Demonstration in Omdurman on Jan 20, 2019. Screenshot from a video by @CivildisobedienceinSudan
Revolution has begun in Sudan as of mid-December. It is over for the current Sudanese regime; there is no going back. The world and the leadership of the African continent should take serious notice; stop the bloodshed, and extend solidarity to the country that lies right at the heart of Africa.
It has been almost 30 years since the current Sudanese regime took over the country through a military coup in June 1989. A combination of political Islamic elites of the National Islamic Front and ideologized military officers overthrew a struggling multiparty government under the banner of national salvation. Since then, the future of the country has changed drastically, and taken a sharp turn backwards.
I was 21 at the time and I felt in my gut that our lives would never be the same again. I still remember that day in the winter of 1990 coming back to the faculty of education campus in Omdurman with my colleague Mubarak. I was wearing the fashion of the time: a loose skirt below the knees, short hair around my face and a short blouse ending right at the belt of my skirt. Mubarak was in jeans and a wide Damour shirt, when we were stopped randomly by the police and taken to the police station. We were coming from a political meeting that had taken place on campus. I was worried about the small notebook in my purse and whether Mubarak had any political documents on him. To our surprise the conversation the police wanted to have had nothing to do with our politics. Instead, I was interrogated about my short blouse, short sleeves, and uncovered hair. Mubarak was only questioned about his background: where was he from, and why was a boy from Nuba walking around with a girl from central Sudan?
From that moment it became very obvious that we were entering into a new era of politics. The new regime undid what the ruling Sudanese elites had tried to attain during the early post-colonial era, which was to establish a political system that was largely based on civil politics. This is not to say that the earlier Sudanese governments were without their own failures. The mistreatment of the South Sudanese people was a tragedy that would come to haunt Sudan. The democracy was fragile, and these weaknesses would come to be violently exploited by the coup of 1989.
The military coup was masterminded by the National Islamic Front –NIF, a Sudanese extension of the Muslim Brotherhood organization. However, the NIF was also clearly inspired by the model of the Islamic Republic of Iran, consisting of a supreme, spiritual leader (presumed to be Hassan Al-Turabi) and an executive body of military and civilian politicians from the NIF leadership.
Islam has always been the symbolic focal point among the Sudanese people, the vast majority of whom are Muslim. Their faith largely represents who they are, and it is what brought them together as a hybrid nation. However, most Sudanese Muslims followed the North and Western African Sufi traditions, which were deeply ingrained in Sudanese identity and their approach to life. Endurance, tolerance, spirituality and diversity are central values in the majority of the Sufi orders’ guidance. To impose an alien violent and repressive ideology such as their version of militant Islam on Sudan was not easy. The NIF did what fascist regimes do everywhere: they resorted to violence.
Since then, Sudan has entered into a dark era in history, an era that has been marked by identity politics and religious militancy where women are demonized for their gender and the poor and ethnic minorities are excluded, humiliated, and publicly persecuted.
For 30 years the Sudanese regime has capitalized on two major pressure points to cripple Sudanese society: women and gender relations on the one hand, and tribalism and ethnic identity on the other. The regime saw clearly that those two factors were aspects of Sudanese society that remained unresolved within the boundaries of the hybrid young nation. The NIF then selected the most powerful method to inflict their polarizing politics and that was through Islamic religion. And it worked.
For 30 years the NIF controlled the country under the guise of religion. They intimidated the Sudanese people, killed and tortured critics, flogged and disrespected women and men, challenged our traditional values and faith, and spread misogyny and racism. The regime carried out a comprehensive social and economic project based on total domination by controlling all the resources of the country. Then they effectively used the rule of law to terrorize society and integrate a violent militant version of religion into Sudan’s laws and education. The laws they came up with had no grounding in the Islamic religion or tradition. The episodes of terror orchestrated by the Sudanese regime were arbitrary and continuous.
The NIF’s actions have had a terrible impact on Sudan’s public services and education, and directly led to the collapse of our country’s most important public institutions. Millions of people have fled the country, making Sudan one of the leading countries in terms of emigration. Meanwhile, the regime initiated a sequence of wars against its own people. In Darfur in 2003 the death toll and displacement reached into the millions. As of 2011, the NIF added to their record wars in the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains, where they have terrorised and killed civilians for nearly 10 years. Despite these horrors, the NIF regime portrays itself as the guardian of the Muslim faith, not only nationally but also internationally, planting seeds for Islamist terror groups such as Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab.
The years of egotistical tactics, corruption, injustice and systematic violence against civilians are ending. The people have spoken and unmasked the tyrants of dogma. They cannot hide anymore. The Sudanese youth are chanting: We denounce the religious brokers. Let it fall. It is already falling apart, and the Sudanese are well prepared to claim their country back.