Leave Nile Street alone

Every day, thousands of people, especially youngsters, leave their house to sit on Nile Street, by the beautiful Nile river and drink tea, coffee and enjoy ready snacks at the open-air cafes catered for and run by tea ladies.

Reem Abbas
24 February 2013

The Council of Islamic Scholars in Sudan have asked the governor of Khartoum to ban the venues they describe as "haphazard cafes" on Nile Street. 

The Secretary-General of the CIS told the press that the cafes have become places for drug-dealing, debauchery and are a black spot in Khartoum: he added that they do not exist in neighbouring countries.

The CIS is basically talking about the place most frequented by families and youth. Every day, thousands of people, especially youngsters, leave their house to sit on Nile Street, by the beautiful Nile river and drink tea, coffee and enjoy ready snacks at the open-air cafes catered for and run by tea ladies.

The tea ladies, women who sell ginger coffee and cinnamon-flavoured tea, line the space around them with plastic chairs and tables to attract clients, although the smell of coffee is sufficient to attract most clients.

Nile Street has become an icon for many in Sudan. It is a place to make money as it’s now a business place for hundreds of tea ladies and men who make a living selling gum, cotton candy, soft drinks and phone credit among other things. It is also a place for entertainment, where people don't have to pay an entry fee and spend a hefty amount on a meal, especially in this tough economic situation. 

It is a place for youth to hold cultural events in the open-air spaces and a place for young lovers to get to know each other. 

Weeks ago, rumours started surfacing in Khartoum that the government is pushing for a Nile Street for families only, in other words, the hordes of young men going there after work will be segregated out into specific areas.

Then, yesterday, the CIS, the largest body of Muslim scholars makes this statement and raises more fear of a crackdown on the only affordable and the favorite venue for entertainment us all.

The harassment has already started in my opinion, if you were willing to read the signs. Recently a lawyer and her daughters were picked up by the public order police for "indecent" clothing during a quiet family evening on Nile Street. 

A little over a month ago, two friends of mine, a boy and a girl had their evening ruined by a security officer who wanted a bribe for not arresting them. They were sitting facing the river on Nile Street in Omdurman and talking when the officer appeared. 

If the government decides to restrict the cafes and activities on Nile Street, this will not be met with total apathy. People will not allow the silence in the early 1990s when cinemas and cultural institutes were closed down to be repeated. People need space to breath and it will surely be difficult to take this away from them.

I know a young man who lost his job three years ago and never succeeded in finding a job in the same field, engineering. He was stuck doing menial jobs and was thoroughly depressed and miserable because he was not able to support his wife. Every day, he would leave his house after 7pm to go to Nile Street and enjoy an evening with his friends. When his wife complained, he told her it was his therapy, the only place to escape the disappointments he is facing, the only place.

Taking away Nile Street from us will be beyond a disappointment: it will be inhumane.

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The pandemic has profoundly changed our working lives. Millions have lost their jobs; others have had no choice but to continue working at great risk to their health. Many more have shouldered extra unpaid labour such as childcare.

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