Protesters In Sudan Vow To Continue Push For Democracy, Even As Violence Grows Worse
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Back in April, protests in Sudan ousted President Omar al-Bashir after 30 years in power. People celebrated in the streets.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
One of them was Mohamed Elnaiem, a graduate student in the U.K. who flew to Sudan to be with his family and advocate for democracy. He says it was a time of optimism and intense creativity.
MOHAMED ELNAIEM: People that had been suffocated by 30 years of living under Omar al-Bashir's regime were now communicating with each other and, in open forums, discussing the future. There was art. There was poetry. And there was hope.
KELLY: Hope that the transitional military council that replaced Bashir would negotiate and give way to civilian rule. But this past Monday, troops known as Rapid Support Forces - RSF - opened fire on a pro-democracy sit-in in the capital, Khartoum. Dozens of bodies were pulled out of the Nile.
SHAPIRO: Earlier today, Elnaiem told me the protestors calling for a civilian government no longer go to the city's main square. They're demonstrating in neighborhoods.
ELNAIEM: The idea is basically that they build barricades. And usually they face severe repression. They risk death. They are scared back into submission. And they're basically making the argument that there's going to be sort of a general strike until the transitional military council comes to heel. And people are not going to be working. And so even if they're going to be terrorized to the point where they have to stay at home, they're going to use that to their advantage to make sure that their demands are met for a civilian government.
SHAPIRO: Do you personally feel safe continuing to protest given what you've seen this week?
ELNAIEM: No, no. I mean, that's why, the people that I mentioned, I would probably say that they are even braver than I am. In the first day of the occupation, I was out protesting, helping to build the barricades. But I was chased by the RSF, and the RSF was shooting live ammunition. I, too, had to go and run and escape into someone's home. And ever since then, I've been quite afraid to go back outside to protest.
SHAPIRO: You had been studying in the U.K. at Cambridge. And I understand you arrived in Sudan in April just hours before Omar al-Bashir was overthrown. Can you compare the optimism that you felt then to the way you feel today?
ELNAIEM: Absolutely. I mean, one of the things I remember was sort of a magical moment. You'd wake up 5:30 a.m. And, you know, this regime that you thought was invincible - that got away with murder, that got away with genocide and even escaped ICC warrants - when you find out that that person that led that, you know, had been deposed, I mean, it was a euphoric feeling to wake up and to feel that you're in this revolutionary phase.
And when we all went and gathered at the military headquarters with everybody else that was already there, I mean, we knew that we had won when there was sort of gunshots in the air shot by, like, lower-rank soldiers to indicate that, like, Omar al-Bashir was gone.
Today, when I'm stuck in this home and I'm hearing gunshots in the air, they're not gunshots of the soldiers that were there to celebrate with us. They're the gunshots of RSF, people terrorizing people at the barricades. And they might be gunshots that are targeted towards people in the street. I mean, it's a completely different feeling. It's weird how, like, you hear gunshots in one circumstance and they're gunshots of hope, and then the next circumstance they're gunshots of terror.
SHAPIRO: This took place during Eid, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, which is supposed to be a time of feasting and celebration. What do you think about the timing?
ELNAIEM: I mean, the timing is just - it's unbelievably cruel. I mean, one of the things is - OK, it happened just a few days after the transitional military council, the head of it, had met in Mecca with the Arab League. It's crazy how, you know, they met in this so-called holy city for Muslims only to sort of plan a devastating attack that would happen on the day before a holy day. And these are the same people that for 30 years claimed that they were an Islamist regime representing Islam. I think that there's a cruel, tragic irony in that.
SHAPIRO: And so where do you think the protests go from here? Can they continue?
ELNAIEM: I think they can. I think they can. And that's why I like to mention those people where I say, like, those are ones who are even more brave than I am, those who are still out in the streets and running back and forth, back into the barricades, back home, waiting for things to cool down, risking death, risking murder because they might have the power of all of these geopolitical forces on their side. They may have the UAE, Saudi Arabia. And they might get away with everything from throwing people into the Nile to raping female doctors and - with the support of these countries. We don't have that money, but we've learned the power of the streets. And I think that if the first terrain was the occupation that we had in front of the headquarters, I think the next terrain infrastructure is definitely going to be the neighborhood councils.
SHAPIRO: Mohamed Elnaiem is a pro-democracy protester in Sudan speaking with us from the city of Omdurman. Thank you so much, and stay safe.
ELNAIEM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.