Thursday, April 21, 2011

Published: Fight the Cause

Sudan Eyez: Fight the Cause, a mix-CD that includes fourteen tracks by different Sudanese musicians and poets couldn't have been produced at a more perfect time. While Fight the Cause was being widely circulated on Facebook and downloaded for free, a wave of rage was spreading amongst Sudanese youth which one of its reasons is Safia Ishaq.

Ishaq is an activist who was gang-rapped by Sudanese security forces; angered because of what happened to Ishaq young Sudanese put her photo as their display picture in the Facebook, while many were joining groups calling for changes following Tunisia and Egypt.

In its introduction, the mix-CD emphasizes that the battle for the Sudanese cause has been ongoing for 21 years and the movement towards change started on January 30, 2011, was "inspired by the Egyptian and Tunisian youth."

By asking the listeners to make this CD the soundtrack of the 2011 Sudanese protests, the artists are actively trying to mobilize their listeners to become active and involved in the movement.

The mix-CD begins with a 1958 recording broadcasted from Omdurman Radio which was called This is Omdurman; the recording was two years after Sudan's independence from Great Britain and the year of its first military coup. Music from old Sudanese songs is sampled and integrated into a number of tracks. It covers different genres from hip-hop by US-based Sudanese rapper and poet Selma-I and Khartoum-based rappers ReZOULution, to Reggae beats by Mao and R n B by Dubai-based Sudanese artist Mo'awia known as Nile.

Featured artists easily alternate between English and Arabic and insert cultural references such as referring to the government as Kozes, a cup made of metal used for drinking water in Sudan.

Supporting an Activist

The artists began working on Fight the Cause CD after the January 30 protests and the whole idea was instigated by the arrest of rapper, blogger, activist and poet Ahmad Mahmoud, also known as DZA the Dissenter. 70 protesters were arrested on the 30th of January protest. Two days later, Mahmoud was arrested as he took part in a peaceful protest in Khartoum North.

Hashim , the brain behind the idea, said that the aim was to produce a music “ that is going to inspire the Sudanese youth so they can’t let us down when it’s the right time to make some changes,”

Picking the contributors wasn’t a challenge for Hashim, he already had a few musicians in mind. He made sure to pick the tracks that match the concept of the album. He told me in an interview that he knew that the musicians wouldn’t mind joining such an album even if it is going to bring them problems.

The tracks were already recorded; Hisham just had to pick the most suitable ones. He started working on the mix-CD and was planning to dedicate it to Ahmad Mahmoud, his fellow musician and good friend. Fortunately, Mahmoud was released twelve long days later.

In the meantime, the youth movements in Sudan decided that 21st of March was a day of mass protests. The mix-CD had to be finished and distributed beforehand.

“I really wanted that album to spread awareness so I had to publish it unfinished, after all, it took me about one month to collect the pieces,” he stated.
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The mix-CD was distributed online. Many put a link to it on their Facebook pages. I personally stumbled upon the mix-CD after a friend of mine posted a link to it on Facebook. When I asked Hashim if they used the internet only for distributing the CD, he quoted the poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron and told me that “the revolution will not be televised,”

Gihad AbuNafeesa, a medical doctor found herself part of this artistic movement calling for change when she read about what happened to Safia Ishaq, a 25 year old artist affiliated with Girfna, a two-year old youth movement calling for change.

Ishaq was arrested on February 13, 2011, by the police for her involvement in the January 30 movement. Not long after she was released, she spoke out about her arrest, beating and subsequent gang-rape by three members of Sudan’s security service in a video testimony broadcasted on Youtube.

AbuNafeesa was heartbroken and angry by the oppression of women in Sudan and the ongoing violence against civilians and decided to use her pen to write the story of the Sudanese struggle.

In her piece, the quality of equality, performed at the Women’s Week at Ahfad University for Women in Sudan, she spoke of Ishaq when she said:

“You asked for the quality of your equality,

And gained nothing but cold depravity…

of ones who crowned your head with fear

When they unwrapped your hijab, and bound your hands -

because you chose to make a stand!”

AbuNafeesa has used Ishaq’s picture as her Facebook display picture for nearly two months now.

Published Piece:-

Friday, April 15, 2011

History lesson: The Funj Sultanate

One of Sudan’s greatest kingdoms was born when the Funj, an ethnic group from South Sudan was forced to flee a rivaling ethnic group, the Shilluk.

Their destination was Sennarwhere they established the Funj Sultanate of Sennar , also known as the Blue Sultanate. They single-handedly ruled this area of Sudan for a number of centuries until their fateful collapse in 1821.
In the 15th century, the arrival of Amara Dunqas and his subjects put the Funj on the map. Dunqas defeated Abdallah, the ruler of the empire previously situated in Sennar.

At the time of its establishment, the sultanate practiced Animism and Christianity. In 1523, Islam became the religion of the monarchy, however, some aspects of previous religions and beliefs were incorporated into the newly-adopted religion.
As the kingdom grew stronger and expanded its control to Gezira, Southern Kordofan and other regions, it became a direct threat to the growing Ottoman influence in the region and the neighboring state of Ethiopia. Until the 1810s, the kingdom was home to the largest army in East Africa, stationed at garrisons and ready to fight the surrounding enemies. Clashes with the Shilluks continued until an unlikely agreement was forged as an attempt to unite against the Dinka, the largest Southern Sudanese tribe.

The kingdom started declining in the 17th century as sultans fought over power. In 1821, Sennar was incorporated into Anglo-Egyptian Sudan and this was the final end of the Funj Sultanate.

Badi V11 was the last ruler of the kingdom. He couldn’t resist the Ottomans, as the kingdom was already too weak to fight off foreign invaders.....

Friday, April 8, 2011


I picked up the phone after the third ring. I didn't want my parents or my brother, my tall angry brother to get to it before I did. I knew it was Ahmed calling. He calls everyday at the same time and we agree on where to meet. He calls me after iftar in Ramadan, the holy month. This time, I was holding a glass of red hibiscus. My mother prepares hibiscus juice every day. It was the traditional Ramadan drink along with abri, or what I call paper juice. When you soak its leaves in water, they look like little pieces of shredded paper.
" It feels great to be stuffed with good food! " he said before I could even say a word.

I laughed and I remembered listening to him complain the whole time on the phone. He swears he is going to break his fast every single day, but for some odd reason, he never does.
He thinks it is pointless to fast since he doesn't pray .

I told him to fast for the poor and hungry.


" Let's meet next to the green mosque in 45 minutes" he said. I imagined him smiling in his room.

" What should I tell my parents? what should I tell my brother? He still lives in the 11th century! " I argued defensively.

" Tell them you are going to pray tarweeh....tell them you need some alone time with god. It's next to your house, they wouldn't be too worried" he said. I hated him for always having the best excuses.

I felt like a child, he always tells me what to say and what to do.

" Ok, I will call you back in 10 minutes. Two rings means yes and one ring means no , ok? I have to go now, bye" .

I looked down at my hibiscus juice. For a second, I imagined it to be red wine. I've only seen women drinking wine in American movies. They looked so classy with their crystal glasses full of this dark red drink. Lips painted red , they took long slow sips , followed by flirty giggles. The men sitting next to them (usually very close), were usually unattractive. Now, I had to stop myself from thinking about wine and pretty American women with red lips . I scolded myself very quickly. I wagged my finger at myself , slightly attempting to imitate my bossy grandmother. I quickly reminded myself that it's Ramadan. It's Ramadan and I'm thinking about wine!

I said" I'm not going to be late. Tarweeh prayer only takes an hour, I think". I slipped into my black abaya and covered my hair with a black scarf. It was a chilly night , unusual in Omdurman. It was the blessings of the holy month, claimed my father .

I walked to the mosque next to my house, after three blocks of fancy houses built by Sudanese living abroad, I stopped for a second in front of the blue house, I didn't find it special because of its bizzare color. I've heard of purple houses, but blue? The house was shaped like a boat. Rumor has it, the owner was so obsessed with Titanic, he wanted to build his own Titanic. This was Sudan in 1998, there was absolutely nothing to do. Actually, I should avoid jumping to conclusions, we did have Titanic to watch, over and over again. I remember watching it. The endless sobbing when Leonardo Di Caprio died. I remember running upstairs , standing on the edge of my roof and screaming "I'm the queen of the world"

I took a quick turn after three blocks, I could see a big plot of empty land, where the boys play football on fridays.

I saw him. One hand in his pocket, the other hand was holding a cigarette. I remembered him telling me how much he craved a cigarette the whole day, he didn't mind not eating or drinking.
I imagined him placing a cigarette between his lips just a few seconds after the azan at sunset.

My Ahmed looked older. He exuded this energy you get from bus drivers in places like Sudan, exhausted and frustrated at the corrupt system that takes away 30% of their profit and the bad roads that cause their cars to break down in a matter of weeks.

He was back from the South, after high school, every dutiful Northern boy is sent to fight there. They were told it was their duty, after they take their final exams, they are huddled together like sheep on their way to the slaughterhouses a day before Eid starts.

Most of them, at the age of 15 and 16, don't know what they are going to face there and what they are fighting for or who they are fighting. Mothers stand far from the big trucks with bags full of sandwiches ,sweets and fresh juice, only to be turned away from the legendary Martyrs Square. The lucky few smuggle delicious tuna , falafel and braided cheese sandwiches, only to be caught later and forced to eat all the sandwiches in less than 10 minutes. When the poor kids throw up, the officer's hearts don't soften one bit, I tell you that. They don't budge, they don't give up tormenting young boys...... they stand there and yell "more, more,eat more" like Americans you see on tv cheering their friends at hot-dog eating contests.

" How was your hibiscus juice?", he asked.
I couldn't utter a single word.
" I think we should go pray, I thought about it and I don't want to cause you any problems. Your parents think you are there, if they asked your neighbors, you are going to be in trouble young lady"

I protested in silence.

I let him hold my hand as we walked in silence. I smiled to myself, my Ahmed was back and he was alive.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Why the sudden bombardment?

Hey blog,

I miss you <3

I was an active blogger when I first started blogging. Then university became hectic. I graduated in 2009 and vowed to become active again. Then work happened and the move back to Sudan.
A few days ago, I was reading blogs ( I'm back to reading blogs a lot) and I promised myself to get back on track. I've been writing a lot lately and I just shared a few published (and paid for, I have to buy pretty things) and unpublished pieces.

I have to be fair, I can't blog on a daily basis, but I promise to update this blog a few times a week.

Have you found the book?

I’ve been searching for the book for the past six years. I’ve been buying every book I stumble upon in an attempt to find “it”.

The book I’m looking for will be the book I memorize and quote by heart. I know what the characters are thinking and they become part of my life. What would Martha do? I asked myself after finishing Martha Quest by Doris Lessing.

It was a touching book, I loved it, scribbled notes and placed bookmarks inside it. I thought I found “it” after reading the last page of Martha Quest, but I was proven wrong.
I even changed my email password to Tehmina Durrani’s book " my feudal lord" after finishing it. I loved Durrani’s masterpiece. I re-read some passages and was heartbroken by the main character’s dilemma. She was abused and degraded by her husband. It was the first time I read about domestic violence and the book stayed with me just like her bruises stayed with her and marked her arms and beautiful face.

I loved Jamal Mahgoub’s traveling with djinns. I even dropped everything to go see him at Cairo’s international book fair. I attended his lecture, paid an obscene amount of money for his new book in hardcover and asked him to sign a tattered copy of traveling with djinns. I proudly presented to him a worn out copy of his book. Some pages were folded and some were almost pink due to excessive use of pink highlighter.

Was it the book?

It was a special book to me, but I wouldn’t call it “the book”. I remember how much I struggled to get this book. I actually placed a special order at a bookstore and paid a significant amount of money. I think I spent most of my money on books when I used to live abroad. Sudan doesn’t have many bookstores and I spend my money on food instead of books, but in another life, I didn’t mind spending half of my allowance on books.

I found “the book” at a book fair for less than 2 dollars. It was a dusty second-hand copy and I almost didn’t get it. It was called Leaving Beirut and written by Mai Ghassoub.
“Who is she again?”, I asked myself.

The title wasn’t very interesting and the cover was green (my least favorite color). The owner of the booth told me that I would get a discount if I buy 10 books. I ended up buying it just to get the discount.
I started reading the book on a cold winter night at about 2 p.m. I was in a good mood and I wanted to read something different. I ended up reading it simply because it was obviously about Lebanon, a country I know little about. I devoured the book in a few days and ended up reading and re-reading different passages. I read it like a loved book. I wrote notes in the margins, dog eared a number of pages and underlined names of people to Google (do not judge me) and read some passages aloud to my sister.

It was the kind of book I have been meaning to write. It would be called leaving Sudan, but I would convey the same emotions…. idolizing Sudan, ranting about injustice, making sense of war and ethnicity and recalling certain encounters.
Once you find your book, there is no harm in continuing to search for another special book.

I continue searching for other books to love and get absorbed in.

No to Oppressing Women- unpublished article


****This article was written last December. It was never officially published

Samira Mahdi, a member of Inclusive Security, one of the founders of the initiative for Sudanese Women in Politics and a member of UNDP's initiative for female politicians arrived at the Ministry of Justice at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday the 14th of December with two other activists to submit a memorandum calling for the abolition of the public order laws in protest of a leaked video showing a girl being brutally lashed while onlookers laughed and did nothing. The three activists were entrusted to hand in this document before the protest starts at 11 p.m.

Upon arrival, they were shocked to find the protest police at the site carrying their shields and fully equipped because the organizers were given permission from the police to hold a silent protest and the streets they would use during the march were also agreed upon beforehand.

“ They didn’t let us inside the building so we sat down and waited for other protesters. We sat on the floor wearing our white headbands and carrying banners that read “no for women’s oppression” and we were silent,” said Mahdi.

After the protest started growing, 6 trucks full of police officers dressed as civilians, the trademark of the public order police, arrived at the scene and demanded from the protesters to get up.

“When we refused and remained silent, they forced us to get up. They were literally carrying us off the floor, some women were seniors citizens like me and some were young, but it was very aggressive and some women fought back to no avail,” recalled Mahdi.

Mahdi took a strong stance and refused to get into the car. The police officer told her to go home, but she did not. She walked to the Northern police station where she figured they would be taken and made quick calls to lawyers and political leaders from all parties.

“ The first thing they did was take their phones away from them, but two smart women hid their phones in their bras and this was how we were able to contact them,” said Mahdi

She added that 100 lawyers came to the station to defend the women and bail them out. They were imprisoned from 11 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

“ We could hear the women signing patriotic songs reminiscent of the independence and the 1964 revolution that led to democracy,” said Mahdi

No case was filed against the protesters until now even though the police forces vied to prosecute them.

Some activists had to seek medical help after the arrests.

Magdi El Gizouli, a Sudanese journalist, blogger and analyst who wrote about the video girl in his daily column in the citizen newspaper believes that the video is a representation of the presence of patriarchy in Sudan.

“The crowd watching including the judge were quite amused one must admit. I do not think the question here is restricted to how the state and its disciplinary institutions behave towards women, but how society at large perceives and deals with the female body,” he told me in an email.

Since coming to power following a bloodless coup in 1989, a government calling itself the national salvation government embarked on “the civilization project” an attempt to reshape the Sudanese nation by introducing a number of new social laws. The public order laws were born in 1991 and they put Sudanese individuals, especially women, at risk of getting arrested, jailed and lashed through a number of ambiguous laws.

The woman getting lashed in the video was persecuted under article 152 of the criminal act laws of 1991 which states that police officers responsible for fighting social corruption have the right to arrest, fine and lash a woman if she is dressed indecently.

“ It is up to the man arresting you to decide what is decent and what is not. It all depends on his personal judgment. We don’t know what to wear anymore, “ said Sally Ahmed*, whose sister was lashed over ten years ago when the public order police barged into their university and arrested many girls at random.

Ahmed added that the officers would actually park their cars in front of their university to harass girls as they leave the campus. The university in question is known for its liberal education and for its activism for gender equality.

After years of being subjected to abuse, Sudanese women were finally inspired by the well-known case of Lubna Hussein, a Sudanese journalist persecuted under article 152 in 2008.

No to women’s oppression, a coalition to campaign against the public order laws was formed to protest the case of Lubna and the coalition continued campaigning against the law and was the main organizer of last Tuesday’s protest.

According to a source in the national police, the video was released to tarnish the reputation of Sudan.

Merely a week after the government claimed to have started investigating the video and the punishment carried out on the girl, President Bashir endorsed the punishment in an official speech and told the Sudanese public to pray and revise their understanding of religion.

The lashed girl in the video and the case of Lubna Hussein sparked national and international outcry, however, the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) puts the number of women lashed in the last year and a half at about 42,000.

Al Gizouli believes that the idea of lashing to public order officers is beyond the execution of a judicial punishment.

“ The audience and the actors, with the exception of the woman, were having fun. This was parody and not punishment. One could sense the obscene joy of male figures observing the disciplining of a female body. You could name it the pornography of punishment,” he told me.

Published: Sudan, Egypt, Libya, and Back Again: Witness to the Revolution

My recently published article, check it out @

My father came back from the supermarket armed with bags full of pasta, rice, flour, and canned products. He rushed there after hearing about protests in Benghazi. This was in mid-February, and the world was not yet aware of the events unfolding in Libya. My mother’s health was deteriorating and we were hoping for an immediate medical evacuation to the UK.

At night, in our cold apartment on the seventh floor of a building in Tripoli, the capital of Libya, I tried to figure out whether the sounds I was hearing were gunfire or fireworks celebrating the birth of the prophet Mohamed in Libya. This year Mawlud was on February 15.

Libya was never a favorite place for me, but I have a strong connection to it. I lived there in 1991 and 1992 when my father was working as a professor, and I visited in mid-2010 when my father started working for the UN.

The country seemed stagnant. No real political change had happened since 1969, when Muammar Gaddafi overthrew the king of Libya and established himself as ruler. Unlike Egypt, Libyans did not live in poverty. They had access to education and health care, but the government overlooked their aspirations.

My mother’s friend, a young Libyan woman in her early thirties, told us once that when the late King of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), King Zayid, visited Libya in the 1970s, he told Gaddafi that he wanted his country to be like Libya. Decades later, the UAE became an international phenomenon in development and advancement - its key cities Dubai and Abu Dhabi are icons of intelligent architecture - but Libya is sadly not very different than when we left in 1992. Today Gaddafi seems relentless to hold on to power even if it means ruling only a fraction of his nation.

Yet in Egypt, it took only 49 seconds for a 30-year-old government to quit. Omar Suleiman, a former intelligence chief and Mubarak’s vice-president at the time, announced the resignation of the president in just two sentences.

When we arrived in Cairo on January 27, as my mum was scheduled for an operation at a hospital there, I did not expect the protest to gain momentum. I had witnessed protests in downtown Cairo during my university years, when police officers brutally suppressed each and every demonstration.

People were so used to having Mubarak as the president because he had been in power for 30 years and the devil you know is better than the devil you do not know, they believed. “Who is our next option, the Muslim brotherhood?” was the usual answer I received from friends and colleagues.

On February 9 the UN issued a memorandum urging its staff to evacuate, which brought us to Libya, where my dad was stationed as part of his job with the UN. The day of Suleiman’s speech, my family and I went to a bakery where we purchased a cheesecake and came back home to celebrate while watching news channels.

I remember the beginning, April 6, 2008. It took me less than 30 minutes as opposed to an hour to reach the American University in Cairo from my house. A few weeks earlier a Facebook group called "April 6 Youth Movement" declared the day a national protest day. The whole country was encouraged to stay at home in solidarity with the workers in the factories of the Mahalla-El-Kubra area who were preparing a strike. It is difficult to state whether the movement was successful on April 6 since it did not reach out the way it was expected to - the overwhelming majority did not join the protests. However, it was the first mass mobilization in a very long time in Egypt. At least 70,000 joined the Facebook group. The government cracked down on the founders of the group. The co-founder, Issra Abdel Fatah, was imprisoned for two weeks. After her release, she vowed to quit political activism for good.

Fast-forward to June 2010, when 28-year-old blogger Khaled Said was beaten to death by police in Alexandria. Said was not the first Egyptian to die at the hands of the notorious Egyptian police. According to reports by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other organizations, security forces in Egypt commonly use torture, including beatings, electrocution, and sexual assault, against political prisoners, activists, convicted criminals, or any voice of dissent that needs to be silenced.

HRW disseminated the disturbing picture showing a dead Khaled Said with a broken nose, broken jaw, fractured skull, and other visible injuries, and the Egyptian people took to the streets in mass numbers. Notable protests were organized in Alexandria, his hometown, and quickly spread to the rest of Egypt. A Facebook group, “We are all Khaled Said,” was formed, and this group became a very important organizer of the “day of anger” protest on January 28.

That sole picture of Khaled Said and the April 6 Movement were instrumental in mobilizing young people, who represent 60 percent of Egypt’s population, and inspired in them a sense of political awareness and social change, but the most pressing trigger was the uprising in Tunisia.

Tunisia is one of the jewels of the Arab and African worlds. It brings to mind a peaceful image of beaches, beautiful white houses, and an educated middle class. When Tunisians started mass-protesting last November, inspired by Mohamed Ben Bouazizi, a 26-year-old Tunisian man who set himself on fire to protest unemployment, the Arab world was shocked.

But Egyptians were already fed up with the Mubarak regime. It was widely circulated that over 30 percent of Egyptians lived in absolute poverty while the president’s friends and supporters accumulated an enormous amount of wealth. The average monthly salary was 400 EGP ($68 USD), while the rich were buying Chloe bags for over 10,000 EGP ($1,700 USD).

Police brutality was at an all-time high. Editors were fired, harassed, and fined. Ibrahim Eisa, a popular opposition journalist and editor of Al-Dustour stated at a conference I attended in Beirut two years ago that there were over 30 cases filed against him at that time.

Tahrir Square, as it appeared on TV during the protests, was empty of cars as protesters made it the site of their uprising. I used to pass by Tahrir Square every day for three years as a student. It took a lot of courage to cross from one side of the square to another. Thousands of Egyptians flocked to the chronically congested square every day to head to the Mogamma, the epicenter of Egyptian bureaucracy and a huge building where Egyptians go to get their passports and papers and foreigners go to get their visas renewed. The square also houses the Arab League, the Egyptian Museum, and the headquarters of the former ruling party, the National Democratic Party.

“If we left the square, the uprising will die off, and if we failed to overthrow the government, the government will slash our necks,” said activist and journalist Nawara Negm to Al-Jazeera TV. Negm was right. Protesters had been arrested, tortured, and persecuted in Egypt before.

Fear was also an important aspect in convincing more supporters to join the protest. The organizers kept calling on workers to join the protests, but feeling uneasy about losing their jobs, the workers initially shied away. Then as the protests grew larger, workers from national factories, the national TV, and many other national companies joined the protest. The larger the protests, the more protection people felt.

I keep thinking of a friend of mine who was arrested in the beginning of February in an anti-government protest in Northern Khartoum in Sudan. He was just released. I hope change also comes to Sudan. I hope we find inspiration in Egypt’s revolution.