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Sudan: Fatma Emam on the Sudan revolts

Publication Date: 
May 28, 2012

I write this on the tenth day of the #SudanRevolts tide that has started to sweep Sudan.

Sudan is a land of revolutionaries. They started in the 20th century with the Mahdi revolution against the British occupation and the ruling Egyptian government and today Sudan is revolting against militarization, human rights atrocities, poverty, corruption and fundamentalism.

Sudanese youth are rising up against 23 years of dictatorship by the National Congress Party (NCP) which has brought them nothing but extreme economic deficit, eternal wars and violence, racism and finally the separation of part of South Sudan which led to the loss of most of the country’s petroleum revenue.

Sudanese president Omar El-Bashir, the dictator who was charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity in Darfur, continues to suppress his countrymen with the iron grip of the military junta and the blessings of the fundamentalists. Indeed every war he has launched was in the name of Allah. While his soldiers are “martyrs” the others are always “rebels”. Whatever their religion or ethnicity, they are infidels.

Over the years, El-Bashir evacuated Sudan through the forced migration of Sudanese citizens who became refugees or intentional migrants. Yet in both cases they were still within reach of his intelligence agents. The harassment and intimidation never stopped.

Sudan, once the food basket of the world, faced famine because of irrational policies and rampant militarization where its leadership preferred to buy guns rather than feed the people. This is the local context of the Sudanese protests.

Sudan was always experiencing unrest in one way or the other. Its organized opposition includes student unions and other associations, which survived the brutality of the NCP and its security apparatus, so it’s inaccurate to limit the events taking place in Sudan to the Arab Spring fever; the Sudanese struggle has been decades in the making.

Finally, however, observers of Sudanese affairs are now dealing with this “unrest” as an attempt to topple El-Bashir and his regime. The Sudanese people are following in the footsteps of the rest of the Arab revolutionaries, creating their own noise, pushing the international community and the media to react immediately and scandalizing El-Bashir for his crimes against them.

The spark was the recent decision to end fuel subsidies, which proved to be the last nail in the tyrant’s coffin. The people, already living in excruciating poverty, had no choice but to rise up in revolt. And as was the case with the failed Egyptian uprising of 1977, known as the bread riots, El-Bashir is sparing no effort to crush the people’s will.

Typically, El-Bashir is using the manual of the Arab dictators in dealing with the uprising: first he denies the protests exist, then he embarks on sweeping arrests of journalists and bloggers to block news of his brutal crackdown, followed by brute violence with knives  and tear gas (or Bamban in Sudanese slang) against peaceful protesters in Khartoum; and most revolting of all comes the gender-based violence targeting women protesters with threats of using sexual violence. Indeed Safia Ishak, the Girifna member, was raped by security agents even before the protests began. To complete the picture, there are strong rumors of a pending communication lock down.

But that shouldn’t stop the media from playing its role. The silence of the international media on Sudan today would be no less criminal than their silence on Liberia, Congo, Sierra Leone and Darfur.

We Egyptians have learned over the past year and a half that people all over the world can make a difference, and so solidarity and support are essential for the success of any legitimate call for justice and human rights. When the international media was reluctant to upset our dictator, the words of the people all over the world on social media and their protests in front of Egyptian embassies made a difference. We are all in the same trench, so regardless of nationality, we must seek freedom for others, just as we do for ourselves.

Fatma Emam is a Cairo-based commentator and Research Associate in Nazra for Feminist Studies.