On 3 June, the Janjaweed militia surrounded the sit-in at Sudan’s army headquarters, beating many protestors and burning tents while people still slept inside; women were raped, as were children and even men; and live ammunition was fired at people fleeing for their lives with tears running down their cheeks while they tried to fathom out what they had just lost.
The sit-in was a microcosm of what the Sudan protestors were fighting for. The unity despite racial and religious differences, the music, the atmosphere, the organisation and the freedom was all a taste of what life could be like should the uprising become a true revolution. The Sudanese diaspora watched in awe and longing to be with their people in their homeland. All of that crashed to earth when the protestors were dispersed with such violence.
For the past eight years, uprisings have spread across North Africa and the Middle East, the best known being in Tunisia and Egypt. Did they end as the people had hoped? We saw success when dictators were ousted, but the regimes remained in control. This has made many people sceptical about the Sudanese protests; they believe that same outcome will be seen and question whether the bloodletting will be worth it.
The Sudanese uprising has been described as the Arab Spring reborn, although it looks to us as being very different; perhaps it is the African Spring or the Nile Spring, as some people have called it. Omar Al-Bashir has been ousted, with the army in control of the government. If the events prior to his ouster were not evidence enough that the Sudanese uprising is very different from others in the region, all that has happened after is without a doubt incredibly convincing.
We have seen the Transitional Military Council (TMC), headed by General Burhan and VP Mohammed Hamdan Dagolo — who is also head of the Janjaweed, now rebranded as the Rapid Support Forces — follow the same dictators’ handbook that we have seen in previous uprisings. The 3 June massacre, for example, resembled Egypt’s 2013 Rabaa Al-Adawiyya massacre. Was this coincidental, given that Burhan and Dagolo both visited Egypt recently? The key difference, though, is that the protestors are not doing what their predecessors have done; they have watched and learnt from the mistakes made by others before deciding on what their next move should be.
The Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA) has been at the forefront of the uprisings since December. It is a team of well-organised lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers and others who release schedules of resistance activities informing the general public what to do next. As well as this, it is important to note that they have been conducting negotiations with the TMC and aim to put forward members of their group to form the Transitional Civilian Government.
I was in Sudan at the beginning of the protests and saw a handful of protestors being attacked by about 50 police officers. I knew that coming back to London would mean that I have a great responsibility to raise awareness of the situation in Sudan.
The mood and atmosphere there had changed completely. People felt low and had given up all hope. The overwhelming consensus was that many did not feel that they were living; rather they were just existing, and waiting for the day when they would pass away and their suffering would end. Everyone was struggling to obtain basic necessities. Living above or below the poverty line did not matter, because the banks were not printing any bank notes; cash was essentially being rationed. Citizens were standing for hours on end in the hope that they would get to the counter before the money ran out. If they were fortunate, they might be able to get the equivalent of about £2 (around $2.50).
Seeing the worry, sadness and despair in the faces of those I loved meant that I had to make sure that I did all I could to make a change. I freed up all my weekends to ensure that I was at protests and standing in solidarity with other members of the Sudanese diaspora. I have been speaking at protests in the hope of uplifting us all and giving us the energy to continue the fight for civilian rule. A few other members of the diaspora and I have set up a committee with the aim of regular meetings whereby we can get action plans organised. I am in regular contact with my local MP in West London, Virendra Sharma, and I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to be interviewed on TRT’s news segment on Sudan, as well as appearing on their roundtable discussion; a slot on BBC Radio 4’s podcast “Beyond Today” was also possible. However, my family and fellow citizens back home are on the streets facing violence and possible death; nothing that I can do can match that.
In London, protests are taking place every weekend at multiple locations: Trafalgar Square, the Sudanese Embassy and Downing Street. On one Saturday protestors marched from the UAE Embassy to the Embassy of Egypt, and from there went to the Saudi Arabian Embassy; they clearly believe that Sudan’s regional allies must share the blame for what is happening. The huge protest in Sudan on 6 April — the anniversary of the ousting of President Gaafar Numeri — was mirrored around the world, as was a similar demonstration on 30 June, the date that Omar El-Bashir came to power through a coup in 1989.
Many campaigns have taken place, including #blueforSudan whereby people changed their social media profile pictures to blue. Those who took part included big names such as Rihanna, Demi Lavato, Ne-Yo and Naomi Campbell. The blue was used to represent the martyrs killed in the revolution, more specifically for Mohammed Hashim Mattar, a student of Britain’s Brunel University who lost his life on 3 June. Mattar was intrigued by colours and the feelings they invoke. He also had that exact same blue as his profile picture across all platforms.
Haitian rapper Wyclef Jean produced a song for Sudan to help raise awareness, called “Nubian Queen”, thanks to the initiative of Mohammed Yousif, who is a branding strategist and lead organiser of the Sudanese American Collective in Minnesota. Through a mutual friend, he was able to contact Jean and tell his story. Yousif was also in Sudan at the beginning of the protests and like many of us in the diaspora felt that we were unable to help in the way that we would like. Being in Sudan he thought it best to get out onto the streets and stand in solidarity with his brothers and sisters. Very wisely, though, he waited until after his brother’s wedding before he took the streets. He decided to join a protest nearby and left the family home after kissing his mum and sisters and telling them that he loved them. His family had no idea where he was going, but Mohammed was wise to the fact that he might not return. He narrowly escaped being hit by a tear gas canister fired at protestors by police, and was able to escape; he was fortunate, but many others weren’t. Jean’s song and video was the net result of this encounter.
With many nations across the continent tuned in to the Africa Cup of Nations football tournament, too many are blind to what is happening in their neighbourhood; how many of those nations — and others around the world — are tuned in to what is happening in Sudan? The people of Sudan are coping with a complete internet shutdown and have been since 3 June. We all need to speak up on their behalf.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.