In Sudan, the state security apparatus has adopted a new habit: confiscating and banning books. Authors and rights activists are rightly outraged, but this is helping the growth of a new reading culture in Khartoum.
When Fathi Al-Daw, a Sudanese journalist and writer published a book
about the state security apparatus and how it has operated over the past few
years, the security apparatus quickly confiscated copies of the book from
bookstores in Khartoum, turning it into a much-sought after book, with a badly
photocopied version selling at $10.
After Al-Daw's book, travelers who arrived in Khartoum with books found themselves put through a much more rigorous airport security. Many reported confiscations of books, especially travellers coming from Cairo, where a large number of Sudanese authors are published.
A few weeks ago, a doctor returning from Cairo was stopped at the
airport and a very early work of politics by Al-Daw was confiscated from the
luggage of a university professor who refused to leave the airport until the
confiscated books were returned to him. He organized a sit-in and encouraged
his students to join him, which they did. The security apparatus feared that
the students would turn the sit-in into a highly organised protest.
Abd Al-Aziz Baraka Sakin, a well-known Sudanese novelist, caused ructions last week when his books were three days late arriving at Khartoum's book fair. Sakin threatened to begin a hunger strike before the books were brought over from Cairo to the book fair.
His books only lasted a few hours at the book fair before the security
officers confiscated all copies saying that they had to read them before they could go into circulation. Then, they said, they would return
In total 15 books were confiscated from the book fair, causing many young readers and intellectuals to boycott visiting the book fair.
In a matter of minutes, the social media broke the news of these
latest confiscations and a whole crowd of youngsters started asking where they could
get their hands on the confiscated books as an act of defiance against a
surveillance state where freedoms and civil liberties and now creativity are
Trading secret books is somewhat similar to organizing a protest in Sudan. Code words are used, the planning takes places only through trusted sources, and personal security becomes important.
A young woman keeps Sakin's books, which are now officially banned, in
boxes in the back of her car. She tells me that the "marijuana", is selling
In Sudan, they used to say that Cairo writes, Beirut prints and Khartoum reads, but in recent years, the reading circle has shrunk to politicians and the creative community. Now with the growth of a politically-aware younger generation, the ongoing censorship campaign is endowing books with their long-lost status all over again.
On social media, the blogs of writers were tweeted, retweeted and
shared and novels written by Sakin and other banned authors have been
circulated as pdf files by one of the largest Sudanese online lists.
Meanwhile, its not too bad that security officers will get the chance to read the banned books. Who knows – they might find their personal stories between those covers which Sakin dedicates to "a class with slaughtered hopes and dreams".