In My Country, a Third Dictator Will Fall—With Your Help
Amid an internet blackout in my country, instituted by an oppressive regime, the people of Sudan have organized a mass global demonstration for June 30. This day marks the 30th year of the reign of dictator and former Sudan president Omar Al-Bashir.
Al-Bashir has fallen, but his legacy of terror and killings is still in place. The transitional military council (TMC) was installed on April 11, but the group of seven men is simply seen as an extension of Al-Bashir’s regime.
On April 6—five days before Al-Bashir was ousted—I got into a car with friends, and we drove to downtown Khartoum to join a march to the army headquarters. At some point, we gave up on taking part in the march as we found ourselves stuck in an office trying to dodge arrest and tear-gas. Armed with pieces of cloth dripping with vinegar stuck in our bras to fight off the tear-gas, my friends and I found a crowd of protestors and joined them. In a matter of hours, the protest grew into hundreds of thousands.
Pro-democracy protests in Sudan have been continual since December 13, when the people of Damazin, the capital of the Blue Nile state, organized over increases in food prices. In less than a week, the protests hit Atbara, a city in central Sudan, and the demands shifted from political change to regime-change.
The protests became highly organized. A body calling itself the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), a coalition of independent trade unions, issued a statement after the protests in Atbara and called for another in Khartoum on Christmas day. It then began issuing a weekly protest schedule that people followed by heart.
It came to be known as “the schedule” and we basically planned our life around it.
This was the beginning of the end for our former embattled president, who ruled as more of a dictator for 30 years. Al-Bashir was notorious for the conflicts he waged all over the country and as a result was indicted on counts of genocide and war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
On April 11, after months of protests, my mother woke me up with the news that Al-Bashir might be driven out. He came to power when I was 29 days old, and on that morning in April, I stood there, a 29 year-old woman and a mother, reflecting on how much Al-Bashir’s brutal governance had impacted my life. I was exiled to Egypt with my family when I was one year old. A few months earlier, one of my father’s friends was tortured to death by Al-Bashir’s government.
My fight against him was nothing short of personal. I threw on a dress, woke my daughter and packed her bag. We were out of the door in a matter of minutes, headed to the sit-in in front of the army headquarters in Khartoum where other protestors had been camped for five days.
A few minutes after we arrived, the army and supporters fired rounds of live ammunition. Feeling like a terrible mother for having my 10-month-old child in that environment, I cried quietly, hugging my daughter as we huddled low to the ground for cover.
Live ammunition has been the norm since December. The clampdown on protests has been brutal. Hundreds of protestors have been arrested and tortured—beaten and even subjected to sexual assault. More than 100 have been killed.
Al-Bashir’s fall in April, unfortunately, was not the end of our subjection to terror and corruption. He was succeeded by one of his close associates Ahmed Awad Ibn Ouf, who—in announcing Al-Bashir’s ousting and arrest—named himself the new leader.
Protests continued. And within 24 hours, Ibn Ouf delivered a brief goodbye speech. With a look of disgust, he announced that Abdelfatah Al-Burhan, the chief of the ground forces, would take over.
Al-Burhan selected a cabinet. Together they formed the TMC and announced their readiness to hand over power to a civilian-led government. People were wary and mistrusted the TMC; the dominant perspective was to continue the sit-in until the demand for civil rule was clearly met.
The plan was for the TMC to hand over power to the Forces for Freedom and Change, a newly formed coalition composed of the SPA, political parties, and civil forces that in early January had signed a declaration on Freedom and Change.
In Sudan, the momentum has been sustained for the past six months because we believe in democracy.
But then the TMC stalled, and engaged in futile rounds of negotiations with attempts to monopolize and consolidate power. It showed its true colors and terrorized the people of Sudan the same way Al-Bashir had.
By June 3, the TMC sent forces to attack the sit-in where protesters still refused to leave.
The sit-in was a beautiful landscape. Artists painted murals in all of its corners. Tents had been set up for protestors to sleep and eat. There was a noted coffee tent where people sipped on spiced coffee for free. Counselors were on stand-by to provide free therapy sessions, and the free health clinic worked around the clock. A classroom was built to teach street children who were no longer part of the formal educational system. People read at the open library and watched documentaries on the main screen. Musicians performed and politicians debated for the first time in their lives without persecution and arrest. The sit-in was a vibrant, creative and free space. It represented what we want Sudan to be and the freedom we’re fighting for.
The attack earlier this month began before sunrise and lasted well into the late afternoon.
One of my friends was violently beaten, and when he collapsed on the floor, the officers debated whether or not to kill him. People went missing for hours.
We might never know what really happened that day. We do know that 160 young men and women were killed, and dozens remain missing. We do know that dozens of women were raped—some gang-raped, targeted at the clinic area were activist women had congregated.
Hours into the attack, the TMC shut down the internet.
We didn’t have time to grieve, and we refused to surrender to military men who killed our brothers and sisters and attacked the hospitals to stop the injured receiving treatment.
We took to the streets again that same day and have refused to leave the streets.
The army leaders have interrupted internet signals, calling the internet a national threat. But we don’t need internet to organize.
We organize through neighborhood resistance committees that mobilize people, create and print fliers, distribute them, and go door to door to spread information. This type of grassroots infrastructure has been instrumental in planning for the global mass protests on June 30, in which the Sudanese people will be joined by protestors worldwide. They have enlisted the help of activists in the international community to stand with them in solidarity. The hashtag, #SudanUprising, will be used for all tweets in support of the liberation of Sudanese people.
The protests will be dedicated to the Sudanese people who were killed on June 3. They will strengthen the demand for the TMC to hand over power to a civilian-led government.
In Sudan, the momentum has been sustained for the past six months because we believe in democracy. We deserve democracy. Too many lives have been lost for us to give up hope now.
We’re prevented from being online; we cannot connect to the world through social media. But we ask that the world be our voice.
Reem Abbas is a Sudanese journalist and blogger based in Khartoum. She has contributed to the Washington post, AlJazeera English, Index on censorship, the Nation, and other Sudanese, regional, and international newspapers and websites.