SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Sudanese Media Coverage of Kassala Fires

Friday , 27 May 2022
Design: Mahmoud Younis

Residents Accuse the "Jinn"

On February 20, 2022, a seemingly inextinguishable fire broke out unexpectedly in the village of Qariqis. It spread rapidly and engulfed conical buildings throughout the village itself, according to eyewitnesses. The area in question is located in Kassala’s New Halfa locality, eastern Sudan, about thirty kilometres from the city. In their state of bewilderment, residents accused the “jinn” of reducing more than twenty homes to ashes.

Since then, the residents of the area have been living in a state of panic and fear. They found no other explanation than that of the angry “jinn” to justify the otherworldly fire. The residents felt helpless in the face of this phenomenon, despite their continuous attempts to extinguish the flames and the arrival of fire trucks from nearby Halfa. Lawyer Othman Adam – a village resident – told Al-Jazeera Net that it all happened at incredible speed, making it difficult to control. He stressed that the disaster was not manmade, but rather supernatural, thereby concurring with the villagers who laid the blame at the feet of the mad “jinn.”

Several publications and videos were shared on social media, displaying the extent of the destruction. Flames rapidly spread to other areas for no apparent reason, despite the sparsity of the houses. Furthermore, the tents that the State had sent as urgent aid caught fire before reaching the affected areas, though the food items arrived safely. Residents asked sheikhs to read verses from the Quran, in close proximity to fire trucks, as a means of expelling the “jinn” from the village.

This study aims to analyse the Sudanese media coverage of the fires and the involvement of the "jinn", in particular from February 13 to 28, 2022.

For this case study, we relied on the Sudanese media mentioned in the report “Media Coverage of Religious Freedom and Diversity in Iraq, Lebanon and Sudan,” in addition to some of the most popular websites on Sudanese social media platforms, as well as several well-known television channels and traditional newspapers via their websites. The report monitored twelve Sudanese media platforms, including three newspapers (Assayha, Al-Sudani, and Al-Intibaha), four websites (Sudan Tribune, Akhbar Al-Youm, Sudanile, and Alrakoba), the official Sudan News Agency and four TV channels (Blue Nile, Ashorook satellite channel, Khartoum satellite channel, and Sudan TV).

Twenty media items were monitored for this present case study, all of which were written articles with pictures. Traditional newspapers got the lion’s share in terms of story coverage. They published 15 articles out of the 20. None of the TV channels published any news story, report, or coverage of the fires on their social media platforms. One story was published by the official news agency, while four stories were published by two of the four websites monitored in this study. The Sudan Tribune and Akhbar Al-Youm websites did not publish any press material on the fires.

Sixteen out of 20 articles claimed that the “jinn” had caused the fire and the remaining four did not directly refer to it. However, two out of the four articles tackled the “jinn” topic by mentioning the presence of religious leaders in the village. They also reported the reactions of people who were surprised by the strangeness of the flames, with reference to previous material published by the newspaper or website that used the same description as to the role of the “jinn.” The only article that did not mention the “jinn” at all was the one published by the official news agency; it covered the measures taken by the Kassala governor towards the people affected by the fires.

This report is part of the Samir Kassir Foundation's involvement in ENQUIRE (Enhancing Quality Information on Religious Freedoms), a regional program that aims to promote a culture of respect for religious diversity in MENA countries where religious freedom is facing challenges. ENQUIRE focuses on strengthening the capacity of journalists to securely produce and disseminate high-quality, conflict-sensitive, and inclusive content on key religious freedom issues.

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