Alaa Salah, engineering and architecture student at Sudan International University, a woman who has come to symbolise protests in Sudan after being photographed chanting atop a car during protests against President Omar al-Bashir said she has gotten death threats since her image went viral. She has received threats for standing up against Bashir and his cronies who have suppressed the Sudanese and left the country in near economic ruin. Women, and men in good measure, stood up and supported her.
“That image means so much to me,” said spokeswoman for the Association of Professional Unions, Sara Abdul-Jaleel. The association has played a leading role in the protests. “I commend her for her courage. She has exposed herself to great dangers and she will be pursued by authorities.”
In true Nubian fashion, Salah donned a white Toub which is a traditional Sudanese dress associated with the Nubian queens of old. The petite woman’s white clad figure was easy to spot among the protestors as she led them in song. Other female protestors have since started wearing the Toub as a symbol of solidarity.
“Two-third of the protesters in Sudan are women. Women are half the society. You cannot have a revolution without women,” said Salah. “You cannot have democracy without women. We believed we could, so we did.”
It is uncommon to find African women leading protests against governments. The revolution in the Sudan was an exception because women played a central role in the call for change. The image of Salah atop a car with her right hand held high, a finger pointed skyward, brought not only the revolution but the role women can play in their countries to light.
“I’m very glad that my photo let people around the world know about the revolution in Sudan. Since the beginning of the uprising I have been going out every day and participating in the demonstrations because my parents raised me to love our home.”
“Nowadays a woman can change systems by going out on the street but it’s not only today,” Salah said. “The historical role of a woman was making changes and she was always alongside men since the beginning of time. But there are perceptions that are entrenched in societies, which hide the role of women and describe it in certain terms which suggest that a woman going out on the street, standing against injustice is … heroic. However, it is normal because a woman is a creature with responsibilities and she takes part in building and changing.”
Salah said that nevertheless, her actions could have a positive impact on others by showing that the desire for change was shared across borders.
“My message to young Arab people is, don’t give up because of the attempts to try to steal the Arabic revolutions and from the changes taking place in Arabic countries. Also know that you are not the only one longing for freedom and changes. If injustice remains too long its power will break at the end of the day just like if the night stays for too long it has no choice but to yield to dawn.”
Salah has chanted ‘Thawra,’ meaning ‘revolution,’ and sang revolutionary songs this week outside the feared Sudanese military and intelligence headquarters, and even outside the Presidential compound. “Women have a voice…it is our revolution,” Salah told them.
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The numerous female protesters who have dominated the rolling protests over the past 16 weeks have been called Kandaka – a reference to the Nubian Queens of ancient Sudan who fought with great courage for their rights and their country.
The Sudanese security forces have targeted and dealt harshly with female protesters, many being detained, tortured, even flogged and stoned for ‘morality crimes.’ The participation of women in the protests calling on al-Bashir to resign has been so overwhelming that men have been in the minority.
The repression of women under al-Bashir’s regime has been systematic. Considering that 15 000 women were sentenced to flogging in 2016, the show of force by Sudanese women since December was a remarkable show of bravery.
She praised the role of Sudanese women, many of whom have taken to the streets in protest. Calling herself “very proud to take part in this revolution,” she said her life has been threatened since her picture and video went viral on social media.
“I will not bow down. My voice can not be suppressed,” she tweeted, adding that she would hold Bashir responsible “if anything happens to me.”
The queens were known to be powerful and successful in their own right, some ruled alone while others were considered equals to the king.
“I am not an icon. These are all revolutionaries who are icons. And I am only one of them,” Alaa Salah explains.
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