Proving that people can indeed organize for permanent change; youth, unions, women and the professional classes have come together and are demanding that the military which ousted former Sudan president Omar al Bahsir in a coup, relinquish control and allow the establishment of a just, democratic and egalitarian civilian government.
“The bullet doesn’t kill. What kills is the silence of people,” shouted Aalah Salah whose heritage is Nubian and whose noble carriage and traditional dress reminded Sudanese of the former Nubian warrior Queens (Kandaka’s), who once ruled ancient Sudan and parts of Ethiopia and Egypt. Her iconic picture went viral and was captured by news agencies the world over. Her warning to her countrymen attempting to sit out the current struggle, harkened back to Martin Luther King’s insistence that “silence is betrayal.”
“We who quenched the Nile with our boiling blood shall not be silent not in the face of unjust traitor [al-Bashir],” Salah recited as the crowd chanted back “Thawra!” the Arabic word for “revolution.”
Ironically, al-Bashir came to power after a coup in 1989 boldly declaring, “Anyone who betrays the nation does not deserve the honor of the living.” Playing out a scene too often witnessed in Africa and the Third World, al-Bashir was yet another head of State who turned dictator, refusing to relinquish power, while suppressing rights and oppressing his own people. He has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, including genocide in Darfur.
The Sudanese have circulated Salah’s iconic photo according to Tahani Abbas, a Sudanese women’s right activist, as “a salute to the struggles of the Sudanese women and their participation in the mobilization.”
The protests began in the city of Atbara and in the Northern part of the country and spread to other major cities including Khartoum.
While the outcome is in doubt and no one knows if the military leaders, who have taken temporarily control will cede control to civilian rule. However it is clear that the young people, women, unionists and professional class have learned from previous thwarted revolutions such as the Arab Spring: they are insisting on thorough going change and are not satisfied with replacing one dictator for another.
What initially prompted people to take to the street was the price of bread, which had tripled in cost and the high cost and scarcity of fuel. Protesters on the ground say the bread prices were simply the final straw. The protests are about economics, but at bottom they are political.
“Bread is what drove people into the streets, but 30 years of hardship and violent oppression is what is keeping them there,” said one Sudanese activist in an interview with a foreign news agency. The protests represent according to organizers “organized opposition to years of forced austerity, economic hardship and suppression of basic democratic rights,” he said.
The al-Bashir regime initially attempted to divide the protesters, insisting that the protests were led by Darfurians, who had rebelled against Khartoum’s repression on several occasions. But the people rejected this almost immediately, chanting at protests “We are all Darfur.” And striking yet another blow for unity students from Darfur joined the protests.
Al-Bashir also turned to violence to stop the protests. His security forces killed over 50 and arrested and beat hundreds of youthful protesters, who began organizing marches, rallies and sit-ins, last December.
The struggle for a just, equitable and democratic society has unified people in a country with a long history of inter-religious and inter-ethnic conflict. Christians, Muslims, Arabs and Africans have put aside their differences and united behind this cause.
The former regime’s crackdown took much of its fury out on women. Many women activists and protesters reported being beaten, while held in confinement by al- Bashir’s security forces. Yet the women remained undaunted, according to reports, the proportion of women among the protesters has been put as high as 70 percent, coming from all ages and backgrounds.
Women were motivated by a desire to see changes in a sexist and patriarchal Sudan, in which Sharia laws govern women’s dress and limit their equal participation in society. Under al-Bashir’s conservative Muslim government, women could be arrested and punished if their skirt was too short, or if they were caught in public without having their hair covered.
Led by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an umbrella group of doctors, engineers, teachers, trade unionists and students; sit-ins and protests have continued at military headquarters in Khartoum insisting that the military cede power to the people.
The coalition is drafting a Charter of Freedom and Change, which is said to be based in part on Charter 77 of Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution, in 1989. The Charter include; the coalition’s proposal on how an interim government should be established and recommend that any new government institute a program that limits economic inequality and provides prosperity for all Sudanese and guarantees civil and human rights.
The coalition and the people have so far resisted outside (foreign) interference. The US, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey have been watching the goings on closely, nervous about instability in Sudan because of its strategic location and what it could mean for their interests. The Blue Nile and White Nile meet in Sudan, which is in the Horn of Africa and borders the Red Sea and contains the entrance to the Suez Canal, through which much of the region’s oil passes. It also serves as an entry point for the large flow of refugees heading for Europe.
The workers in the so-called Developed world could learn from this rebellion. Struggle is indeed possible, cooperation for the greater good is achievable, everyday people can unlearn its prejudices and biases, induced by those who seek to enslave us by pitting us against one another.
justice then peace