Amir Ahmad Nasr is an exiled Sudanese Canadian artist and the author of the memoir “My Isl@m: How Fundamentalism Stole My Mind — and Doubt Freed My Soul.”
On Thursday, after about four months of continuous protests, the Sudanese people achieved the seemingly improbable. They brought down one of the world’s most corrupt and inhumane military dictators — peacefully.
This momentous event, which can only be described as a revolution, would not have been possible if Sudan’s youth had not dared to dream of freedom and to persist in that dream. Theirs is a revolution born of great pain and frustration, but also increasingly fueled by witty humor, joy and a stubbornness that insists on the celebration of life and Sudan’s diversity, in conscious and dramatic contrast to the violence and inhumanity of the regime of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
On April 6, responding to calls for disciplined mobilization by the Sudanese Professionals Association and the courageous youth who came of age under Bashir’s brutal rule, huge jubilant crowds that some are calling the largest in Sudan’s modern history defiantly showed up for a massive sit-in at the army headquarters in Khartoum, in a popular decentralized protest movement reminiscent of Tahrir Square and the 2011 Arab uprisings.
Crowds appropriated the Arab Spring’s signature chant “the people demand the fall of the regime!” and sang revolutionary songs by a new generation of Sudanese YouTube artists and rappers calling for the peaceful end of the dictatorship. During the sit-in, Sudan’s previously marginalized Christian Copts sang hymns while protected by their fellow Sudanese citizens. Even Sudan’s large and influential Sufi mystical orders, usually keen to avoid politics, joined en masse.
The role of women has been especially remarkable. Young women have led many of the protests, prompting chants of “my grandfather is Taharqa, and my grandmother is Kandaka,” in reference to the great Nubian pharaohs of past, a joyful declaration of pride in our Nubian and African heritage, which had previously been suffocated and neglected by the authorities.
The revolt, unprecedented in its scale, has arrived in Khartoum, the stronghold of the regime, and there’s no going back.
Yet now the grass-roots movement faces what may be an even bigger challenge. Bashir’s deputy, Defense Minister Awad Ibn Auf, a sanctioned genocidaire, put himself at the head of a transitional government that is supposed to hold power for the next two years. The move backfired, and just one day later, on Friday, as more people poured onto the streets, he resigned, so his replacement, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan Abdel Rahman, can take over, but it’s futile.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, the vanguards and leaders of the uprising, know that both Ibn Auf and Abdel Rahman are among the higher military ranks that are pillars of the old regime, and protesters are accordingly demanding a new civilian transitional government to steer the country away from the brink of state collapse, followed by free and fair elections and the rule of law.
The demonstrators in Khartoum are making it clear that they will never accept a military government under any circumstances. Both the ministries of defense and interior will have to recognize the authority of a new civilian government. If the past four months have proved anything, it is that the Sudanese Professionals Association is astonishingly capable of mobilizing the masses and leading change. Its Declaration of Freedom and Change has gained wide consensus and offers a guiding framework to rebuild Sudan.
The pro-democracy movement will have to stick to these demands if it wants to emerge victorious. The activists are only too aware of the negative examples provided by the Arab Spring — as in Egypt, where the military initially sided with the revolutionary crowds only to ultimately betray them by installing a new dictatorship in many ways crueler than the old one.
But there are still grounds for hope. The pro-democracy forces have demonstrated a remarkable ability to harness social media and the expertise of creative classes both at home and in the Sudanese diaspora in the service of the uprising. Now they will have to focus on keeping the movement strong, active and focused on its most important goals.
Since seizing power in a military coup in 1989, Bashir and his loyalists have steadily sucked the life out of once vibrant Sudanese regions, states and cities, enriching themselves and leaving behind a trail of misery and destruction.
Throughout their 30-year reign of terror, Bashir — who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on genocide charges — and his regime waged war against virtually every component of Sudan’s multiethnic and multireligious society in the name of religion or Arab nationalism. They waged war on minority populations, policed women’s bodies and outmaneuvered major challenges.
Sudan, once a country of great prosperity and economic vitality, can recover that status if intelligently managed. The talent exists. The resources exist. The will among the people exists. For the rebuilding to begin, however, the remaining dinosaurs need to get out of the way, peacefully and without causing further damage.
For years, the outside world, shocked and horrified by the crimes of Bashir’s regime against Southerners, Darfurians and other groups, viewed the northern Sudanese more as perpetrators than victims. That may explain the international community’s apathy toward Sudan’s vibrant youth and protest movements that have grown over the past decade. Yet having witnessed the world’s dismal reaction to Syria, we are under no illusions: We are on our own, and we know it.
Where we go from here largely depends on the behavior of the army and security services. Cooler heads must prevail. The revolution needs all the help and support it can get to fulfill its just demands. And that can happen only through a truly democratic rebirth of Sudan, and with the rejection of Bashir’s nightmarish ideology of hate. After three long decades of tyranny, Sudan’s people deserve nothing less.
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