Sudan’s Arab Spring

From the November-December 2013 issue of News & Letters:

Woman as Reason

Sudan’s Arab Spring

by Terry Moon

After Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia set himself on fire in protest on Dec. 17, 2010, Al-Amin Moussa Al-Amin followed suit, setting himself ablaze on Jan. 23, 2011, in the Sudanese city of Omdurman. In this way the Arab Spring reached Sudan after people voting in a referendum decided that South Sudan would become independent of Sudan. Like Bouazizi, Al-Amin was protesting corruption, harsh living conditions and poverty. And, like the practice of the Arab Spring in other countries, women made sure they participated in the uprisings.

WOMEN TAKE THE INITIATIVE

Women not only were a part of all the protests, but also took the initiative. On June 17, 2012, women at the University of Khartoum began a peaceful protest against a severe rise in food and gas prices and an end to subsidies of vital commodities. When their protest spread to the whole campus, they were brutally attacked and beaten by the police. The next day, the protests leapt to neighborhoods and then other major cities and continued for days with students shouting, “No, no to high prices,” and “The people want to overthrow the regime.”

Nuba Mountain feminist activist Jalila Khamis

Nuba Mountain feminist activist Jalila Khamis

Since the revolt in the first month of 2011, protests are continuing to break out and most are violently suppressed by the regime of Omar al-Bashir, president since 1989, who imposed Sharia law and abolished political parties in 1990.

On Sept. 23, revolt again broke out, this time over the ending of government subsidies on fuel and cooking gas. As reported by Radio Dabanga: “‘[T]hunderous demonstrations’ started from El Deim popular neighborhood, led by women shouting ‘down with the regime.’ They were surrounded by the security men after Amarat Street was closed. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga that a number of the women were arrested.”

NUBA WOMEN PART OF THE STRUGGLE

Nuba Mountain women too are part of the struggle. The Nuba people are in limbo when it comes to being part of either South Sudan or Sudan. Since June 2011, Sudan has escalated its attacks on the Nuba. It has bombed civilian areas, forcing thousands to flee, many of whom now live in mountain caves, refugee camps or Sudanese cities, including many thousands in Khartoum.

After war broke out, feminist and peace activist Jalila Khamis proclaimed on a YouTube video: “The children and women of Nuba Mountains are very tired. I call to the international community to stop the bombing and war in Nuba Mountains now!” For this she was beaten and thrown into a Sudanese jail where she was held for nine months without a trial, facing charges that could have led to a death sentence. Free now, she and other Nuba women and men are continuing the fight.

In the latest uprising that started in September, over 160 protesters including women and high school students have been shot dead by the military and many more have been injured. Women Living Under Muslim Laws report that most “were found to have been shot in the chest or head….Women are increasingly on the frontline during the protests in Sudan. Since 2009 there has been a surge in the women’s rights movement which started when Sudanese women human rights defenders went out into the streets to protest against the policies of the al-Bashir government and his political Islamist allies.”

Amira Osman Hamed, who refuses to wear a headscarf

Amira Osman Hamed, who refuses to wear a headscarf

One of those protesting is feminist Amira Osman Hamed, who was arrested on Aug. 27 for refusing to wear a headscarf. She will go on trial as we go to press and, if convicted for “indecent dress,” could be sentenced to 40 lashes, even though flogging is against the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, which Sudan signed. Hamed, who had also received a fine for wearing trousers in 2002, said: “I am a Muslim woman but I will not cover my head. A piece of cloth should not determine my spirituality.” She wants to call attention to this misogynistic law that is enforced primarily against poor and vulnerable women.

These struggles together reveal that women are not only fighters in these battles to overthrow al-Bashir, but they are also determined to continue the great tradition of women of the Arab Spring: to make sure that their revolution does not stop until all human relationships are transformed.

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