In Arabic, Thawra means ‘revolution’ and that is exactly what the country has birthed.
Sudan was once the largest and most geographically diverse states in Africa until it split into two countries in July 2011. This made South Sudan independent from the rule of the Arab Muslim North although there is continuous tension between the two states. Two rounds of north-south civil war cost the lives of 1.5 million people, and on-going conflict in the western region of Darfur has left two million people homeless and killed more than 200,000. On Thursday, after long drawn out anti-establishment protests, the President stepped down while protestors celebrated.
Omar Hassan al-Bashir has been the President of Sudan since 1996 and faces two international arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. When al-Bashir took power in the 1989 military coup against the elected government of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, he dissolved parliament, banned political parties, declared an emergency and concentrated all power in his own hands.
Protests against al-Bashir started on December 19 when the government phased out wheat and fuel subsidies at the suggestion of international lenders. In the weeks after, protests turned deadly and engulfed the capital Khartoum and major metropolitan areas like Omdurman. The government responded by cracking down on protestors, shutting the internet and social media outlets, cutting electricity and water services, and dispersing protestors using tear gas.
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Women in Protest
Women have been at the forefront of these protests due to the al-Bashir’s restrictive regime and the gendered violence that women activists were subjected to in custody. A Human Rights Watch report described how security services targeted women activists during crackdowns. The report called “Good Girls Don’t Protest” documents accounts of rape, assault, racial abuse that women activists, journalists and students face at the hands of security officials. The “public order police” arrest women and girls for their choice of dress – such as wearing trousers or exposing their hair. Corporal punishments such as flogging and stoning for “morality crimes” including adultery – have been used extensively on women and girls.
Women have been at the forefront of these protests due to the al-Bashir’s restrictive regime and the gendered violence that women activists were subjected to in custody.
After three decades of ruling Sudan, al-Bashir was arrested and forced out of power in a military coup. In a televised statement, the Sudanese army on Thursday announced a two-year military council to oversee a transition of power, declared a three-month state of emergency and a one-month long curfew from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. Sudanese women, musicians, artists, and the country’s global diaspora all played a crucial role in calling for al-Bashir to step down.
Earlier this week, the video of a young woman singing songs of revolution while standing on top of a car, went viral. During the third day of a mass sit-in outside the presidential compound, 22-year-old activist Alaa Salah, wearing a white tobe and gold moon earrings sings (translated),
“They burned us in the name of religion
They killed us in the name of religion
They jailed us in the name of religion
Salah, who has since come to symbolise anti-government protest, told Citizen TV. “I wanted to speak on behalf of the youth. I wanted to come out and say that Sudan is for all.”
One commentator, Hind Makki, said on Twitter that Salah’s entire outfit “is also a callback to the clothing worn by our mothers and grandmothers in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s,” while demonstrating against previous military dictatorships. “Sudanese everywhere are referring to female protestors as ‘Kandaka,’ which is the title given to the Nubian queens of ancient Sudan, whose gift to their descendants is a legacy of empowered women who fight hard for their country and their rights,” Makki added.
“This regime could not crush down women and women’s ability to fight for change and freedom. Sudanese women’s resistance and resilience overcomes this suppression,” Dr Sara Abdelgalil, head of the UK branch of the Sudan Doctors’ Union told The Guardian.
The War Is Not Yet Won
The democratic change that the protestors hoped for has still not arrived. As mentioned above, the military will rule for the next two years and enforce emergency and a curfew for the next few months. Protestors are glad to end the reign of oppression but fear it has given way to another one. As soon as Defence Minister Ibn Auf took control publically, protestors immediately demanded a transition to democracy. “We do not replace a thief with the thief!” they chanted. General Ibn Auf too has State Department imposed sanctions on him for his role in “violence, atrocities and human rights abuses” in Darfur.
Even though al-Bashir is out, his regime is not. Alaa Salah sang the Thawra song and made sure the entire world paid attention to Sudan. Today, when her country is far from peace, we must not turn our eyes away again.
Muawia Shaddad, professor at University of Khartoum and member of the Civil Society Alliances Forces, said the protests will continue until their demands are met. “We need full democracy, with all the principles and pillars of good governance. We want a representation of the people. We want to survive from the economic collapse. We also would like to ensure human rights for all, and also this should be done by a governing structure that is truly civilian.” Shaddad said in an interview with PBS NewsHour. This will make these protests the longest Sudanese history has seen.
Sudanese military is currently facing international pressure from the United States and European Union to hand over power to an elected civilian government. This must happen or the country will face another period of bloodshed, violence, suppression and incarceration. Even though al-Bashir is out, his regime is not. Alaa Salah sang the Thawra song and made sure the entire world paid attention to Sudan. Today, when her country is far from peace, we must not turn our eyes away again. In solidarity.
Featured Image Source: Washington Post