Amro Ashmeik and Rwan Ibrahim
Sudanese-American students Rwan Ibrahim, a sophomore, and Amro Ashmeik, a senior, attend Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. After reflecting on the Sudanese Revolution and the immense impact it left on Sudanese identities worldwide, they decided to co-write a piece reflecting on the course of the revolution — pointing out what it means to a generation of children of Sudanese immigrants.
(PERSPECTIVES FROM ABROAD)
Sudanese protesters rally near the military headquarters in Khartoum, Sudan. Photo by AP.
Sudan, a jewel of Northern Africa, is what we know as “back home.” Growing up in America, our parents realized the importance of keeping their children connected to their Sudanese heritage. This meant reminding us of the vibrant yet simple culture we had ‒ one that is known for its sense of hospitality and strength. Values like these have been instilled in us throughout our lives and stand foundational to the Sudanese-American identities we claim for ourselves today. From learning and speaking Arabic at home to being fed our mothers’ home cooked traditional kisra and mullah, gurasa and asseeda, we look back and appreciate the modest upbringings we are able to uphold as we incorporate ourselves into the world today.
Though a strong sense of community was found in the Sudanese communities we grew up around ‒ in the Bay Area (Amro) and in San Antonio, TX (Rwan) ‒ we realized that we never truly reflected upon our backgrounds until we got older. As first-generation Sudani-Americans*, many Sudani college students like us feel the responsibility of adding “Sudanese spice” to the cultural melting pot of America by upholding our beautiful culture, staying aware and spreading awareness of news surrounding our country. The recent revolution in Sudan reestablished our connection to this responsibility.
THE REVOLUTION IN THE MAKING
We were first exposed to Sudanese politics during the 2011 split of South Sudan from Sudan: a repercussion of the civil war that began in the 1980s between the Sudanese government and the southern Sudanese rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Though we were young then, we would overhear news about Sudan from our parents’ conversations or phone calls with relatives and could sense the growing adversity. Sudan’s dictator Omar Al-Bashir committed war crimes against South Sudanese tribes, which ultimately led to the country’s divide. The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Al-Bashir due to his crimes against humanity and perpetration of genocide in Darfur.
Although a world away, we witnessed the growing instability in Sudan’s politics, economy and resources at Al-Bashir’s hands. This called our attention to Sudan’s turbulent, greedy and corrupt government. With time, we kept an eye on Sudanese news, major events and updates through the growing sphere of social media.
World Press Photo 2020 “Straight Voice.” Image from Sudan uprising. Photo by Yasuyoshi Chiba.
Following the events of 2011, Sudan saw rising inflation, heightened economic difficulties and further institutionalized corruption within Al-Bashir’s government that robbed the country from progressing in aspects of education, healthcare, infrastructure and technology like the rest of the world. Simply put, the dictatorship stripped Sudanese people of their basic human rights for decades. The end of 2018 saw even greater concerns to an already unstable Sudan. Steep inflation and shortages of basic necessities like bread, fuel and bank money became a helpless reality in multiple cities and villages.
Many media outlets reported that these imposed austerity measures are what led to the 2019 Sudan Revolution. However, the issues Sudanis maintain against the government are not limited to recent events but rather are derived from generations of systemic oppression. “The youth in Sudan believed there was another choice, another way of life, another shot at our country rising to be one of the best, as it had previously been,” says Lina Abdelgabar, a Sudani-American college student. Civilians began to demand change, now known to the rest of the world as The Sudanese Revolution.
Small protests grew into massive gatherings. The movement spread like wildfire, as multiple cities and villages across the country joined the call against the regime. Demonstrations quickly turned into anti-government resistance and a demand for Al-Bashir’s resignation. Sudan’s young population, women, and groups like the Sudanese Professional Association (SPA), organized protests. Powerful chants could be heard throughout Sudan such as “The people demand the fall of the regime” and “The bullet does not kill. It is the silence (of the people) that kills.” Visiting Sudan at this time, Northwestern University student Khalid Ahmed witnessed children “yelling the famous revolution chants with political activism and freedom of speech unlike anything seen in the African, Arab or Islamic world.” Simple yet encompassing words transcended far.
Rwan Ibrahim and family members protest against Omar Al-Bashir’s regime in San Antonio, TX. Photo by Rwan Ibrahim.
Ahmed Yousif, a native-Sudanese student who currently attends university in the U.S., actively took part in the revolution. Yousif felt liberated by the fervent chants and scathing anti-government slogans. He expressed he had “never been part of such a bold, immense movement before” nor did he “believe our people would be capable of producing one at any point in the foreseeable future.” Although protesting was dangerous, Yousif says that “the solidarity and companionship” he felt with his “countrymen would abate these qualms.”
Sudanis living outside of Sudan quickly recognized the importance of being outwardly vocal about their Sudanese identity for this movement. Abdalla Ali, a Northwestern alumnus, amplified this perspective, as he realized his voice could “directly impact the lives of family and friends back home.” Similarly, recent Northwestern graduate Rowan Hussein found herself “constantly keeping in contact with extended family.” The revolution enabled Hussein to carry herself as “not just as a Muslim, Black or African but also a proud Sudani-American.”
As the movement gained momentum, Al-Bashir’s regime responded by banning unauthorized gatherings and allowing security forces to violently suppress protests with threats and weapons that killed dozens of civilians. The Sudanese people refused to be silenced. Their chants only grew louder.
Alaa Salah wearing a white thobe, singing for revolution and surrounded by protesters at the April HQ sit ins. Photo by Lana H. Haroun
On April 6, 2019, large, peaceful sit-ins at the military headquarters in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, pressed the government to hear the cries of civilians. “Tasgoot bas” or “It [the regime] shall fall” became a popular phrase of the uprising. The sit-in brought large media attention with circulating photos, videos, poems and music that spread the word of Sudan’s uprising. A Sudanese woman draped in a traditional white thobe became a symbol of Sudan’s protest movement. Pictured standing on top of a car surrounded by a sea of thousands of protestors, she powerfully recited a poem as the audience shouted “thowra”‒ meaning revolution in Arabic. The revolution gave women and university students a voice like never before.
The “true grit of the Sudanese people” was made evident at the sit-ins, Yousif expresses with pride. Security forces attempted to clear the sit-in through bloodshed, but similar protests in Algeria that resulted in the resignation of the Algerian president added fuel and power to the Sudanese people’s voices at the sit-in.
“The people of Sudan shall always hold this legacy, and indeed did as the revolution progressed.”
“Tasgot bas” echoed throughout Sudan for days as ongoing protests maintained pressure on the Sudanese military. On April 11, 2019, the long overdue charges were made. The Sudanese military finally arrested Bashir and suspended the country’s constitution. A defining moment in Sudan’s History, the fall of Omar Al-Bashir was powered by the people of Sudan uniting as one. A sense of hope filled the streets as people rejoiced in their resilience and victory. With sheer force of will, Sudanis dismantled 30 years of dictatorship. The people of Sudan shall always hold this legacy, and indeed did as the revolution progressed.
Sudanese people gather to celebrate long overdue step down of Dictator Omar Al-Bashir. Photo by Ashraf Shazly/AFP via Getty Images.
THE PATH TO CIVILIAN-RULE
Although overthrowing Bashir was a major step forward in the revolution, the military’s control of the government through the Transitional Military Council (TMC) was not. Our people persisted in their demands for a trustworthy government that could restore political and economic stability. The military, who were in line with Bashir not long ago, were seen as distrustful. The people believed that they would work in their own self interest rather than the interest of the country’s citizens. Protestors shifted their focus, insisting that the military transfer control to a civilian government. Negotiations between leaders of the protests and the TMC took place in an effort to give a voice to Sudan’s civilians. Clear and deserved, civilians demanded immediate transfer to a pro-democracy government.
Widely recognized photograph of a protester amidst Sudan’s crisis. Photo by AP.
The negotiations began to falter and protests surged with a two day strike ‒ a heated sit-in at the military headquarter on June 3, 2019. What came next was a tragedy that would place its bloody mark on Sudanese history. One moment, protesters were peacefully striking, and the next moment, security forces led a brutal attack on the peaceful sit-in protests. The use of gunfire, torture, rape and tear gas killed over 100 demonstrators and injured over 300. Khartoum was a scene of tragedy. Sights of destruction, cries for the missing and a stench of bloodshed lingered for days as this became known as the Khartoum Massacre. What drove even more horror was the discovery of a series of unidentified dead bodies that had been thrown in the Nile, quantifying the extent of this attack. As experienced in Darfur, Sudan was once again bleeding. Though facing turmoil, the Sudanese only intensified their demands for justice following the mass killings.
The ruling military council escalated their censorship to a total internet blackout in an attempt to end mass revolt and silence the Sudanese voice. News about Sudan and updates about ongoing protests were blocked from the outside world, leading to a reliance of word-of-mouth or limited phone calls. The blackout was a form of extreme repression: a tactic for the TMC to cover the violence they perpetrated against protesters who ousted Al-Bashir. However, news still broke out about the atrocity of June 3, 2019 as well as Sudan’s internet blackout. The message of Sudan’s humanitarian crisis transcended.
Social media became a powerful tool of engagement for the Sudanese Revolution. Across multiple media platforms, the #BlueforSudan movement encouraged users to change their profile pictures to the color blue to stand in solidarity with the people in Sudan. The color became a symbol of compassion and solidarity as it also served as a remembrance for Mohamed Mattar ‒ martyr of the attack on the sit-in.
Symbolic social media artwork advocating for the #BlueForSudan movement. Art by Diddy Eltowny.
Sudanis all across the world became “more cognizant of how to use social media activism” to inform others about the ongoing conflict in their home country, as Sudani college students Ahmed Ahmed and Manar Barsi point out. Although feeling “detached” and “removed from the situation” was common amongst Sudanis living away from their families in danger, Ahmed reflects that these feelings pushed him to find ways to help. The word of our homeland progressively went viral as people changed their profile pictures, shared information, and called upon the importance of spreading awareness surrounding Sudan’s massacre to a silent world. The campaign encouraged people to donate and send messages to Congresspeople to condemn the violence in support of Sudan’s campaign for civilian lead democracy. Barsi emphasizes the importance of social media in mobilization, as it allowed for “people to contribute in small ways ‒ and to feel part of the revolution to some extent.”
#IAmTheSudanRevolution, endorsed by the SPA, trended in many countries on Twitter and Instagram. The revolution’s artistic influence expanded as artists, photographers, musicians, rappers and poets shared politically charged creative works that spread awareness across platforms. Peaceful protesters in Sudan who were being targeted with extreme brutality replied back with extreme satire and creativity.
Rwan Ibrahim, Wala Siddig and other Northwestern students at “The Millions March” in Chicago, IL. Photo by Rwan Ibrahim.
In response to the campaign of terror mounted by a TMC-backed militia, the SPA held the largest protest in Sudanese history, the June 30th “The Millions March.” Thousands of protesters, many of whom travelled in from across Sudan to take part, filled the streets of Khartoum calling for an end to the country’s military council. What was unique was that this march included the Sudanese diaspora. Sudanese in countries across the world organized their own local protests to bring awareness to the crisis, amplify the voices of the people of Sudan for civilian rule, and voice their demands for “freedom, peace, and justice” as seen in the Downtown Chicago’s Millions March. Northwestern student Wala Siddig, who attended Chicago’s Millions March, felt a “strong global identity and connection with the Sudanaese diaspora.” The worldwide Sudanese community was unified like never before.
A FUTURE AHEAD FOR SUDAN
Following the Millions March, negotiations between the TMC and the opposition resumed with mediation from Ethiopia and the African Union. As violence mellowed and the people continued their unfailing commitment to resistance, an agreement was finally reached. A transitional council was created consisting of five military members and five civilians led by Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan. Over the course of 3 years, they would pave the way to a new chapter of Sudanese government leading to democratic elections at the end of the transitional period. Though the restoration of the country is still under works, this was a momentous achievement for the constant efforts of the Sudanese people.Establishing a better Sudan could not have happened without the power of people’s voices and the peace minded approach to the revolution.
“Millions March” in Chicago, IL on June 30, 2019. Photo by Rwan Ibrahim.
As part of a growing generation of children of Sudanese immigrants, many of us feel that we have to go out of our way to prove how Sudani we are, highlights Sudanese-Emirate Ayman Babikir. He notes that this revolution reconciled our identities and “showed us that we all played a role in uplifting and revolutionizing the Sudanese community, regardless of where in the world we were or what our Sudanese identity and experience looked like.” Babikir’s point resonates with Sudanis across the world.
The Sudanese Revolution taught us the power of resiliency. Unparalleled, the people of Sudan gathered together, struggled together and continued to stand united for their rights. Sudan is a country that is deeply wounded, but its people continue to heal it. Though the country still has a long way to go, the pride we have for the people of Sudan, the pride we have for being Sudanese and the connection we feel with the Sudanese diaspora has grown immensely after witnessing the revolution.
We acknowledge that we grew to understand the historically volatile situation in Sudan from a very privileged perspective. As children of immigrants ‒ immigrants that sacrificed what they once knew as a beautiful Sudan for the stability and security we get to see in our lives today ‒ we continue to build our appreciation for our Sudanese identities and plan to use the resources we have to uplift our home country moving forward.
“Establishing a better Sudan could not have happened without the power of people’s voices and the peace minded approach to the revolution. ”