Parties Postponed in Khartoum

An open-air bathroom showroom

Khartoum is a different place to the one I visited last year. Diplomatic staff are picked up each morning in armoured cars, embassy social events have been cancelled or are happening at random times and “wives” (not spouses, my mole tells me) have been warned to vary their daily routine, presumably as they go to the hairdressers, shops and coffeshops.
For a resident of Nairobi, the safety of Khartoum had always been something of a joy. It was possible to walk around at night completely secure in the knowledge that foreigners were not seen as cash machines to be emptied at gunpoint. One of the benefits of oppressive, military regimes I used to think.
Until now.
An American aid official was shot dead in the early hours of New Year’s Day. He was probably targeted by Islamic extremists. John Granville’s death came a few months after police arrested bombers thought to be targeting western embassies. And my Arabic-speaking friends tell me al Qaeda graffiti is prominent around the city.
The latest FCO advice makes clear the concern:

There is a high threat from terrorism in Sudan. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers. In August 2007 and January 2008, Sudanese authorities made a series of arrests to disrupt a terrorist cell suspected of targeting specific Western interests in Khartoum. Statements by terrorist groups have called for a “jihad” in Sudan and have specifically mentioned Western interests.

Many people believe the Sudanese government to be a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism. But there is no doubt the pragmatists have the upper hand and they will see the rise of extremism on their doorstep as a deeply troubling development.