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A revolutionary movement for democracy has taken hold in Sudan, led by young people

EYDER PERALTA, HOST:

We're going to begin this hour with a remarkable protest movement on the African continent. That's my usual assignment, and I was recently in Sudan, a country that has seen huge change the past few years. Much of it has been driven by young people, who are on the streets again, following a military coup. There are only about 20 protesters standing in the middle of a dusty street in Khartoum. Rayan Nour is one of them. As cars zoom past, she's holding a handwritten sign. She's wearing a business suit and a bandana printed with little marijuana leaves.

So this is just a silent protest.

RAYAN NOUR: Exactly. You just have a sign.

PERALTA: What does your sign say?

NOUR: (Non-English language spoken) - the world is ruled by a woman who fights.

PERALTA: A woman on the streets, wearing pants, protesting, was unthinkable just a few years ago. Sudan is a country long governed by Islamic law, but a revolutionary movement for democracy has taken hold here. In 2019, mass protests forced Sudan's dictator Omar al-Bashir from power. A new military junta is again being challenged. Nour is one of the organizers.

NOUR: It's highly coordinated, and then you have so many committees to organize all these things - media, the field, making sure that these streets are barricaded.

PERALTA: Kholood Khair runs a think tank in Sudan. She says their whole lives, young people watched how the Islamist regime used a vast network of informers to keep Sudanese in check. And inevitably, Khair says, they learned.

KHOLOOD KHAIR: What the resistance committees have done is effectively take over that structure to use it for resistance. And that's why they were so effective in defeating - unseating Bashir in 2019.

PERALTA: Now in Sudan with little notice, tens of thousands of protesters can flood the streets. They paralyzed the country in hours and are confident this will ultimately dislodge the new junta and lead it to a democracy. It's worked before, they believe, so why wouldn't it work now?

KHAIR: And the vision is that politics actually takes place at the grassroots level and not in the sort of agreements and handshakes that are happening between senior officials.

PERALTA: At first, the movement was led by the highly educated - doctors, engineers, teachers - but they were easy targets for the government. So taking inspiration from the regime they hated, young people created resistance committees. Every block, every building now has a committee working independently to call people to the streets. As Nour and I talk, an older man gets close to listen to our conversation. Is he intelligence? I ask Nour.

NOUR: Well, it doesn't matter. They're everywhere. They're everywhere. But we're everywhere too.

PERALTA: We meet Nour again the day after the small protest.

NOUR: Hello.

PERALTA: How are you?

NOUR: I'm good. How are you?

PERALTA: She gets in the car wearing a different suit and her trademark bandana. This time, every resistance committee in Khartoum has decided to head toward the presidential palace. It's bound to be chaotic and violent.

NOUR: So you're just literally paralyzing the street.

PERALTA: The resistance committees are mostly run by young people like Nour. She says this generation was built for change.

NOUR: My mom always taught me to not let anyone take my rights away from me and for me to get that by my hand if I had to and not wait for anyone to get it for me.

PERALTA: That's how they toppled the dictator. When we start walking toward the presidential palace, barricades have already started going up. Older women are building them using pavers from the median.

NOUR: They have joined us. They weren't here. We were here. Like, the first protest - it was called in the newspaper - was like, (non-English language spoken), which is the whores and the gays - protest of the whores and the gays. And I was like, OK, whores, gays, let's go (laughter).

PERALTA: We walk past burning tires, past drummers and poets, and as we get closer to the palace, the crowd builds into the thousands. And without warning, security forces make their move.

The military has shot tear gas through all of downtown. Blocks and blocks are just covered in tear gas.

Some protesters collapse, overcome by the tear gas. Others hit by canisters are bleeding. We see one older man running, wiping tears from his eyes.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: We are looking for freedom for our children, for our kids. You will find us everywhere. You will never - you will never sleep. No one, no one, no one above this nation.

PERALTA: Amid the chaos, Nour is calm. Her voice never rises. She never runs. Why keep doing this because the more you keep doing it, the more the chances that you will die?

NOUR: So you're living here. What are you going to do? Are you going to just cope with that, or are you going to do more and get to what you are protesting for since the beginning?

PERALTA: You're also 24 years old.

NOUR: Yeah.

PERALTA: Like, I don't know. Like, you have life.

NOUR: Yeah.

PERALTA: Right?

NOUR: Yeah. I do, but in order for me to go to that life, I need this life to settle for me.

PERALTA: Things may not, as she put it, settle for Rayan Nour soon. There was another big protest yesterday. Security forces used tear gas and live bullets to disperse activists. Some of them say the U.S., a country known for pushing democratic values, doesn't have their back. I talk to young people like Nour all the time in my work, and I hear that a lot. When they find out I'm American, they often tell me that they feel abandoned by the U.S. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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