Sudanese Australians are appealing to Prime Minister Scott Morrison to condemn Sudan's military junta after a June 3 massacre in which 118 died. Tim Ginty reports.
IN SUDAN, the word for bread, aish, also means life.
That is why when the Government of the ageing dictator, Omar Al-Bashir, introduced an "emergency" reform that cut state subsidies of bread and fuel, Sudanese cities erupted in protest against the massive price hikes.
This came after years of resistance to the autocratic rule of Al-Bashir, who for 30 years had brutally persecuted religious minorities, quashed women’s rights, and committed genocide against non-Arab ethnic groups in Darfur.
As civil unrest mounted, the Sudanese military intervened in a coup d’état, placing President al Bashir under house arrest and imposing the Transitional Military Council. The military promised the protest movement that a civilian government could be formed within months, but all trust in the good faith of the military evaporated when 118 protesters were killed in a massacre, which shocked Sudan.
Flowing through the capital Khartoum, the Nile River revealed the military’s crimes when some 40 bodies emerged from the depths, the stones tied to their legs coming loose with the push and pull of the currents.
Australia’s Sudanese community has witnessed these atrocities from afar, hearing spine-chilling stories from cousins, uncles, classmates and friends who have smelt the tear gas, received the beatings, fled the police pursuits, and survived the violence and rape.
Now that the military junta has suppressed the internet, Australian Sudanese are desperately trying to be informed on the situation on the ground and, inversely, inform the world about Sudan’s fight for democracy.
Sudanese diaspora fears for family
One member of the Sudanese diaspora is Imam, a young electrical engineer and Arabic interpreter living in Sydney.
In his calm, articulate voice, he recounts the terror that his friends and family witnessed on the streets of Khartoum following the military coup:
“On the last day of Ramadan, the militia came into the city at around 3 am. They killed and raped women and targeted medics, especially female medics. Men who tried to defend them were also raped. The people who were able to run away, ran away to the hospitals... It is a nightmare, it is a massacre.”
Since the massacre, the population of Khartoum has been living under the force of a tribal militia known as the Janjaweed. The militia’s actions in the June 3 Khartoum massacre – with 47 cases of rape and 118 dead – confirm the etymology behind the name Janjaweed, the “devils on horseback”.
Imam says, “maybe our imagination was not wide enough”, to comprehend the “pure evil” that the Janjaweed inflicted upon Khartoum that day.
Imam says his friends in Khartoum dare not look the Janjaweed in the eye, because
“if they talk to you, they will shoot you or beat you. They have barricaded the streets, if you are walking and they stop you at a barricade they will make you remove everything and beat you.”
With the militiamen “roaming the streets of Khartoum”, Imam fears for the safety of his brother, his sister-in-law and his nephew: “we are trying to find a way for them to leave. Everybody is looking for a Plan B in case of civil war".
Nation hopes for a democratic Sudan
Since the uprising began, Sudanese democrats have unified their demands in the 'Declaration of Freedom and Change' — an emancipatory call for democratisation through the peaceful struggle of all the constituents of Sudan’s civil society including trade unions, students’ associations, political parties and feminist movements. Its immediate aims are the establishment of a transitional civilian government that will lay the foundations for peaceful, democratic elections within four years.
The chief protagonist within this coalition is the Sudanese Professionals Association, a trade union composed of doctors, journalists, engineers, lawyers, pharmacists and artists. Its members have taken on the role of the chief opposition to the military junta and its leaders – often women – are inspiring Sudanese to join the growing revolution.
Even abroad, in the Sudanese diaspora, the message of the forces for freedom and change is resonating.
Abdelrahman, or "Abdo" as he is known, says:
“This civilian uprising is amazing, it is led by ordinary people like you or me. The people of Sudan have seen that there is unity and a body to lead them to rebel against the regime.”
Abdo is a mathematician and artist living in Sydney, and he is working to energise the Sudanese-Australian community to place pressure on the military regime from abroad. Men and women like Abdo have organised rallies across Australia’s major cities, and will go to the streets again at 1 pm on Sunday, 30 June, in Sydney’s Hyde Park.
Abdo is not a member of the Sudanese Professional Association himself, but he is an admirer of its leaders:
It is an inclusive movement, they are reformers. They want to lead the country into the future, and that is what every Sudanese has been dreaming of.” Regardless of the various categories of faith, ethnicity, class, or gender that are found in the wider protest movement and in Sudan itself, Abdo insists that “we all share the same interest in peace and justice.
Sudanese Australians plea to PM: Condemn military rule
Imam and Abdo, however inspired by the revolution that is occurring in Sudan, do not hide their disappointment with the reaction shown by the Australian media and the broader international community.
“We organise protests and go out on the street and scream as loud as we can, but our message doesn’t get across to people in government."
While it seems to Abdo and Imam that so many countries have geopolitical interest in Sudan – Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates are all manoeuvring to serve their bests interests in the game of realpolitik – is appears that few have an interest in this Sudanese Spring.
We are hoping the Australian Government will condemn the Military Council.
The African Union has expelled the Sudanese representative from the diplomatic forum and has given the military junta a June 30 deadline to hand over power to a civilian transitional government. But many Western nations have not been as willing to make a stand on an issue which affects their Saudi Arabian ally. Hence, Imam says: “We, as members of the diaspora, have decided to be the voice of the Sudanese” — whose voice is being stifled at home by an internet black-out, and ignored abroad by Machiavellian geopolitics.
Despite the difficulty in being heard, the Sudanese community in Australia still maintains good faith in the Australian Government to defend the interests of Sudanese Australians.
“We have sent emails to the Prime Minister’s office, but we haven’t heard anything. Australia is really shy on what is happening in Sudan.”
Asked what it is he would like to tell the Australian people, Imam responds:
“We are hoping that the Australian Government would condemn the Military Council. I want the whole world to know about the massacre of June 3.”
A rally for Sudanese democracy will be held on Sunday, 30 June, from 1 pm to 4 pm at Hyde Park, Sydney, near the fountain.
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