Syrian eateries flourish in the heart of Sudan’s capital

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Syrians benefit from visa-free entry to Sudan and more than 200,000 have arrived since 2011. (AFP)
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At the heart of the Sudanese capital, Syrian eateries brimming with customers stand along the street sides of an upscale area filled with mouthwatering aroma of Levantine dishes. (AFP)
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Sudan hosts more than 100,000 Syrians who moved to the North African country at the height of their country’s civil war which broke out some nine years ago. (AFP)
Updated 05 August 2019

Syrian eateries flourish in the heart of Sudan’s capital

  • The tantalizing odors of popular Syrian dishes of shawarma, fatteh and garlic sauce fill the air of the Kafouri district
  • Khartoum residents now flock to restaurants serving Syrian delicacies

KHARTOUM: In the heart of the Sudanese capital, crowds are drawn by mouthwatering aromas to Syrian eateries that line an upscale Khartoum neighborhood.
The tantalizing odors of popular Syrian dishes of shawarma, fatteh and garlic sauce fill the air of the Kafouri district.
“Syrian restaurants are distinctive,” said Salaheddin Adam, queueing outside one restaurant.
“Their interior designs are appealing and they are always clean and offer varied menus,” he added, while waiting for his chicken shawarma wrap.
In the traditional Sudanese turban and white jalabiya, the 34-year-old meat trader said he particularly relishes Syrian appetisers.
“They have a special taste and add flavor to the dishes,” he said.
Syrians benefit from visa-free entry to Sudan and more than 200,000 have arrived since 2011, fleeing their country’s war, according to local NGO figures from last year.
Khartoum residents now flock to restaurants serving Syrian delicacies, making it often hard to find a table at restaurants in the Kafouri district.
“Shawarma, shish taouk and kebabs have long been served at Sudanese restaurants. Still, they are not as good as those at Syrian restaurants,” said Ahmed Suleiman.
The 28-year-old is a regular at one of the Syrian eateries, which he lauded for the “taste and quality” of their food.
The Syrian presence in the area, where Levantine Arabic is widely heard, has also led to fierce competition between restaurants.
For Suleiman, the rivalry benefits Sudanese diners.
“Every restaurant has its specialty. They generally excel in their service as opposed to Sudanese people,” he said.
“We try to support them through their crisis by frequenting their restaurants,” he added.
More than 5.6 million Syrians have fled their country, according to the United Nations, since the conflict erupted in 2011 with a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests.
Syrians who opted to settle in Sudan enjoy equivalent rights to nationals, including access to health care and education.
They are also allowed to apply for jobs and run businesses.
Malik Abdul Wahab, from the Syrian city of Aleppo, arrived shortly after the start of his country’s war.
He opened the “Ayamak Ya Sham” or “The days of the Levant” restaurant which now has a staff of more than 15, the majority Syrians.
“We are keen to provide maximum cleanliness and quality. We also care about good treatment of customers,” said the 32-year-old.
Syrian cuisine offers a wider variety of dishes than Sudanese food, and they are cheap to make and come in plentiful portions.
“We are keen to offer new and varied foods, not known to the people,” said Abdel Wahab, boasting that there are more than 100 different Syrian dishes.
One of his customers, Nihad Al-Fateh, praised the “diversity of dishes” provided while waiting for her shawarma wrap with garlic sauce.
But Sudanese citizens are suffering from financial woes, with price rises late last year sparking mass protests that ultimately led to the ousting in April of longtime leader Omar Al-Bashir.
The current political and financial crisis has led to “soaring prices of all the ingredients,” said Abdul Wahab, who is trying not to push up prices significantly.
In the capital’s Riyadh neighborhood, the Levantine influence can also be heard as passers-by sing along to Syrian songs played by restaurants.
Mohamed Abdel Sabour, a Sudanese engineer, eats regularly at Syrian outlets which he says are more welcoming than Sudanese ones.
Khaled, who runs a Syrian eatery in the Riyadh area, boasted of having “permanent Sudanese customers.”
“We try to please the customer to make sure that they visit again.”


Baghdad tunnel becomes a museum for Iraq’s protest movement

Updated 22 November 2019

Baghdad tunnel becomes a museum for Iraq’s protest movement

  • The Saadoun Tunnel has become an ad hoc museum for Iraq’s massive anti-government protest movement
  • Haydar Mohammed said, “We decided to draw simple paintings to support our protester brothers and to express our message, which is a peace message.”

BAGHDAD: The images are both haunting and inspiring, transforming a once dreary, grim underpass into a vivid, colorful wall of art.
“We want a nation, not a prison,” says one painting that depicts a man bursting free from behind bars. “Plant a revolution, and you will harvest a nation,” reads another showing a hand flashing the victory sign over protesters heads.
Some of the messages are less sentimental. “Look at us, Americans, this is all your fault,” declares one.
The Saadoun Tunnel has become an ad hoc museum for Iraq’s massive anti-government protest movement. Along its walls, young artists draw murals, portraits and graffiti that illustrate the country’s tortured past and the Iraq they aspire to.
The tunnel passes under Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protests where thousands of people are camped out in a giant sit-in that has taken on the feel of a vibrant mini-city.
Almost daily, clashes erupt with security forces not far away firing tear gas, live rounds and stun grenades to prevent protesters from crossing bridges over the Tigris River to the Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government. Tuk tuks — three-wheeled motorcycle transports — often zip back and forth through the Saadoun Tunnel, rushing wounded protesters from the front lines to medical clinics.
Saadoun Tunnel, the tuk tuks, the square and a nearby 14-story Saddam Hussein-era building on the Tigris that protesters took over have all become symbols of what has become the largest grassroots protest movement Iraq has seen. The protests erupted Oct. 1 over longstanding grievances at corruption, unemployment and a lack of basic services and quickly escalated into calls to sweep aside Iraq’s sectarian system imposed after the 2003 US invasion and its entire political elite.
Young protesters, men and women, throng the tunnel — actually a long underpass, most of which is open to the air except for enclosed portions directly beneath Tahrir — and pass time there hanging out or taking selfies in front of the murals. Caricatures on the walls mock Iraqi politicians; other paintings praise the tuk tuks; a woman with an Iraqi flag on her cheek flexes her bicep, recreating the famed US “We Can Do It” poster; faces in drawings shout in anger or pain.
Haydar Mohammed said he and a group of other medical students were partly responsible for the murals. They met in Tahrir and saw the tunnels walls were a perfect medium to send a message to those who are suspicious of the protesters, he said.
“We are life-makers not death-makers,” he said. “We decided to draw simple paintings to support our protester brothers and to express our message, which is a peace message.”
Many of the murals carry calls for anti-sectarianism, peace and a free Iraq. In one painting, a little girl cries, declaring “They killed my dream,” referring to the group of men behind her, some in religious clothes.
Another shows an Iraqi protester wearing a helmet against tear gas with the Arabic words: “In the heart is something that cannot be killed by guns, which is the nation.” Nearby is scrawled, in English, “All What I want is life.”
“Sitting in front of these portraits, people and candles is better than being in any coffeeshop. Every time I look at them I am hopeful that the revolution will not end,” said Yahya Mohammed, 32, smoking a hookah in the tunnel and observing the scene.
“This tunnel gives me hope.”