Islamic National Front: The Sudanese branch from Muslim Brotherhood (in Arabic Jamāʻat al-Ikhwān al-Muslimīn) which is a transnational Sunni Islamist organization founded in Egypt by the Islamic scholar and schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna in 1928.
[viii] Woody Allen: Allen (Born: December 1, 1935) is an American director, writer, actor, and comedian
[ix] Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881 – 1973): Picasso was a Spanish painter, sculptor, and printmaker.