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Sudanese demonstrators chant slogans as they attend a protest rally demanding Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir to step down, outside Defence Ministry in Khartoum, Sudan April 10, 2019.
REUTERS/Stringer
Protesting al-Bashir

Sudan’s diaspora has played a crucial role in supporting the anti-Bashir protests

Isma'il Kushkush
By Isma'il Kushkush

Widespread anti-government demonstrations have rocked Sudan since December. Protests against high bread prices have turned into calls for an end to president Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year reign. The government has responded with force, and in February, it declared a year-long state of emergency. Sudanese officials say that 33 have died in the protests, but activists and international human rights groups say the number is higher.

The international community has been slow to react, as al-Bashir has successfully tied himself to several regional alliances, and global powers fear chaos and a repetition of a Libya or Yemen-like scenario. But one group that has made its support loud and clear to end to Bashir’s rule is Sudan’s diaspora.

Nearly 5 million Sudanese live abroad, according to Sudanese government estimates, distributed mainly between the Middle East, Europe, North America, and Australia. Many have shown active support to the protests in different ways.

Large solidarity protests have taken places around the world in cities such as New York, San Francisco, London, Paris, and Brussels. Moyad Baba, the co-founder of Sudanese-Americans for Nonviolent Demonstrations (SAND), has helped organize large protests in Washington DC and has lobbied US officials to act on Sudan.

“We saw there was a gap in international political and media advocacy, so we wanted to give the revolution a voice,” Baba said.

Back in Sudan, security forces have responded to the protests using violence, including batons, tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition. Many people have been injured, including some who have lost limbs. Diaspora members have raised funds to help the injured and assist medical teams. One effort is led by Bakri Ali, a member of the University of Khartoum Alumni Association based in Philadelphia. He’s raised tens of thousands of dollars to financially assist those who need urgent medical help.

Another is Sarah Abdeljalil, a Sudanese physician based in London. She is one of the spokespeople of the Sudanese Professionals Association, the independent trade union spearheading the organizational efforts on the ground of the Sudan protests. She is also a member of the Sudanese Doctors Central Committee, which has been providing data on the casualties and injured of the protests.

“We have been working to support rescue teams financially and raising concerns about medical services and human rights with officials,” she said.

The government’s crackdown on the local media along with limited access to Sudan by international journalists has made for limited media coverage. The government has also shut down social media and electricity at various points during the protests.

Sudanese journalists abroad working for regional and international media outlets have used their social media platforms to shed light on events in Sudan. Ola Diab, based in Doha, Qatar, is the founder of 500 Words Magazine, an online magazine that focuses on Sudan.“We have been covering the Sudan uprising since it first began in December 2018 ensuring the voices of the Sudanese people who are experiencing it first hand are heard,” she said.

Diaspora artists and musicians have also played a key role in supporting the protests. Political cartoonists such as Doha based-Khalid Albaih and Boushra al-Mujahid of Abha, Saudi Arabia, have drawn political caricatures depicting the protests, and their works have been widely shared on social media. Musicians such as hip-hop group Nas Jota in Washington DC, US, Walid Abdulhamid in Canada, and Ayman Mao in Dallas, US, have all composed solidarity songs.

“Art is an engine for positive change, and I see it as my duty to serve the youth and protests in Sudan,” Elmoujahid said.

Reggae artist Ayman Mao’s 2013 song “Blood” has been a favorite of young Sudanese protesters and often chanted during demonstrations. But he sees his role as minuscule compared to those of protesters.

“This is nothing compared to those on the streets,” he said humbly.

While many members of the diaspora have shown support, many also emphasized that their role was support and not leadership.

“The leadership is internal,” said Abdeljalil. “The most important thing is unity.”

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