When Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir visited Cairo on the week commemorating the Egyptian 2011 revolution, receiving needed public support from Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El Sisi during a joint press conference, I shrugged and changed the channel. Instead, I gave my undivided attention to what’s happening in Sudan.
The chants. The faces, shifting from hope to rage to fright. The funerals that erupt in further protests. The tears running down the faces of mothers who have lost their children. The hopeful scenes of children raising flags. The boys picking their friend’s lifeless body. The emotional moments of a young man, who just lost his eye to a bullet, going ahead with his planned wedding—in the hospital where he’s receiving treatment. Every instant of Sudan’s uprising seems immediately familiar to anyone who has lived through, participated, or closely observed in a popular uprising, much like those that swept the Middle East in 2011: even Bashir couldn’t avoid the comparison.
And, I imagine, the smell of the tear gas and the vinegar (a protester’s best friend, used to counter tear gas’s effects), the thud of bullets fired by the police, the taste of the dust kicked up by crowds rushing away from danger: that, too, must be the same. I feel it all, viscerally.
On the anniversary of the Tahrir uprising which began on January 25, 2011, and endured until Mubarak’s forcible resignation eighteen days later on February 11, marking Egypt’s unique revolution of its modern age, I’ll be eschewing the bittersweet nostalgia, and focusing on the stream of hopeful news coming from Sudan.
The date of January 25 was chosen by protest organizers in 2011, not merely because it was a national holiday, but also because it was Police Day—commemorating a day in 1952 where policemen were on the side of the people, and resisted the British occupation of Ismailia. Sixty years later, the people directed their anger at the police, following decades of brutality, torture, extrajudicial killings, and corruption. And while January 25 has been restored as a day of pride for all Egyptians who stood against tyranny, its memory has been sullied and all but erased in the years since 2011; today, Egypt’s government simply commemorates Police Day, once again.
Across Egypt’s southern border and for seven consecutive weeks now, Sudan’s protests have maintained an incredible, steady regimen of low-intensity protests and civil disobedience without creating a centralized hub that would simultaneously attract and feed off the attention of photographers, freelance journalists, and television channels the world over. The protests in Sudan are widely ignored by most global media, and by the celebrities who, over the years, have championed various causes in Sudan and highlighted the government’s brutality. Middle Eastern countries have largely lent their support to the Sudanese government; in addition to hosting him last Saturday, Egypt was also the first to send envoys to Khartoum to support Bashir, dispatching its minister of foreign affairs and its intelligence chief to Khartoum at the beginning of the crisis. The United Arab Emirates offered financing and fuel, while Saudi Arabia pledged financial support “until [Sudan] overcomes the current situation.” Qatar reiterated support; Turkey offered fuel and wheat.
The protests in Sudan began, much like the rest of the Arab Spring, over economic difficulties, primarily inflation and the slashing of bread and fuel subsidies. Protests in the northern city of Atbara on December 19 were quickly replicated across the country, bringing together a familiar melting pot of actors: everyday, unaffiliated Sudanese suffering from poor economic conditions, young professionals, political opposition members, university students who cut their political teeth in the “Girifna” (“We’ve had it”) political movement since 2009. As the response from the authorities escalated, from tear gas to beatings to murder with live ammunition, so has the position of the protesters, whose slogan in response to Bashir is now, simply, “Tasqot bass”—“Just fall!”
The resolution of the situation in Sudan is unknown, and appears no closer today than it was when the protests started. Khartoum is subject to a delicate balance between Bashir—a war criminal who forcibly clung to power for 30 years—and his military and security establishment. Analysts suggest a possible opposition within Bashir’s camp could tip the scales against his remaining in power.
Until this happens however, the Sudanese show no sign of abatement, and continue to take the streets, armed with nothing but their voice, facing increasingly brutal state repression. And so, as the Egyptian government celebrates the erasure of the 2011 revolution and the restoration of Police Day, I am looking at Sudan and its people. I look in admiration of their resilience, the selflessness of their courageous people, and the righteousness of their cause; but also, somewhat selfishly, to live vicariously through a popular movement that has the potential to pull its country forward and create a democratic, happier, more equitable Sudan; and I hope that they follow Tunisia’s path, not Egypt’s. And much like the world has lent its attention to my country’s protests in 2011, I hope you will join me in giving, at the very least, our attention to the Sudanese.