Yesterday was typical of the media haboob that has engulfed Khartoum in the past six days. The first phonecall came at 7.30am – the last about 17 hours later at about 12.30am. In between I staked out Omdurman women’s prison, until it was clear that Gillian Gibbons wasn’t being held there, confirmed details of a British rescue mission, then interviewed an imam and adviser to President Bashir. And to cap it all there were death threats made in my direction by the mob that took to the streets after Friday prayers.
I had driven with my irrepressible fixer Al Siir to the president palace where a pal was reporting that about 1000 people were waving swords and burning pictures of the teacher. It soon became clear that we were not welcome. “Go away” was shouted at us by several young men as we got close so we took up a strategic position close to a police truck. The event had clearly been given some sort of blessing by Sudan’s security apparatus, so it seemed sensible to stop there – about 40yd from the demonstration itself.
Or so it seemed.
It took about 60 seconds for us to be surrounded. I don’t know what the young men were saying but I wasn’t going to stick around to find out. But as I tried to back towards the corner where Al Siir’s car was parked there was a problem. My sidekick – and veteran of several arrests in Khartoum – was being berated by the crowd for bringing me too close. A senior police officer moved in. Would this make it better or worse?
There was no freeing Al Siir. As I moved back to persuade him to walk to his car with me, a bearded man in a T-shirt drew his finger across his throat. Time to go. I like to think I walked briskly away – but an olympic judge would have had me disqualified from the 20km for “lifting”, I suspect. Thankfully Al Siir was not far behind, escorted by the policeman. A friendly chap it turned out.
But that wasn’t the last of our problems. For the past five days the three of us Brit reporters who were here when the story broke have been filing non-stop to anyone that will pay. By the end of each night are eyes are shot and our brains wired. Anywhere else in the world we’d be on to our third bottle of wine by the time we’d sent our last copy of the day. Khartoum isn’t like anywhere else in the world. Sharia law meant last night we had to make do with lemon sodas.
I think I dozed off around 4am. Three and a half hours later my phone was ringing as I got out of the shower.