Salah Mudathir Sanhouri, a young pharmacist with a well-known family name, has become more or less the revolution’s poster boy, or as is more fit to say: Sudan’s Buazizi. His death was not the first of some 200+ deaths, but it was by the far the most penetrating. The Sanhouri clan is famous for its merchants and health professionals, and as with almost all rich and influential families in the country, they have strong ties to government officials. The thing about Sudan is that social and cultural issues never mix with political or idealogical differences. Everyone pretty much knows everyone else, either because they lived in the same neighbourhood, went to the same school or university, were in the same party before breaking up, or – most commonly – are related by marriage. Alturabi and Alsadig Almahdi are married to sisters. Altayeb Mustafa, famous editor for the government’s arch enemy of a newspaper, is Albashir’s uncle. Even if they’re not related, they could be neighbours (Awad Aljaz lives down the road from the Sanhouri neighbourhood, Nafie’s daughter pretty much next door to them). Gazi Salaheldin’s son was said to be a good friend of the late Salah, and was seen crying bitterly in his funeral. People who tear each other to pieces in press conferences and public speaking sit right next to each other in weddings and funerals. They always do ‘alwajib’ by coming to pay their respects for whatever occasion has befallen their opponents. Political and idealogical affiliations are technically left at the door.
So when Nafie Ali Nafie is kicked out of the Sanhouri funeral home with his own vulgar motto ‘al7as ko3ak’ (lick your elbow) thrown in his face, you know something major has changed. These things don’t happen in Sudan. They don’t happen in respectable families. We’re all supposed to choke on our feelings and respond to the other’s peace offering and leave our disagreements to the streets. People, especially younger people, do not mention (let along act upon) their hatred no matter how intense in the face of other people, especially older, stronger and more dangerous people. That just doesn’t happen in Sudan.
So what’s going on?
In a live press conference held by the ministers of information and interior to discuss the latest updates of the ‘vandalism and burning of public property’ and the pictures of dead ‘Egyptians’ that are all over the internet, a young reporter ‘asked’ the minister ‘why they insisted on lying about everything and were holding onto power and trampling all over the bodies of martyrs’. The video shows the minister of information literally frothing from the mouth with rage and demanding that the reporter shut up and get out. The minister of interior then orders the he be ‘dealt with’, and indeed, the minute the press conference is over he is picked up at the door and driven off. Newspapers have been closed for not following ‘guidelines’ set by the government, and for inciting unrest and ‘fitna’. Sudanese journalists and columnists generally write what they want and state their opinions as they want, which is why newspapers are regularly shut down every other day, so we don’t really wonder when we read an article that questions the government’s actions. However, they do not question, and with such strong language, why the government is lying, killing people and doing all they can to hold onto power, in a live news conference on national TV. That just doesn’t happen in Sudan.
So, really, what’s going on?
Yesterday while driving to a blogging workshop I’m teaching, I came across a small group of girls standingin silent protest in front of Alqiyada Al3ama, the military HQ which is located smack center of the capital, with colossal buildings and protected from all sides by soldiers and battle cars. The girls were holding signs with mostly vague lines, but some clearly condemned the killing of peaceful demonstrators and calling for justice. I was shocked. They stood on the pavement of one of the busiest streets in the capital, and right at the front door of the compound that houses the most dangerous people in the country, behind which the president himself lives. Anyone leaning out of a window in the top floor could’ve reached into his/her pocket and shot those girls down and no one would’ve blinked. It was suicidal of them, but oh so brave. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an actual protest come that close to this area. No one lets them get near it aslan. However, here were 20 something girls, their faces covered with masks to protect them from the exhaust smoke, standing in multi-coloured scarves clutching their handbags and silently holding up signs in the face of the military, asking for justice. That just doesn’t happen in Sudan.
And yet it did. I saw it myself.
So what’s going on?
What’s going on, ladies and gentleman, is that people are ‘breaking through the band of fear’. This is a term that has been loosely attached to several wannabe-revolutions before, but only now is it proving true. This time, the government has gone too far. Yes, it has always been arrested and torturing journalists and activists, kidnapping themfrom their cars and homes, and yes some people have died before. But never like this. And more importantly, not the kind of people like Salah Sanhouri. People who have back-up, people who have family and friends who are not going to cry and pray that God punish those who did it and then curl up and go back to sleep, but who will take matters into their own hands, no matter who knocks on their door to try and make things right. Both Salah’s funeral procession and his commemoration event turned into spontaneous demonstrations, and both were dispersed (unnecessarily) by the riot police with tear gas and live ammo. That wasn’t a surprise, but the surprise was who was in those demonstrations. Looking at footage of the post-commemoration demonstration walking down Burri chanting for freedom, peace and justice, and revolution as the people’s choice, we see old men and women, young girls and boys, family and friends and people who didn’t even know him but heard the call for the memorial and came. They’re taking it personally this time, and that’s what makes this time different.
Usually, the revolution’s biggest enemy is the regime's biggest victim: the people. They’re the ones who don’t want to get off the bus and join the protest. They’re the ones who close their stores and rush home when there’s trouble on the streets. They’re the ones who wish those pesky kids would stop all this trouble and let them get on with their miserable lives, because nothing is going to change, this government isn’t going anywhere, things will only get worse. The regime’s biggest victim is the revolution’s biggest enemy.
But not this time. This time, it’s personal.
So thank you Salah Sanhouri for dying.
So thank you Salah Sanhouri for dying.