Challenges of the revolution: Making, living and keeping the Sudanese revolution
Valerie Hänsch, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, LMU Munich
Mai Azzam, Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies, University of
In this panel, we explore the ways in which the Sudanese revolution and its quest for change is kept ongoing by various actors in both everyday life and political actions across the country.
The fall of long-term President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019 is a crucial moment in the history of contemporary Sudan. Previous demonstrations during the last decade, continuous efforts of civil society groups and activists have, amongst others, paved the way for the Sudanese revolution. As a transformative event and turning point, the overthrow of the authoritarian regime opens up new grounds and possibilities but also poses major challenges to Sudanese citizens, namely the transformation of social orders, political structures, norms and social practices initiated by the recent popular uprising. The struggle for change and alternative futures remains fragile, highly contested, and uncertain. In this panel, we ask about the process of realising the revolution, the past and present efforts of living its hopes, keeping its aspirations and guarding its successes reached so far. How do citizens, various political actors, old or newly formed civil society groups, and activists keep the revolution going both in everyday practices and in organised actions and political practices, e.g. how is the change of lifestyles/norms enacted and organised or how is the “deep state” dissolved?
The panel invites empirically and/or historically grounded discussions from different disciplinary perspectives that address the question of ways of living and keeping the revolution practised in Sudanese cities as well as villages. Reflections on various societal realms are welcome, e.g. gender practices, media, religion, citizenship rights, art and politics.
01 Mai Azzam, Valerie Hänsch: Aesthetic belonging: Utopia and aesthetic practices during and after Khartoum’s sit-in
The revolution in Sudan brought about novel ways of belonging to the country through political imaginaries and aesthetic practices. These new ways of belonging were shaped and reshaped during the sit-in/s that took place roughly between April 6 and June 3, 2019. The April 6 protests that developed into the sit-in in front of the military headquarters in Khartoum were significant for bringing down president Omar al-Bashir’s regime. The sit-in created a utopian state filled with emotions of joy and hope. However, it ended with a massive massacre on protestors.
In this paper, we explore the Khartoum sit-in in relation to the formation of‘aesthetic belonging by asking how people and particularly young people created new ways of belonging to the city through aesthetic practices. The activities that took place during the sit-in produced a temporary utopia that encompassed various imaginaries about the state as well as notions of ‘home’. Through every-day practices and artistic creations, young people made a ‘home’ out of the sit-in that resembled ideas of a future Sudan. Making art, decorating, paintings and theatrical performances are all part of home-making processes and utopian practices that shape senses of belonging. The established utopian ideas and aesthetic practices continued after the violent breakup of the sit-in; these include youth organized cleaning campaigns, street and wall-painting campaigns, gardening and afforestation campaigns.
We shed light on questions of how young people’s aesthetic practices have recreated a sense of belonging and ‘home’. What kind of socio-economic and political processes are involved in these practices? How do the novel ways of belonging created during the sit-in continue to evolve, and how do people belong now to the city? What meanings are being strengthened for example through images of martyrs on walls or cleaning campaigns in the city? By exploring these questions, we tackle the connections between utopian imaginaries, aesthetic practices and senses of belonging.
Mai Azzam is an anthropologist and doctoral student at the Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies (BIGSAS), University of Bayreuth.
Valerie Hänsch is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, LMU Munich.
02 Tamer Abd Elkreem: Sudanese Revolutions: An ethnography of the sit-in barricades
The main argument underlying this chapter is that shedding light on the processes, actors, and symbols associated with the checkpoints set up at the entrance to the sit-in site enables us to understand the Sudanese revolution dynamics and the power relations associated with it at the local, national and regional levels. The main goal of establishing the various barricades is to protect the sit-in and enhance to revolutionaries’ pressure for political change. The close observations of the processes, arguments, and actors around the barricades reveal that these blockades have many and complex functions and stand as a special, temporal and sociopolitical boundary between the state envisioned and perused by the revolutionaries and the state they revolted. Ethnographically approaching this important site of the revolution from this angle will, thus, not only allow us better understand how the revolution have evolved but also what is currently at stake, civilians-military power-sharing modality, issues of representations, and the “post” revolutions sociopolitical direction. Understanding the barricades as an evolving state-revolution relation provides a nuanced understanding of the political processes at this constitutive juncture.
Tamer Abd Elkreem is assistant professor in Anthropology, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, University of Khartoum.
03 Liv Tønnessen, Samia al-Nagar: Women at the forefront of the revolution
Why were Sudanese women at the forefront of the 2019 revolution? Women’s rights have been an important political symbol and at the heart of what Omar al-Bashir’s Islamist regime codified as Sharia law and is central to understand their strong involvement in the revolution which led to the ousting of a president who clung to power for more than three decades. Building on long-term engagement and work on women’s rights in Sudan with extensive interviews (in English and Arabic) carried out from 2006 until 2019 including 64 original interviews with female protesters during the revolution, we identify three different women-specific agendas related to the revolutionary slogan “freedom, peace and justice” and trace them back to women’s activism during Bashir’s reign. These are: (i) accountability for sexual violence (ii) freedom to make life choices, including marriage, dress and movement in public spaces and (iii) increasing women’s representation in political decision-making. We argue that women’s legal status in Bashir’s Islamist state and women’s collective mobilization prior to the Sudanese revolution have shaped female protesters demands and the struggle for women’s inclusion into political decision-making in its aftermath. However, this does neither mean that all female protesters interviewed for this study support a feminist agenda for gender equality nor that there is broad agreement among political parties for radical changes in women’s legal status.
This is a paper co-authored with Samia al-Nagar which is based on original fieldwork and interviews with female protesters.
Liv Tønnessen is a political scientist and research director at the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), Bergen.
Samia al-Nagar is researcher at the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), Bergen.
04 Katarzyna Grabska, Azza Aziz: Revolution and music: women singing out in Sudan
With the attention to Sudanese women musicians actively participating in the current uprising in Sudan, this talk reflects on the history of women’s involvement in music and how their performances have acquired political claims over time. The ongoing revolution in Sudan started with mass protests in December 2018, led to the overthrow of Omar El Bashir in April 2019, and to a massacre orchestrated by the Transitional Military Council on the 3rd of June, 2019. These unprecedented peaceful protests had opened up a space for the amalgamation of creative productivity in Sudan and across the diaspora, including music. Young people and women have been portrayed as being at the forefront of the resistance. The images of women demonstrating on the streets, singing, drawing and making art on the streets have flooded the social media. However, this is a hyperbolic depiction of their actual number supported by the fact that this level of participation by them was unanticipated. The revolution has been seized by diverse women as a space to make claims for greater freedoms and liberties, including contributions to nation-building projects. Yet, these acts of citizenship (see Isin and Nielsen 2008) are highly gendered and take place within the constraints of patriarchal norms (Azza Ahmed. A. Aziz).
Katarzyna Grabska: Katarzyna Grabska is a social anthropologist, a senior researcher at the Peace Research Institute, Oslo and a visiting professor at the Institute of Ethnology, University of Neuchâtel.
Azza Aziz is a social anthropologist with a special interest in bodily experience and health as essential to the manifestations to multiple socio-cultural identities; she is affiliated with the Mycetoma research centre,University of Khartoum, Sudan and Brighton and Sussex Medical School,United Kingdom.
05 Timm Sureau, Siri Lamoureaux: What makes a revolution “real”? A discussion on social media and al-thawra ثورة in Sudan
In this paper, we would like to discuss various practices of engaging in the 2019 Sudanese revolution, orbiting around its physical expressions, its digital representations, its symbols, patterns, on-line/off-line manifestations and questions of security and surveillance. We reflect on the role of rumors, online and offline, outings on facebook, the catchy role of Tasqut bas' rhythm, and art/paintings. Therein, for example on the role of distance to real events: distance as in suburbs mingled with the hope someone returns and knocks at a door after a demonstration, together with SMS, tweets or livāt ‘live podcasts’ as tools of approximation, that were similarly used by diaspora that supported the revolution. Such digital transmissions, in order to function, did make use of powerful symbols to gather people. One such symbol was the photo of Lana Haroun, rarely acknowledged as source, even less than the depicted woman, Alaa Salah, who became the Kandaka. Additionally to being a symbol of the protest, that image brought the focus on Sudan’s history of women’s agency and social movements back to the fore. The revolution also confirms that dealing with questions of equal citizenship rights in the Sudan need not split the nation further along gender, ethnic, and racial lines, although the image is still limited in the way it encompasses diversity in the Sudan. To gain and spread such information there are always limits, of technology, of resources, of mobility, in short, there remains, unavoidably, a political economy of access. We argue that some of the technological transmissions did work and played an important role, such as Livāt and other social media exchanges that did erase physical distance and made the revolution more visible, we also argue that offline communication was powerful as was apparent during the almost complete shutdown, when almost all digital mobile communication was off and the biggest demonstrations proceeded. The paper does not provide answers, but a discussion on the complexity and different stages, in the streets and digitally, of the revolution.
Timm Sureau is research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle.
Siri Lamoureaux is post-doc researcher at Martin-Luther-University, LOST Group, Halle.
06 Azza Mustafa Babikir Ahmed: Struggles Versus Hopes: A Glimpse of Post-Revolution Sudan
This paper highlights the challenges after the December 2018 popular uprising in Sudan that led to the ouster of Omer al-Bashir’s Government on 11 April 2019 by focusing on the case of the violence outbreak between the Nuba and the Bani Amir in Port Sudan, the capital of the Red Sea State. Although the Military Transitional Council and the Forces of Freedom and Change signed a power share agreement in July 2019 and accepted the constitutional declaration that was formally adopted one month later , and although the regional cities played a significant role during the uprising, the outbreak of violence in several regions posed serious challenges on the newly appointed transitional government, and shattered the hopes of many Sudanese who are aspiring for a better future. The violence outbreak between the Bani Amir and the Nuba in several parts of the neighbourhoods of Port Sudan has its historical background and it was not the first violent instant between these two groups. However, many local activists considered this outbreak as extremely violent in comparison to previous ones. Eyewitnesses stated in the local media that clashes between the Bani Amir and the Nuba escalated and the authorities did not intervene to stop the violence. Instead, some claimed that there were infiltrators wearing military uniform participated in the outbreak and they are the ones who opened fire and shot many people from both conflicting parties. Activists on one hand, reported that those are the remains of the former regime, which left a security establishment dominated by paramilitary forces. On the other hand, they stated that this is also attributed to the role of external forces supported by the Rapid Support Forces led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, aiming at disrupting the region in order to control the sea port, hence, controlling the arsenals of Sudan’s economy. The resistance committees in Port Sudan called for forming coalitions to dismantle the previous regime’s parallel state and to safeguard the gains of the popular uprising. They formed a call for extending the civilian ruling to the region and replacing the current acting military state government. The case of Port Sudan demonstrates how Sudan’s popular uprising in the regions took different turns and how the local political entities are struggling to maintain what was so far attained.
Azza Mustafa is an anthropologist and a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Humanities in Africa-HUMA, University of Cape Town
07 Sondra Hale and Gada Kadoda: What is Lost, what is gained: Sudanese women in the post-revolution
In this paper we offer a gendered analysis of post-December 2018’s Sudan Revolution Sudan, partially deriving ideas from our direct participation and from observations of the new global insurrections of the 20th/21st centuries’, and women’s participation in them, e.g. the “Arab Spring” and Turkey’s Taksim Square/Gezi Park revolt. All of these better prepared us to discern a great deal from women’s activism in Sudan’s Revolution and post-Revolution. To greater and lesser degrees, these recent revolts have all been characterized by a high percentage of youth and women, the use of social media, and have, significantly, aimed to become anti-statist, anti-authoritarian, non-hierarchal, and quasi-anarchistic. Sudan’s Revolution does not easily fit into this pattern. Including Sudan’s, however, all of these insurrections are incomplete and are engaged either consciously or unconsciously in the search for the “not-yet,” and for the whole human (Bloch). Although we use ideas from these other insurrections, we emphasize Sudan’s post-Revolutionary period because of some of the creativity of women activists. Very new configurations and ideas continue to emerge from this semi-“consummated” uprising. All signs are pointing to a continued organizing and raising of consciousness, even though we might note that activist women have been negatively impacted by the perhaps predictable divisions among civic organizations; by the old political parties edging themselves into place; by old, patriarchal leaders vying for power behind the scenes; by the Islamists at home and abroad intervening or mobilizing to intervene—all trying to reinvent themselves-- and by various military groups all “camped” in Greater Khartoum, creating a threatening atmosphere but also invigorating race debates. Internally, women’s groups are also experiencing problems: some may have hived off from larger organizations, struggled with each other, and disagreed about what should be the central issues for women to address. Women’s stances are often not directly aligned with the expressed goals of the insurrection, which can cause uncertainty while the country is in the process of struggling to build a civilian government. The women who have stepped forward are from various women-dominated self-help groups and other grassroots and neighborhood committees, community advancement programs--a few of which now self-identify as feminist--and a number of NGOs as well as political parties, armed opposition groups and the diaspora. There are old and new divisions playing out not only in a complex local setting but also influenced by the global. In the paper we name some of the post-Revolution configurations and ask what these might mean for Sudanese women and their calls for justice and freedom. With special reference to women, we compare Sudanese conditions post-Revolution with their own previous uprisings (1964, 1985 and 2013), as well as with situations we observed in the insurrections of other African societies—e.g. Guinea-Bissau, and Eritrea, and with the other late 20th and early 21st centuries’ movements. Without delving into all of these cases, but gesturing toward some of them, we ask how the situations for Sudanese women are similar and/or dissimilar to these others, and what all these data can tell us about a gendered future.
Sondra Hale is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Gender Studies, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) who specializes in African and Middle Eastern Studies.
Gada Kadoda is an academic from the computer sciences who, through social activism, crosses disciplines and links her field with problems on the ground.
08 Munzoul Assal: Sudan uprising 2018 and the demise of political Islam
In December 2018, popular protests erupted in Sudan. Damazine town, in the Blue Nile state, witnessed the first protest on December 13th; followed by Atbara on the 19th. A week later more than ten major cities in Sudan joined the protests. Unlike previous protests in which protesters were rioting against hiking prices of basic goods, this time the protesters are calling for the unconditional step-down of President Bashir who, with the support of the Islamists, ruled the country for thirty years. On 11 April 2019, Bashir was forced to step-down and was put under house arrest. The Islamists rule of thirty years came to an end. The protests were led by young women and men who were born and raised during the Islamists reign. The decisive participation of young women and men represented a defeat to the Islamists and may represent an end to political Islam in Sudan. While the Islamists still exist in the military, the security and the civil service, their political future and chances to ascend to power again look quite bleak: they lost social sympathy and the chance for them to get into an alliance with the military, as happened in 1989, does not seem to exist. Although Sudanese Muslims are conservative, the reign of the Islamists with all its negative impacts on their lives resulted in conspicuous critical mindset manifest in what happens in mosques during the uprising and in the aftermath of Bashir’s removal- people pull down imams who are critical about the revolution or who show sympathy to the Islamists. While religion will continue to be an integral part of social life in Sudan, its manipulation by politicians is not easy anymore.
Munzoul Assal is professor in Social Anthropology, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, University of Khartoum.
Discussant: Kurt Beck
Kurt Beck is professor emeritus in Anthropology, University of Bayreuth.