The Sudanese revolution, which began in December 2018 was about winning freedom, peace, and justice for all citizens. Millions – many of them young people – marched on the streets of the capital, Khartoum, and in other cities throughout the country to eventually bring down the 30-year regime of strongman Omar al-Bashir in April 2019.
Young people, from graduates to university students to secondary school pupils, made up a significant part of the protest movement. They came from different regions and socio-economic backgrounds, all working together and bonding in an uprising against longtime leader Omar al-Bashir.
Some inadvertently became famous for their dedication to the cause, which was captured on social media and shared around the world on international news channels.
The three young people interviewed for this article do not believe they did anything extraordinary, and repeatedly highlighted those who lost their limbs and even sacrificed their lives for the cause. But their commitment to the revolution remains firm to this day, two years after the fall of Bashir.
The Rebel Schoolgirl
Luden Tarig was a 16-year-old schoolgirl when she began participating in the Sudan uprising two years ago, going to marches with other youth, and working with the grassroots revolutionary committees in her neighborhood.
While she continues to maintain that others had greater roles than she had, she captured the public’s attention after a 30 June 2019 video of her chanting against the security forces with others, including young men, went viral.
People went on the street that day to call for justice for the hundreds who were killed, raped, or disappeared during a sit-in in front of army headquarters that was broken up by security forces on 3 June.
30 June that year would have marked three decades of Bashir’s iron-clad rule over the country, but he was deposed by the uprising weeks earlier.
Tarig and the others spoke out against the security forces because they broke up the sit-in, but the fact that she was a young girl irked many who were shocked that she could be so forthright.
“The army filed a legal case against me because they felt it was an insult, why would a girl insult us this way? How could this girl say this about us?” says Tarig, adding that there were young men in the same video chanting alongside her and they weren’t pursued.
“I think that it upset them and they thought I should apologize to them,” Tarig says. Did she? “No!” she laughs.
“I did nothing wrong to them. We were all singing this chant and it arose during our time at the sit-in. It showed that we shared the same dream of a new Sudan. And they ended those dreams,” says Tarig, talking about the crackdown on the demonstration.
The reach of social media put the spotlight on Tarig, as her every move, and even her appearance, was criticized. They looked at the fact she didn’t wear a headscarf, that she wore trousers- others claimed they knew her and wrote negative things.
“You know, why would you say these things?” Tarig questions rhetorically.
“You say it because you have the status that allows you to say it– you’re in a society that enables you to speak in such a way,” she says.
Her parents feared that she would be arrested, that something would happen to her- she was working on the revolution, but receiving unwanted attention. They wouldn’t let her leave the house for two weeks. But Tarig’s commitment to the uprising propelled her to continue to fight for freedom, peace and justice-the precepts of the revolution.
“Yes, it affected me psychologically-it was really bad. But it didn’t make me stop,” says Tarig. “On the contrary. I considered it as one of the challenges of the struggle. But I didn’t stop going out on the streets because of it,” she says.
Even today, she does not leave the house alone, to ensure she is not harassed. While she continues to push for more freedom in Sudan, she briefly took a step back to sit for her high school exams.
“I passed and was accepted to Afhad Women’s University for business management studies,” she says.
“Now I’m working in the public field, taking workshops, because now you can arrange events, and I’m attending many. After the revolution, you can do all that,” she adds.
The Face of the Revolution
The Sudanese uprising had a number of key figures, including Dr Mohamed Nagi, the face of the revolution. A medical doctor by profession, he was involved in groups such as the Sudan Doctor’s Association, and then the Sudan Professionals Association (SPA). He became the spokesperson for SPA, becoming one of the first targets of the regime during the protests.
In December 2018, he read out on Facebook Live the declaration for freedom and change that was the manifesto for the revolution. He became the face of the movement.
“This manifesto declared that all the opposition political parties and SPA had come together to lead the revolution together to topple the Bashir regime,” says Nagi, speaking at SPA headquarters.
Less than a month later, he was picked up by security forces and detained for three months. Instead of forgetting about him, Sudanese rallied for his release; his face was on posters, his name part of chants.
“It was very strange. When I got out it was very different for me personally, because during the 3 months I became very well-known everywhere in Sudan,” he says, describing how he became a symbol of the repression against demonstrations.
He was heavily involved in the student movement while in medical school before the uprising, but this did not prepare him for this new notoriety. And working in the protest movement as a medical doctor caused a clinical gap in his work, a sacrifice that he deals with even today.
“Especially in our profession, being a doctor is very demanding and missing a month, or even a period like this, which has been over two years, pausing the professional track and stopping it, it was very difficult,” he says, explaining interruptions in his medical training.
“Not just for me, but for all my colleagues as well. They had to re-plan their professional development, and all their plans are different now, indeed,” he adds.
He contends modestly that the personal sacrifices made during the revolution affected everyone, not just junior doctors working through different departments of a hospital, but other professions too, whether teachers, or lawyers or accountants.
“It was difficult to do both: to play the role of political player in the landscape of the revolution, and then in the post-revolution, help set up the transition-it was still very demanding,” he says, adding that the work-life balance for many who participated was a delicate one, especially as work in the movement was voluntary and unpaid.
The SPA led the revolution until April 2019, until the signing of the transitional agreement between the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), the political alliance formed during the uprising, and the military council.
“We are still doing our best in helping and in supporting the transitional authority, and also, criticizing it and putting pressure on it to make sure that things will go as we hope and as Sudanese people hope. A successful transition period will relate to democratic transformation in the country,” he says.
Nagi is back working a few hours a week as a general practitioner in a Covid-19 clinic, trying to get back on track with medicine, he says.
He’s still a member of SPA, but is not involved on committees, and says the organization is working hard to have a doctor’s union for the first time in 30 years, as well as help in creating other staff unions in other professions.
He says that the Sudanese transitional government is not where it should be, or where they believed it would be.
“It has come to be clear that it is very complicated, and the legacy of the 30 years of Bashir regime is very bad, and it needs a lot of time to have things going in the right direction,” he says.
He’s proud of his work on the revolution, but it is the Sudanese people who deserve a lot of the credit.
“Although they faced brutality and being shot in the streets, the Sudanese people kept going until they succeeded in overthrowing the government. They are the ones we should definitely be proud of,” he adds.
Would he do it all over again, considering the personal and professional sacrifices made?
“Yes, 100 times over,” he laughs. “I would do it again and again.”
The Teargas Hunter
One young female revolutionary who gained international renown is Rivga Abdelrahman, who was only 18 and was at the University of Khartoum studying electrical engineering when she started fighting against the government’s stifling of human rights.
“I started learning about the 30-year regime– every day I saw how Sudanese people were silent about these things. I was asking myself, how could people be silent for 30 years?” she says, a revelation for her.
Incensed, Abdelrahman participated in the protests from the beginning, trying to work for the struggle. Earning the name “Teargas Hunter”, Abdelrahman would collect teargas canisters fired at protesters and launch them back at the security forces.
“I saw people dying, I saw how aggressively the security forces were treating the demonstrators and the effects the teargas had on the people, so I just felt like doing that,” she says, adding that this was her regular contribution to create a line of defense around peaceful protesters.
A video emerged of her throwing the teargas at the soldiers and it got traction online-inspiring young women to participate and encouraging others to follow her lead.
“It’s not much because others gave up their lives and bodies for the revolution, but I thought that Allah would protect us,” she says.
A place to call home
The daily escalation in the price of staple foods and cooking gas also propelled the movement, as people took to the streets to demand better.
“We wanted this country to be without corruption, oppression, killings or banditry, to live in a country that people could call home,” she says.
Abdelrahman believes the struggle has shifted now to the Sovereign Council.
“There’s a hidden fight. They’re fighting the regime, trying to cut it out at the root. It’s not all what you see. That’s why I still have hope,” she says.
The Teargas Hunter is now in her second year of electrical engineering at Khartoum University, but has created a personal project, called after her nickname.
With this project she plans to help the families of martyrs, trying to provide help with social welfare and supporting the youth.
“One of the most important aspects of my organization is to spread awareness. We need to make the next generation aware of their rights,” she says, outlining an initiative with the hope of assistance from foreign governments.
“We need governments around the world to bring people with real knowledge to build an awareness of human rights. We need psychological support,” she adds.