Bullets, Tear Gas and Love: Romance Blooms in the Midst of Sudan Protests
After decades of rule under a dictator, a wave of exuberance has rippled across Sudan’s capital, the young are reveling in newfound freedoms — to speak, party and find love.
The minivan sped along the Nile, weaving through the evening traffic. The bride sat up front in a pink dress, a sparkling purse on her lap and her feet swaddled in bandages.
The bride, Samar Alnour, was shot twice last month during the tumultuous uprising that toppled Sudan’s longtime dictator, Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Now she was on her way back to the protest site, to marry the man who saved her.
Muntassir Altigani, 30, a construction worker, had rushed to Ms. Alnour’s aid as she lay bleeding in the street. Bullets whizzed around them. Like her, he had joined the revolt as a howl against the misrule of Mr. al-Bashir. In the weeks that followed, they fell in love.
“I thought she was very courageous,” he said.
But the revolution is not over.
The minivan halted on the edge of the protest site where thousands are still camped out at the gates of Sudan’s military headquarters, demanding a transition to full civilian rule. Ms. Alnour, an unemployed 28-year-old college graduate, hitched up her dress as she sat into a wheelchair and joined them.
An uncle pushed her deep into the heaving crowd — past the pop-up cafes with lounging soldiers and flirting couples; past the street poets and speakers, declaiming their dreams for Sudan; and past the dreadlocked musician playing Bob Marley covers.
Trailed by a cheering crowd, she stopped at the spot where she had been shot.
All her life, she said, she had known only Mr. al-Bashir’s Sudan: a cheerless place where corruption thwarted her effort to get a government job. Now a new country — or at least the promise of one — beckoned.
“Before we did not celebrate,” she said. “You couldn’t express yourself, or speak out. Now we feel free.”Socializing at one of the many cafes that line the alleyways near the site of the sit-in.CreditBryan Denton for The New York Times
Revolutionary Sudan has become the site of extraordinary scenes. After decades of airless, joyless rule under Mr. al-Bashir, a wave of exuberance has rippled across the capital, Khartoum, where young Sudanese are reveling in newfound freedoms — to talk politics, to party and even to find love.
The epicenter of these changes is the protest area at the gates of the military headquarters. Women in jeans move about without fear of harassment from the hated public order police, whose patrols have vanished from the streets. Couples mingle easily, some holding hands.
Day and night, teenage boys beat stones against the sides of a railway bridge, in a steady rhythm that has become a kind of heartbeat of the revolution.
Down by the Nile, young people relax on plastic chairs on the grass, sucking on water pipes that were banned by Mr. al-Bashir.
Closer to the water, men swig openly from bottles of araqi — date wine whose consumption is punishable by 40 lashes under Sudan’s Shariah law.
A sweet odor of hashish hangs in the air. Uniformed soldiers, who have vowed to protect the revolutionaries, are among the revelers.
Mr. al-Bashir’s Islamist rule had made Sudan, already a conservative society, unaccustomed to such scenes. A backlash is possible. Yet change is reverberating far beyond the protest area.
One night a young woman in tight jeans rode on the back of a motorbike in southern Khartoum, her hair flowing — a once unthinkable sight, likely to invite arrest.
Now, men in a passing car tooted their horn and made thumbs-up signs. The woman smiled and flashed a victory sign.
“The changes were shocking at first,” said Zuhayra Mohamed, 28, a project manager who defied her parents to participate in the protests. “It’s as if the regime had its arms around our necks for so long, and now there’s something so beautiful.”
But while the old Sudan may be out of sight, it has not gone away.
On a recent morning, dozens of uniformed public order police sat drinking tea under a cluster of trees outside their brightly painted Khartoum headquarters, near the confluence of the Blue Nile and White Nile. They were awaiting orders, a commander said.
And as the protesters celebrated last week, Amer Yousif was being lashed.
The 35-year-old driver had been caught with a bottle of araqi in his pocket on a trip out to buy cigarettes. The next morning a judge sentenced him to 50 lashes, including an extra 10 for aggravated circumstances.
The judge “seemed angered by the revolution,” said Mr. Yousif, lifting his shirt to show a welt on his back.
Another young couple, Mohamed Hamed and Nahed Elgizouli, also met during the protests, but it wasn’t bullets that brought them together but a cloud of tear gas.
Mr. Hamed, a 31-year-old engineer, collapsed onto his knees in downtown Khartoum, his lungs filled with the gas. Ms. Elgizouli ran up to him and rinsed his face with Coca-Cola.
They got to know each other over the following months — congregating at protest sites, sprinting away from armed regime thugs and protesting the death of a mutual friend in detention.
“They beat him to death,” said Ms. Elgizouli, 26, who works for an organization that promotes reproductive health.
Both had fallen afoul of the dreaded public order police before the revolution. Ms. Elgizouli was detained last year as she returned with male friends from a camping trip in the desert. Mr. Hamed was punished with 40 lashes in 2016 for being drunk.
It wasn’t so bad, he said. He bribed the flogger to go easy on him.
Economic collapse didn’t hurt them as badly as it did poorer Sudanese, but they hated the way the Bashir government robbed them of opportunity, and provided regular reminders of their country’s humiliating isolation.
In Sudan, American sanctions mean that Netflix, Spotify and many other internet services are blocked, credit cards don’t work and international franchises are absent. One popular coffee shop in Khartoum is called Starbox, with a version of the Starbucks black-and-green logo.
They watched friends move abroad to make a better life.
“Sudan was like a hell,” Ms. Elgizouli said. “No hope, no freedom, no jokes.”
The couple’s friendship turned to romance during the final push against Mr. al-Bashir in early April. They lay on the ground together as gunfire erupted outside the military compound, and rejoiced when the dictator fell.
Now they hold hands freely as they pass through the crowd. “This is the new Sudan, the one we dreamed of,” Ms. Elgizouli said.
The differences of religion and ethnicity that Mr. al-Bashir exploited to cement his authority are being blurred or erased. A train packed with jubilant revolutionaries arrived from Atbara, 175 miles to the north, last week. On Tuesday a cavalcade arrived from distant Darfur.
“People feel more at peace with each other,” said Ms. Mohamed, the engineer. “There’s a sense of unity.”
Sudan’s new freedoms are fragile, and whether they can endure is unclear. Power-sharing talks between protest leaders and the military, now in their fourth week, have become tense in recent days. Outside the protest bubble, supporters of the old government are waiting and watching.
Some say the struggle has just begun. “It’s like you’re in a dark place and you can see a small light,” Ms. Elgizouli said. “We have a long road to freedom.”
Declan Walsh is the Cairo bureau chief, covering Egypt and the Middle East. He joined The Times in 2011 as Pakistan bureau chief, and previously worked at The Guardian. @declanwalsh
A version of this article appears New York edition with the headline: Romance Blooms in Midst of Bloody Revolution.
The Nigerian Army, part of a military criticized for rampant human rights abuses, on Friday used the words of President Trump to justify its fatal shootings of rock-throwing protesters.
Soldiers opened fire this past Monday on a march of about 1,000 Islamic Shia activists who had been blocking traffic in the capital, Abuja. Videos circulated on social media showed several protesters hurling rocks at the heavily armed soldiers who then shot fleeing protesters in the back.
The Nigerian military said three protesters were killed but the toll appears to have been much higher.
Amnesty International as well as leaders of the protest said more than 40 people were killed at the march and two other smaller marches, with more than 100 wounded by bullets. A Reuters reporter counted 20 bodies at the main march.
Human rights activists and many ordinary citizens were outraged at the military’s response, which echoed a similar confrontation in 2015, when soldiers killed nearly 350 protesters from the same group, the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, the largest and most recognizable face of Shia Islam in the country. The group organizes frequent protest marches.
Early Friday morning, the military responded to the criticism.
The Army’s official Twitter account posted a video, “Please Watch and Make Your Deductions,” showing Mr. Trump’s anti-migrant speech on Thursday in which he said rocks would be considered firearms if thrown toward the American military at the nation’s borders.
“We’re not going to put up with that,” Mr. Trump said in the clip. “They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back.”
In Nigeria, Mr. Trump is a popular figure among many people who praise what they regard as his straightforwardness and frank talk despite his reported insult to the nation last year when he said Nigerians in the United States would never “go back to their huts” in Africa.
Earlier this year after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, during which Mr. Trump praised the Nigerian leader’s fight against the Islamic State in West Africa, he said he never again wanted to meet someone so lifeless as Mr. Buhari, the Financial Times reported.
On Friday, John Agim, a spokesman for the Nigerian Army, said the posting of the video was a response to Amnesty International, which had criticized what it called the military’s use of excessive force.
“We released that video to say if President Trump can say that rocks are as good as a rifle, who is Amnesty International?” he said. “What are they then saying? What did David use to kill Goliath? So a stone is a weapon.”
“Our soldiers sustained injuries,” he continued. “The Shiites even burnt one of our vehicles so what are Amnesty International saying?”
The Nigerian military has said as many as six soldiers were wounded during the protest after “thousands” of members of the sect overran a police checkpoint and blocked traffic along a highway.
Soldiers had arrived to assist the police, a news release said, and were met with protesters who threw canisters of fuel, “large stones, catapults with dangerous objects and other dangerous items.”
The military posted photos of six slingshots and one pocketknife to its Facebook page as evidence of the protester arsenal.
“They wanted to take over the checkpoint with their weapons,” Mr. Agim said. “They knew it was there. We responded to them.”
Ibrahim Musa, a spokesman for the Shia group, said that on Monday security forces refused to let protesters, who numbered no more than 1,000, pass the checkpoint as they marched toward their destination. He said 13 other protesters were killed during two other marches this week, one before and one after Monday’s deadly march.
“Rocks are not equal to bullets,” he said. “The use of force is disproportionate. I don’t think President Trump is a good example — even in America many are critical of him. I am surprised that the Army will use Trump as a role model.”
Dionne Searcey reported from Dakar, and Emmanuel Akinwotu from Abuja, Nigeria
Cover photo:Members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria preparing the bodies of members killed when the Nigerian Army opened fire during the group’s protests in the capital Abuja this week.CreditCreditAfolabi Sotunde/Reuters
On Bloomgist coverage of the continued protest by Shiite Islamic group which has lead to killing of many of the group members by Nigerian army, while hundreds have been injured badly, one of the Bloomgist readers has argued that as a Muslim, it’s not permissible to protest, except when it is under a condition where the rights of the Muslim is being abused or in a situation where such person is been deprived of the freedom to pray the five times daily prayers or celebrate Eid.
The Reader writes;
In Islam protest against anything is Haram for a protest causes mayhem to the community and death or injury to who ever involved, Muslim may crash against themselves and Muslim brother might kill Muslim brother for a protest also it causes insecurity to the state , in Islam leaders are not allowed to be insult nor abuse even if they are bad, but a protest can only be done where any pillars of islam is been deprived of the Muslim, for example if the authority deny us of 5 times daily prayer or not to celebrate Eid. Allaahu Alam. – Alabi Jamiu
According to IlmGate, an online Archive of Islamic Knowledge, Muslims can take part in protests and marches as long as they are not abandoning their primary duties like the daily Fajr, etc.
A post from the author responding to this question stated’
Expressing solidarity and support for oppressed people in any part of the world is a noble act, more so if the oppressed happen to be Muslims. Allah is Just and He has made oppression Harām for Himself, so how would He ever allow it for another?
Islam imbues Muslims with a keen sense of love for justice and hatred for injustice. The Muslim therefore instinctively identifies with the suffering of an oppressed people or nation. The Qur’an and Hadith [are] replete with injunctions on this subject.
In today’s world, the mode of expressing indignation and outrage against oppression assumes many forms. Among these is the practice of holding demonstrations, protest marches, rallies, vigils, and so forth. Some of the primary objectives of adopting these modes of protest [are]:
to convey to the oppressed people one’s solidarity with them;
to draw the attention of the world towards their suffering;
to embarrass the oppressor and to swing international public opinion against them.
In a world that keenly tracks news events, the international media gives extensive coverage to events of this nature and thus, maximum exposure is gained to the strategic advantage of the oppressed.
For a Muslim to express detestation for injustice and solidarity with the oppressed in the form of protest marches, etc. is allowed. Mawlana Ashraf Ali al-Thanawi (ra) has deemed these to be mubah (permissible) acts [refer to Hakimul-Ummat ke Siyasi Afkaar by Mufti Taqi Usmani, p.60]. In a recent ruling, the eminent scholar, Mufti Taqi Usmani has also intimated that if the demonstration was not for any impermissible cause then [the demonstration] is permissible.
However, all mubah (permissible) matters are governed by certain provisions or regulations of Shari’ah (Islamic Law). So long as these regulations are adhered to, there is no issue. If these regulations are ignored, then a mubah act will be rendered impermissible and may in fact itself become an act of transgression and sin, akin to oppression. A Muslim is always motivated by the desire to seek Allah’s pleasure in all that he does and will not transgress or violate His orders in the process of attempting to perform a mubah deed.
Among some of the matters that need to be considered by the organizers and participants of these activities [are] the following:
They shall not be accompanied by any Harām activity such as violence, disrupting the peace, vandalism, coercion of unwilling people to participate by threats of violence, damage to persons or property, music, dancing, vulgarity, rowdy and uncouth behavior, hindering the safe movement of non-participants, or any other act that is un-Islamic in nature. All of the above acts are incorrect. In all of the above cases, support is being shown to others who are oppressed; but by the above acts, the protester is ‘oppressing’ his own soul in the process. The protester’s activity should not become a manifestation of Rabbana zalamna anfusana (“O Allah, we have indeed oppressed ourselves”). The organizers of these protest events have a greater responsibility to take the necessary measures that none of the above things take place, by arranging marshals and so on.
It shall not lead to the neglect of one’s primary responsibilities such as proper fulfillment of Salāt on its time, or a student neglecting his studies, or an employee neglecting his work duty unless permission is sought from the employer.
The act of expressing protest must not be considered as the end-all and be-all of a Muslim’s responsibility towards the oppressed. Such an attitude needs revision. Rather, it should be regarded as a means for greater involvement in the struggle against oppression. Muslims should never allow themselves to get ensnared in the deceptive thinking that by merely joining a protest event or two, they have truly fulfilled their duty towards the oppressed.
On the point of burning flags and effigies, caution must be exercised in not allowing the main issues from becoming obscured or covered. For example, at certain protest events, flags (and effigies) of countries that are friendly towards an oppressive regime are also burnt. From a strategic point of view, this may not be the ideal form of protest. Citizens of those nations, who may not fully understand the rationale behind this, will not take kindly to watching their country’s flag being burnt. Driven by a spirit of patriotism, they may in turn develop negative attitudes towards the oppressed people. This is counter-productive to the purpose of the protest, which was supposed to have influenced public opinion and not the other way around. The focus must therefore be kept primarily on the oppressor and must not shift away from the actual villains [and instead] towards their supporters and sympathizers. It is observed that some protest events unwittingly fall into this trap.
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Three people have reportedly now died in The Gambia after police shot them while they were protesting against pollution.
Bakary Kujabi and Ismaila Bah died on Monday, while Amadou Nyang, 24, died in hospital on Wednesday, a local campaign group told news agency AFP.
They had been taking part in a protest at Faraba Banta, trying to bring attention to the sand mining industry which they say is polluting the rice fields.
The sand is sold to the mining industry.
Another six people and 16 police officers were injured when violence broke out.
One journalist told campaign group Human Rights Watch police reinforcements arrived and started shooting live bullets at protesters who had been blocking mining traffic – without issuing “a warning or alarm”.
Protesters threw stones at the police, another witness said.
Sabrina Mahtani, West Africa researcher at Amnesty International, said the killings “conjured up painful memories from Gambia’s recent past”.
President Adama Barrow has ordered a “full investigation”.
Five police officers were also detained after the violence.
Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets of Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, two days after a similar protest was broken up by the police, leaving one person dead and several seriously injured.
The protesters carried the victim’s coffin to a public square where they continued to denounce new electoral laws.
Supporters of the opposition politician and former President Marc Ravalomanana say the legislation aims to block him from running in this year’s elections.
On Sunday, President Hery Rajaonarimampianina described the protests as a coup.