Get out of Sudan!

Last night brought the wonderful news that the Sudanese author Bushra al-Fadil has won the Caine Prize for one of the stories included in The Book of Khartoum, which came out last year. In honour of him I am going to write a short blog about a pamphlet that I picked up in Cairo a few years ago from my old bookseller, Mustafa Sadiq.

It is a copy of a small pamphlet called “Get out of Sudan”

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It was published in 1947 when Sudan was still under Anglo-Egyptian control and it has two primary aims:

  1. The total, non-conditional evacuation [of imperial powers] from Egypt and Sudan
  2. Acknowledging the right of the Sudanese people to decide their own fate immediately after that evacuation.

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This pamphlet is fascinating for a number of reasons.

The first is the uncompromising and global stance it takes against imperialism. As a Marxist (Trotskyite) pamphlet it sees the struggle of the oppressed of the world as a single fight.

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The writers note, with bitter irony, that just after the Second World War, allegedly fought in the name of freedom, imperialism still imposes its will on much of the world by force.

“Palestine bears witness to this, as does Indonesia, Indochina, North Africa, Madagascar, the Philippines. Nay, in every patch of the earth, colonialism attempts to impose its power with arms…

Woe on the people who did not know many months after the end of the Second Human Massacre, that it was a lie when they claimed that it was fought for the sake of Freedom, since global imperialism still survives.”

Their goal is not simply a national struggle but a global one against colonialism. This was, of course, a central communist tenet. By the mid 1950s, the Bandung Conference and the beginning of the Third World movement this unifying struggle against outside domination became hugely important in global politics. It is with Marxists where these views are forged.

The second point of the two key aims of the pamphlet is more surprising. The two writers of the pamphlet are Egypt: Anwar Kamel and Lutfallah Sulayman. Sulayman was a bookseller and minor member of the Art and Freedom group. Anwar Kamel, was one of the most important communist activists in 1940s Egypt. He was the older brother of the artist Fouad Kamel. He wrote several articles for the journal al-Tatawwur and was frequently in trouble with the law. In his book on the Art and Freedom movement, Sam Bardaouil quotes a passage describing Kamel:

“I can see him now, with that lock of black hair falling over one eye and a cigar stuck in his face. He greeted us and said, “We’ll sing the anthem.” Just like that, in the middle of the desert, they sang this song that began, “Onward comrades, to live is to struggle!”

In the late 1940s in Sudan there were two competing schools of nationalist thought that asked what should happen when British control had been defeated: 1) should Sudan become an independent country by itself 2) should it stay part of a union with Egypt, now that it had shaken off British control.

In Sudan people were divided on the matter but there were few in Egypt who wanted to let go of Sudan. That is, except the communists like Anwar Kamel and Lutfallah Sulayman. On the cover of their pamphlet, underneath the title is written the quote:

“A people that wants to enslave another people does freedom itself”

They were adamant that the Sudanese should be free to make their own decisions without Egyptian control.FullSizeRender (92)

Under the title, “Sudan between to colonialisms”, the authors state: “One cannot deny that Egyptian Pashas are greedy, nor that Egypt, these days, is an embryonic colonial power attempting to come into existence.”

They go on to talk about the kind of unity that Egypt wants and say that it is purely one of economic exploitation of the Sudan, which will neither benefit Sudan nor the Egyptian worker. They call it “Pseudo-unity”. They say it is only the feudalists and the bourgeois parties who want it.

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Now, when many Sudanese feel that Egyptians look down on them and still feel like they ought to control Sudan, it is nice to look back on a time in the 1940s when Egyptians were arguing that Sudan should be allowed to be free.

These two communists went to the effort of putting together a pamphlet and circulating it as much as they could. Now, it seems like a hard pamphlet to find, though there are a few references to it online, but at the time they were encouraging as many people as possible to read it. It closes with the exhortation:

Comrade

Read this pamphlet to as many of your friends as possible.

And don’t forget to send it to the provinces.

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