Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Story of the Lives Affected When One Country Became Two

published @http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/reem-shakwat/sudan-when-one-country-becomes-one_b_1658532.html?utm_hp_ref=tw

On 9 July 2011, when South Sudan became an independent country, Rose Michael, a South Sudanese woman who had lived most of her life in Khartoum, decided to stay in the city where she had a great job and owned a house. But in April 2012, Rose had to leave for Juba after her employer let her go. She planned to return to Khartoum. But then she lost her Sudanese passport and now she can't return because the war has escalated and flights are cancelled.

When the Sudans separated, Anas Zanga was stuck in the middle. With a Sudanese mother and a South Sudanese father this young man has a split identity. He struggled to get Sudanese citizenship and as a result couldn't find a job. When I met him last March, he told me that his wife is six months pregnant and he was worried the child would be stateless like him.

Nanjoor is also caught up in a war not of her making. She is from Abyei, an area contested by the two sides. In her makeshift tent in a camp for returnees to the South she makes mint tea and tells me her story. Her husband is from South Sudan and lives in Juba, but she has a life in Khartoum and does not want to go to the South. Clad in a toub, the Sudanese national costume, Nanjoor looks like any woman you see in a market or public bus, but that's not an identity available to her now.

Mohamed Saeed is from the Nuba Mountains and works as a driver for an international NGO in Khartoum. Over the past year, he has hosted seventy internally displaced persons from Nuba. Jalila Khamis, an activist from the region, had taken in twenty-one internally displaced persons, who had all walked for days to reach the safety of her Khartoum house.

She was arrested in March 2012.

I chose peace between Sudan and South Sudan when I read about the 1987 Ed-Da'in massacre where 1,500 were brutally murdered. I choose peace in the Nuba Mountains because I don't want to see families living in caves; I want Nubas to live in dignified conditions. And because I choose peace, I choose to revolt. I choose to join thousands of protestors demanding change in Sudan because only regime-change will bring peace to Sudan.

I choose peace because last year, my friend, Rashaida Shams Al-Deen was tried for participating in an anti-war protest for Southern Kordofan and she has now been detained for two weeks for choosing to protest for peace. I choose peace because Mosaab, a nine-year-old kid who cleans cars on Nile Street walked from Blue Nile to Khartoum on his own. He does not even know where his family is. I choose peace because I choose humane life.

Names have been changed for security reasons
www.wechoosepeace.org #ChoosePeace

Social media attracts youth to #SudanRevolts

With the start of #SudanRevolts, a hashtag that helps aggregate information on the mass protests spreading across Sudan to topple the regime, many newcomers to twitter have emerged. Over the last one week, Mansoor El-Tayeb, a computer scientist working with children in-need is live-tweeting from Wab-Nobawi, the site of one of the largest protests for two Fridays in a row. El-Tayeb has tweeted on the heavy security presence and marked down their specific location.

“There are many security trucks and tok-toks without plates,” he tweeted.

Another tweep, Zeinab Elrayah, has become very active in encouraging protestors and updating on the situation at the University of Khartoum.

Today she tweeted” our parents are worried about us from arrests and torture, what do they call what we are in? It is the same thing, if not worse.”

Others like Yousif Al-Mahdi, an active tweep, stared a blog to share his thoughts. Two days ago, he wrote down a blog-post called “security tips for #Sudanrevolts” and circulated it widely. The post discusses basic security tips such as not using phone for internet and social media security.
He also divulges into a sensitive topic, arrest.

“You’ll be surprised how little NISS know. Most of the information they have is fabricated or incomplete; provided by informants under pressure to deliver their weekly quotas,” he writes and assures people that if they are not outed as activists to the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), they should not mention their affiliations and even if they are known, they should not give information.

Another new blogger, Sara Al-Hassan who started blogging at www.b45.tumblr.com , translated the story of an 11-year-old who arrested by mistake and kept for three days in detention from a Sudanese online forum.

For the past few weeks, Al-Hassan has tweeted and blogged pictures of people from all around the world showing their support for #SudanRevolts. The pictures came in from Ireland, Bolivia, France and many more countries.

Even if youth in different countries sympathize with #SudanRevolts and support with this movement for change, the international media doesn’t feel the same way.

For instant New York Times carried an article called “Dissent Sprouts in Sudan , but it may not be Arab Spring”.
In the article, he quotes a Sudanese protestor who said that he is marching because “we lack freedoms” , but added a quote from John O. Voll , a Sudan specialist at Georgetown University stating that “ unlike protesters in Egypt, Libya or Bahrain, the Sudanese have not been able to occupy anything, not even a single public square.”

Sudanese tweeps and protestors are exuding a lot of optimism about this being the beginning of the end. From the beginning, the hashtag picked was “Sudan Revolts” and in Arabic, the hashtag uses the word “intifada” which translates into revolution in Arabic. All this enthusiasm is not reflected in the media leading protestors to show outrage at international channels like Al-Jazeera, a news channel that was instrumental in covering the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions.

@SuperMojok tweeted from a protest in Wad-Nobawi in Omdurman that there are
“Signs shown against aljazeera tv coverage #SudanRevolts”

Another Sudanese tweep, Cordoned Sudan tweeted that it is just a matter of time.
People are writing of #SudanRevolts just as little as they were during Tunisia’s initial weeks of uprising. It’s coming.”

#SudanRevolts - post 2 (late June) -My friends are detained

This week, I went to meet Rashaida Shams Al-Deen , an activist with
the Girifna movement. I met her in South Khartoum to discuss helping
protestors access lawyers. We met for only 20 minutes and I remember
commenting that she was wearing a very beautiful dress.

The next day, all of her phones are off. I found out a few hours
later that Rashaida was arrested. The details of her arrest are very
little. We know that she was in the Amarat area at about 9:30 p.m, she
was not seen since then. Yesterday night, a source told me that she is
being held by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS)
in Omdurman.

Last Friday, during a protest in Khartoum, another friend, Usama
Mohamed was picked up by the police then taken by the NISS. Just a few
days earlier, he had appeared on Al-Jazeera English and talked about
his participation in the June 30 protests.

Arrests are too common in Khartoum nowadays. You find lists of
detainees circulating online and you can’t help but recognize many
names. Some are activists, journalists and some are even family or

A few days ago, I was shocked when I found out that one of my cousins
was arrested in one of Khartoum protests. Sudan has been rocked by
nation-wide protests for ten days now. Initially, the protests came
out of the University of Khartoum culminating in nation-wide protests
on Friday 22 June 2012 where hundreds were arrested and major clashes
happened with the police.

This cousin has no political affiliation and is not an activist, but
in the span of a few hours, his life has completely changed.
His laptop and phone were confiscated and unfortunately, a work
colleague saw him getting arrested and although his work facilitated
his release from detention, he received a warning and had the company
car confiscated from him.

Like other protestors who were detained, he has a court case against
him and is at risk of receiving a lashing sentence or a hefty fine.
There is so much at stake when you decide to go out to protest in
Sudan. I was told about a young man in Al-Daim neighborhood who was
caught lightening a tire during a protest which is a common act of
defiance in which protestors light tires to stop traffic then go on to

The young man was given a 6 month suspended sentence meaning that if
he is caught in another protest, he will serve jail time.
Many of the protestors who have a case opened against them upon arrest
are charged with public disturbance and receive 20 to 60 lashes or ask
asked to pay a fine. Sometimes this fine is unofficial and it becomes
a bribe.

The arrests are ongoing, losing friends and colleagues to detentions
are becoming part a personal sacrifice amidst what is happening. With
each passing day, the arrests are coming closer to home.

When my best
friend, Maha El-Sanosi, was arrested this week, I received a call
from her sister while armed security agents were raiding her house and
taking her with them. She conveyed a message : Reem, she is telling
you to leave now.

I remember as a kid , we played this game when we were asked to state
the five items we will take with us incase we have to evacuate our
house in five minutes.

In less than five minutes, I packed one dress, a towel, my pajamas and
in my small bag, I took my laptop , passport, a bag of chocolate and a
box of oatmeal brought to me the same night by a friend.

I got into the car with my uncle. A few days before, my car was
attacked by a man I later found out has links to the NISS, but we had
to leave fast and he drove the car with shattered windows.

We drove for less than ten minutes when I asked my uncle to take me
back home. I felt that escaping is pointless and I felt guilty that my
best friend was going through all of this alone. I couldn’t get myself
to stay at anyone’s house and bring trouble to their doorstep.

I received so many calls and messages asking me to leave and
convincing me that it is better for me to be somewhere else and continue
writing. We went back home, parked the car and then I spoke to my
father whose soothing voice and logic convinced me. He told me that
because we are doing a lot at such a critical time and in order to
continue working, I need to live.

My friend came into the house at this point and told me that another
friend was waiting for us. I was going to stay at the house of distant

I arrived there at about 1:30 a.m. I began co-writing a statement
about my best friend’s arrest and tweeting and sending emails to media
contacts. She was finally released a little after 3 a.m. and asked to
come back tomorrow morning for an interrogation.

I spoke to her before I went to bed and it was apparent that many big
men were scared of two girls in their early twenties.

#SudanRevolts- Post 1 (Written on 27/June)

It didn’t take us long to reach Al-Daim, a suburb in Khartoum where reportedly mass protests were taking place. For security reasons, we took Mohamed Naguib street instead of Al-Sahafa and had plans to park the car and walk or take any other method of transportation.

We were stopped in the middle of Mohamed Naguib street, not by police but by burning tires. Protestor were creating zones, they would burn tires and protest between them.

A eyewitness who was at Al-Daim protest said that the police found a way to get in and surround the protestors and attack them with tear-gas.

The protests took place on main streets and typical of Sudanese neighborhoods, the main streets have a lot of side-streets full of houses. The side-streets are narrow and this is why the tear-gas had a stronger impact there.

A friend commented that a different type of tear-gas was used this time, not the one we experienced during the March protests after Awadia Ajabna, a teacher was shot down by the police.
“This tear gas has an effect the minute it is unleashed,” commented a protestor.

There were reportedly many unconscious protestors in Al-Daim because of the tear-gas.
There were many protests in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, and other states in Sudan since last week and Friday protests were part of what was called “SandStorm Friday”.

There was a sandstorm on Friday and heavy rain in some areas, but the protests still happened. The plan was for people to take to the streets after the Friday prayers and in some areas such as Wad-Nobawi, an old district in Omdurman, this happened.

A protest, partially organized by the Umma party, an opposition party, began in Wad-Nobawi right after prayers ends where youth, elders and even children took part.
The area was tear-gassed and one protestor was reportedly taken to the hospital, reported a Sudanese tweep. In one room, I sat with my friend , both of us were on the phone or updating twitter or sending emails. We were overwhelmed and wanted a break , but could not take a break for at least a few hours.
We were both tired, I was jet-lagged and she was drained from covering the protests for days, but we kept having our friends arrested. On the way to one protest, we saw a police car driving away with four detained. We drove fast, following the car, trying to take pictures of the arrested guys and when they drove away really fast, I told them that we are not forgetting them.

Right now, the list of arrested individuals has exceeded the hundreds and the protests are still ongoing. The last protests happened on Street 60. We drove there an hour ago, trying to dodge the big rocks lying on the street. To our right, we saw a number of police cars parked near the Riyadh police station, to our left , we saw many plain-clothed security agents.

It is almost ridiculous how we can tell security agents even if they are dressed in civilian clothes. Most of them are dressed in safari suits and they all have a common feature so they know each other, sometimes its a “bic” pen in their chest-pocket.

A spreadsheet with the list of detainees was initiated by an activist and the list keeps getting longer. Some protestors such as Assad Ali who is also a tweep was released after his detention inspired much fury on twitter.

Others are still held, their whereabouts are unknown. Some names are familiar, others are unknown to me, some are even as young as 17 years old. I’m utterly speechless at their courage. The older generation is always choosing stability and telling us not to take to the streets so Sudan doesn’t break down into a million parts, we as youth feel obligated to protest because we want the Sudan that our parents and grandparents told us about, the Sudan we have never seen.

The protests were actually supposed to begin on June 30, the 23rd anniversary of the Sudanese regime. Just this month, I turned 23. I graduated college, worked in two newspapers and did a number of working gigs and the same government is still in power. I’m now tweeting and writing this story from a safe place. It is a busy night and I’m overdosing on tea, I am trying to find information about the detainees.