By Valerie Lannon
Over 150 members of Toronto’s Sudanese community rallied June 4 in solidarity with the Sudanese revolution. This came on the heels of the brutal repression and killing of protesters in Khartoum and elsewhere in Sudan on the last day of Ramadan The Rapid Security Services, the vicious arm of the country’s reigning military government, are carrying out horrific assaults, rapes and murders. As protests have grown to include general strikes in recent months, the government, no different than when al-Bashir was in power, has gladly taken aid from Western-backed Saudi Arabia and the UAE to stifle democracy.
The enormous Sudanese diaspora is fighting alongside the protesters in Sudan by leading numerous solidarity rallies around the world. In addition to the call for a full civilian government (and an end to the current government called “koz”), they are demanding the military be held accountable at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
In Toronto the group assembled at downtown’s Nathan Phillips square, where participants gathered in a circle and took turns making speeches and leading chants like: “War criminals to ICC”, “Janjaweed to ICC”, “TRC to ICC”, “Stop killing in Sudan”, “Canada, Canada why’re you silent? Canada, Canada action now!” and “Who are we? Sudanese! What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” They carried placards with photos of the carnage, saying “This is what Eid looks like in my country.”
Springmag interviewed two of the Toronto protesters. Ola Adam (OA) is a 21 year-old woman from Cambridge, Ontario, and Elham Bakri (EB) is a leader in Toronto with the Sudanese Women’s Coalition for Political Parties and Civic Society (MUNSAM)—a coalition including many political and civic organizations, whose basis of agreement is to eliminate the current government in Sudan.
Why was there a solidarity action in Toronto on June 4 in support of the Sudanese revolution?
EB– We believe that we should be the voice of our people in Sudan because the Western media completely ignored what was going on. So we have been protesting in cities all over the world, looking for media attention, as this will help the people inside Sudan, because the oppressors will fear the international community. We still have our people in Sudan and we all have families there. One of the reasons we came to Canada was because of the oppression of people in general and women in particular. The rate and severity of violence has been escalating so we feel it’s our duty and the least we can do to bring attention to the revolution and provide protection by exposing the atrocities against Sudanese people.
The revolution in Sudan is certainly being undertaken by a mass movement, but are there particular forces or organizations at work?
EB – When the al-Bashir government came in 1989 I was in university and the opposition came right away because we knew his roots and the danger for women because it was a fundamentalist government. They got rid of opposition political parties. There are 8 million in the diaspora because people had to avoid the killings. But there have been political opposition and uprisings during the last 30 years, the latest in December because of rising inflation and bread prices becoming unaffordable.
The protests started in December in different neighbourhoods and marches were led by youth, mainly students from high schools and universities. Then with repression, the Sudanese Professional Association came out to lead the protest. The SPA is mainly made up of university graduates, professionals like teachers, doctors, and pharmacists. They had been using social media to communicate, e.g. to announce a schedule with dates and maps of marches. Gradually the SPA became the leading body.
They were not political party members, as people are fed up with the parties’ weaknesses (which happened because of detention, torture). The SPA group pulled people out of this mood of oppression. The SPA signed an agreement with parties, human rights groups, and civic groups to launch the Declaration for Freedom and Change, which is the basis for everything that has followed. It includes the demands: overthrow the system for a complete civil government for the people to be ruled by people, not the army or fundamentalists; a permanent constitution; and the right to take those responsible for oppression to trial. This declaration was able to unite all the different forces.
Is there a special role that women are playing? And could you tell me more about the white dress/robe?
OA -Women have been participating in this revolution since day one. Each protest march starts with an ululation which women use in Sudan and other countries to express celebrations. It is called “Zaagrouda.” Women have been bravely and repeatedly facing the police that was throwing tear gas and using live ammunition. The Sudanese Kandakas (Sudanese Female Revolutionaries) have suffered from arrests. Also, they have been beaten, their hair cut, locked up, and threatened with rape, besides the emotional abuse. Since April 6 till before the sit-ins were dispersed, Sudanese women were a part of the peaceful sit-ins and disobedience.
The white robe, “Thobe,” is an outer garment that women wear in Sudan and is usually worn by Sudanese women that work in governmental offices or educational firms. Overall, Thobe represents professional women who work in towns, cities or in rural areas within agricultural sectors. Its history goes back to the 60’s when all our grandmothers used to wear it while marching on the streets demonstrating against military dictatorships.
EB –This period is a rebirth for Sudanese women after 30 years of oppression. The first elected woman to the legislature in 1967 was Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, a leading woman activist and the leader of Sudanese Women Union. She was the first female member of Parliament in the Arabic and African region.
But with Sharia law under al-Bashir, they designed rules to hold women back and imposed hijab by force. As we believe the hijab is a personal choice we objected to this forced measure using state violence and systemic oppression. So women now are in the front lines since day one, women from all backgrounds, whether tea sellers, doctors, housewives, all walks of life. Although they were brutally opposed, but this didn’t stop them from putting themselves on the front lines. We have a chant, Zaagrouda, starting 1 pm, which women use, and this is the sign for the start of the marches and people then come from all different directions.
We led a campaign, #whitemarch, in March for International Women’s Day and we asked women all over the world to wear the Thobe. The women went out every day and formed over 60% of the protesters. They were in the SPA and in the diaspora as spokespeople. During the sit-ins women were among the organizers to ensure safety. The woman who became famous in media photos was reading the poem about the Nubian queen of ancient Sudan.
Because of the escalation and the June 3 massacre, we decided we needed a new campaign. We had sensed something would happen, so we started with live videos to ask to stop the militias (who previously acted in Darfur, and al-Bashir at his weakest point brought them to Khartoum from the west where they were stopping immigrants trying to get to the Mediterranean.) They are a militia and when they came we knew they wouldn’t protect protesters but would be the ones to kill those in the sit-ins. They are supported by regional governments like Saudi Arabia because they use them in the Yemen war. Their leader Hemeti is also a leader of the Transitional Council. Our campaign to appeal to the UN failed and we fear even more severe reprisals next time.
How about youth?
OA – Youth plays a huge part in this revolution. Post-secondary students from almost all universities participated in the first protests, especially UofK (University of Khartoum) who first started showing the complete rejection and went on total disobedience until the fall of the regime. The youth faced most of the violence from the police and national intelligence and security services. Also, a few high school kids went on protests.
The youth came up with an idea of surrounding and securing each neighborhood with barricades/roadblocks (called Matarees in Sudanese). These barricades were built in order to prevent the police and the national security services from entering the neighborhood and practicing their violence against the peaceful protesters.
Since April 6, the youth have been on the peaceful sit-ins asking for their rights and the civilian government. The older generation did not believe in the youth moves and protests until we succeeded in the fall of al-Bashir. UofK has remained closed since the arrests took place; as well a few students got killed from the police and NISS. Now, all universities, colleges, primary and secondary schools are closed until the government becomes civilian.
What impact could this revolution have on other countries in the region?
OA – One day, it will be noted that the Sudanese revolution was the longest peaceful revolution that history witnessed. It’s showing the world that no matter what, the key for removing dictatorship is by patience, peace and unity.
Peace was and will always be our weapon even though we have been suffering and witnessing murders, torture, rape, etc. We will continue keeping it peaceful as we’ll always be patient.
Unity is key. For the first time after 30 years, all Sudanese are united and a part of the revolution. This makes our weapon way sharper. We’ll stand and we’ll continue our peaceful revolution till we win.
An example of our approach spreading is the Algerian revolution that started after our first protests against the previous dictator. The region is learning about us and other parties are getting more scared because of the unity that Sudan is witnessing and the total civil disobedience.
I’d like to note that we’ve come a long way. Though we are still raising awareness and the UN is doing nothing, we will never lose our hope. We’ll keep our faith and we’ll continue being peaceful, and Sunday June 9 was the first Total Civil disobedience Day. And it succeeded!
Are there some immediate demands you would like us to make upon the Canadian government?
OA – We are kindly asking Canada to:
- turn its attention into the human rights abuse and violence that is happening in Sudan.
- provide support on replacing the military government that is practicing all this violence, with the civilian government
- prosecute all those responsible for killing civilians and practicing the violence.
- stop the police, NISS, and RSF from using live ammunition against the peaceful protestors.
- look for “Janjaweed’’ (RSF: Rapid Security Services) and prosecute them because of what they have been doing to civilians till now.
- open an investigation into the corruption that the previous government practiced and return all their assets and possessions to Sudan.
EB – We would like the government to pressure the international community to support the transition to power to the people. This revolution has been stolen by the military. The Canadian government should state clearly that all the people involved in the killing of protesters should be brought to justice because they are also responsible for genocide in Darfur (stopping immigrants trying to reach the Mediterranean), and we can’t give a blind eye to what’s going on. And we want the current Sudanese government to know we are aware of what they’ve been doing to stop immigrants. Also the Canadian government should apply pressure on the current Sudanese regime until it hands the power to the people and stops the killing.
What will it take to win?
OA – We Sudanese will not be quiet, our tongues will never be cut and our voices sooner or later will be heard. We are suffering now and blocked from the internet and most media. A massacre took place and no help or support was provided. For now, we need to spread awareness of what is going on. By doing this, the pressure will be on the UN (United Nations) and all international peaceful and human rights organizations. We want other peaceful countries to provide support so a civilian government takes over in Sudan.
Is there anything else you would like to emphasize?
OA – I would like to emphasize how it is heartbreaking watching the world silent about what is going on in Sudan, a country whose civilians face violence from its Police, NISS, RSF, and still civilians are on peaceful protests and disobedience. How would these civilians win if the world is silent? Where are the Human Rights Organizations? Where are the United Nations? Where is everyone? Why no one is bothering with what is going on? I would like to say that you don’t need you to be Sudanese or living in Sudan to spread awareness or being aware of what is going on. What is happening is simply against very, very basic human rights.
EB – It was as if they stole my life, so when I came here to Canada I felt defeated and not a sense of a new life because I had lived there half of my life. I still see the injustices here. When you have political awareness you never think of yourself as privileged and you see the injustices. But this inspired me to be active here because the struggle is one. So I feel good about myself because everywhere the struggle is one. I have people to support here, as I have people to support in Sudan.
Where can we keep up to date with what is happening in Sudan?
OA -Even though a few media channels sometimes talk about what is happening in Sudan, I would highly recommend social media as they are all up to date and directly live from witnesses. Please, follow the following:
Twitter: @YousraElbagir. She is a foreign news reporter works at @Channel4News and @elephantmediasd and CNN, BBC; and
Instagram: ehabthebeast. He is an active social media user. He reports videos and explains the current updates and situations.
EB – see the SPA FB link (www.facebook.com/SdnProAssociation/) and the Munsam FB
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