Despite Bloodshed, Young Sudanese Protesters Stay To Fight For Peace
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now to Northeast Africa, to Sudan. Since demonstrations in Sudan started in December, more than 200 protesters have been killed by security forces. The protests, which began over the price of fuel and bread, were successful in ousting President Omar al-Bashir. But demonstrators have stayed on the streets demanding the fall of the entire system. Before this week's power-sharing agreement, the military junta running the country responded with violence, shooting, beating and jailing protesters. NPR's Eyder Peralta wanted to know why, despite threats, Sudanese keep taking to the streets.
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Mostapha Salah's friend was killed when he was shot in the chest by security forces. He says they were building a roadblock, when suddenly, a militia showed up and started firing. He and other friends tried to carry his limp body to a police station, but they were stopped at a checkpoint.
MOSTAPHA SALAH: (Through interpreter) I stood my ground next to the body. They beat us with whips. And then he said they started to check if the body is actually dead.
PERALTA: According to Salah and two other witnesses I spoke to, the militiamen beat the corpse. Salah is a teen. His friend, Sulliman Abd Allah, was 17. I asked Salah why they had gone out to the streets that day.
SALAH: (Through interpreter) Like, our life is not - it's hard. To eat, I need to stand in a line for two hours to get a couple pieces of bread.
PERALTA: To top it off, standing in line makes him late to work. But you're 18, I tell him. You have a whole life ahead of you. He shakes his head like I don't understand. He wishes he could have gone to school, that he could build a career. But he says he knows that's never going to happen in Sudan.
SALAH: (Through interpreter) With this regime - with the regime that we're living under, it seems like even it's harder for us even to dream.
PERALTA: After talking to Salah, activist Rudwan Dawod offers to take me to the house of the boy who was killed. Dawod says this part of Khartoum has long been home for those fleeing conflict. First the South Sudanese, who fled a brutal civil war, now Sudanese fleeing Darfur and the Nuba Mountains. So, he says, the government treats this like a war zone, where any act of protest is treated as treason.
RUDWAN DAWOD: 'Cause usually they don't even throw tear gas here. It's just like live ammunition.
PERALTA: This neighborhood is far enough away from the river Nile, it's unmistakably desert. So there are few trees. The streets are sandy. We arrive at the home of Sulliman Abd Allah just as the prayers begin at the mosque.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Arabic).
PERALTA: His uncles invite me into their compound.
PERALTA: It's so hot, we sit outside on beds they've moved under a tree. They show me a picture of Allah on their phone. He's got a book on his lap, and he's looking pensive. Allah was born in Darfur in the middle of war.
MOHAMMED HASSAN: (Speaking Arabic).
PERALTA: His dad died when he was young, says Mohammed Hassan. So they brought him here to Khartoum so he could go to school, become somebody and maybe help his mother back home. Now, he's gone.
ABDO HASSAN: (Speaking Arabic).
PERALTA: His other, Abdo Hassan, says they had to look for his body across the city. They finally found him at a hospital, and there was blood everywhere. I say goodbye. I offer my condolences. And once we're back in the car, I ask Rudwan Dawod, who organizes lots of these protests, if this bloodshed is worth it.
DAWOD: I mean, I wish, like, you know, nobody dies. I imagine my daughter going outside on the streets. Will I ask her not to go? I won't.
PERALTA: Dawod says young people imagine a different Sudan - peaceful, equitable, just. And unlike previous generations, they don't want to flee.
DAWOD: These kids are driven by a lot of enthusiasm, but also they are driven by their dreams. They're out because they're fed up with this situation. And they want to change the situation, and they believe that they can.
PERALTA: A little more than a week later, opposition leaders called for more protests, and at least 11 people are killed. But the military leader agrees to a power-sharing agreement that, for now at least, seems to put an end to the bloodshed. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Khartoum. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.