‘The man, whom we didn’t believe’, Ismaiel al-Azhari – Kobar prison 1969
ادريس حسن ، “الرجل الذي لم نصدقه” ، إسماعيل الأزهري – سجن كوبر 1969
One of Sudan’s most distinguished figures in investigative journalism, Sudanese veteran journalist, Idris Hassan, died Sunday 16 December in Khartoum at the age of 81 years. He worked for Al-Mustaghbal, Al-Thawrah and Khartoum News Agency and was the former editor-in-chief of Al-Raay Al-Aam, Al-Akhbar, Al-Ayaam, and founder and Chief Editor of the short-lived Al-Wihdaa (Unity) newspaper.
His legacy, however, is not just about investigative journalism, Idris was also known for his integrity, intelligent analysis, sensational memory and meticulous work. His courage and bold aptitude and willingness to confront and stand firm in face of numerous dictatorships in Sudanese history to get the truth was epitomised by his ability to shape and direct public opinion during his leading days in the journalism industry. Idris Hassan possessed a journalistic instinct that may have averted Sudan from violent decades of war and dictatorship rule should his words have been taken seriously at the time.
Idris Hassan’s passion and love for newspapers work began at an early age when he started his career in the field as a newspaper boy before Sudan’s independence in 1956. At that time, the circle of newspaper readers was limited to a few politicians and intellectuals from the Khartoum elitist community, known at the time as ‘alafndiya’. This narrow circle offered him the advantage of being surrounded by some of the most influential Sudanese historical politicians and intellectuals during the halcyon days of Sudanese independence in modern history.
Although coming from a background with more allegiance to the National Democratic Party, one of the two big Sudanese political parties, Idris was a nationalist and never confined himself to narrow cells of any political party. His inner circles included figures from all rainbow political parties in the country. There is little doubt that his success and prominence in journalism can be attributed to his combination of social intelligence, interpersonal skills, persistence and hard work that allowed him to progress in his chosen career as a journalist to become one of the pillars of Sudanese journalism.
Idris Hassan, ‘the man, whom we didn’t believe,’ said the formidable politician and first Prime Minister of Sudan, Ismail al-Azhari (1954-1956) remorsefully , when he met him at the infamous Sudanese Kobar prison in 1969, a few days after Jaafar Nimeiri’s military coup. At the time, Idris had already warned the Prime Minister several times that some military factions were hatching a coup; this was in the last six hours before Nimeiri’s move. Idris’s connections, fortune and instinct enabled him to make his name as the chief recipient of significant leaks about planned coups in Sudan (failed or successful) during the period between (1958–1989). He documented his authentications in his recently published book ‘My story with military coups in Sudan’, his unpublished book project and ‘The Egyptian role in Sudan coups’ is yet another powerful record of the man’s secret repository of knowledge.
Idris is also remembered in Sudanese memory for being the only Sudanese journalist to witness the Sudan communist party leader’s fake trial, Abdul Khaliq Mahjoub, after the short-lived communist-backed coup in July 1971. Idris was one of two credible sources who documented the events of those days, also known as ‘Shajara trials’ and the events of ‘the Guest House massacre’, and his words still resonate in Sudanese memory for the plight and mystery surrounding these occurrences today. The second source was the French newspaper, Le Monde via its correspondent at the time in Khartoum.
After stepping down from his last position as al-Akhbar Chief Editor in 2010, Idris continued to write his daily column ‘Bila Rotoush’ for some years in the later period of his professional life. The work environment for journalists and continuous harassment in recent years in Sudan discouraged him, and he became frustrated at the increasing challenges in trying to continue his work and earn a living in his chosen field. Many who ignored, abandoned, and pushed him out, and caused him pain and suffering in his recent few years, came to mourn his demise in the typical Sudanese proverb manner of ‘Areto yom shokrak ma yje’ of honouring those professionals and people who contributed significantly to public life only after their deaths.