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The revolution in Sudan and the ‘villains’

Why is the Sudan revolution being ignored? I’ve been asking the question for a while now and we have to face the facts: recent protests in Sudan have received little to no attention from the media. Since 1989 and the first article I wrote on Sudan, I have seen and heard many things. Or maybe I haven’t seen and heard enough to say the truth. In the media, I mean. Because on the ground, there have been plenty to see and hear. For more than two decades, I have discussed a lot, with many different people from here, from Sudan, from everywhere. I’ve listened to the ones who think everyone has their own problems to deal with; the ones who talk too much and don’t do enough and some others complaining ‘It’s always the same out there’… Hopefully, many others try to understand and don’t turn a blind eye; some people even commit and work with organizations on the ground.

I’m often asked ‘Why do you listen to these people? How can you even discuss with them? You totally disagree with them!‘. My answer is simple: keep your friends close and your ‘enemies’ closer. It’s important, as hard as it can be, to stay out of your bubble or else you will realize there is a vast disconnect between public opinion and yours. I can already hear (as I heard it so many times before): ‘Public opinion doesn’t know anything about Sudan and doesn’t care!‘. And in some part, it’s true, especially when it comes from Sudanese, volunteers and advocates for peace and justice in the country who know exactly what is happening. But when I ask around me to ‘ordinary’ people, I realize it is more because of a media coverage disinterest than their own lack of interest.

Like I said in News cycle turnover, our today’s worst enemy? and a few months before that in Darfur: a World Wide Role Playing Game : can we always simplify a given situation the same way we leave out parameters to simplify the form of an equation in mathematics? This oversimplification helps to quickly spread a message among the masses and bring a short-term awareness but avoiding all the parameters, dismissing what might be the core of the problem, removing ‘la substantifique moëlle‘ could doom any effort of grasping to failure.

I don’t blame the media for everything, I know some journalists are doing a great job, but you can’t blame the so-called public opinion for not knowing if the information simply doesn’t reach them (although they could look for the information by themselves, but it’s another subject). Moreover, the information they get is often contradictory. In The power of carrot and stick: reductio ad absurdum? I pointed out some major inconsistencies: are the carrot and the stick of any help when countries like China and Russia still collaborate with President Omar al-Bashir, indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur? How is it even possible to think we could simply erased and turn a blind eye on what Bashir did only if he is kind enough to accept not to ‘do it’ again? If the International Criminal Court‘s indictment of the Sudanese President didn’t change a thing for him, then how can we imagine written promises or agreements will do? CPA was a long time ago… Does that mean his scare-tactics are working so well, what we call our ‘carrot’ is in fact Bashir‘s stick? Puzzling…

This carrot and stick policy lead us to be Dancing with a dictator in Sudan, again. The wait-and-see policy toward al-Bashir didn’t bring many results, the biggest of all (and it’s a big one) being the independence of South Sudan. Meanwhile, people are still dying everyday in Darfur and the humanitarian situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile is worsening by the day. And the situation within Sudan is not good either. The situation is similar to Russian nesting dolls; you think you just made a big step toward peace but then another event emerges and the situation becomes unstable again…

Even the most committed of all have been weary of the situation. With the recent protests in Sudan, comes hope for peace and justice in Sudan, eventually. Media coverage is still as scarce as it has always been, and many people are still wondering why is the world ignoring the revolution in Sudan. I’ve heard that it is too soon to call the protests a ‘revolution’, nevertheless Mohamed El Dahshan’s article provides an explanation: ‘One possible explanation is “revolution fatigue.” Newsrooms may believe their readers are tired of the Arab Spring’s various manifestations across the Middle East. Yet last Friday, dozens of international TV channels covered Egyptian president-elect Mohamed Morsi’s speech in Tahrir Square (which, though important, was not actually an official inauguration speech). Some even broadcast the entire speech live. So perhaps that particular theory doesn’t hold water.’

This is a valid explanation, every day seems to bring a new round of bad news, punctuated by good news getting quickly lost within a continuous flow of information. If I wanted to be cynical, I would say it is like a soap show we are watching every day, with new plots and new characters. Hence the answer made by a journalist when I asked about the‬ lack of media interest for anti-government demonstrations: ‘Not enough deaths for the frontpage. ‪Syria‬ has more, daily’… But El Dahshan believes there is another problem: ‘For the past two decades at least, the international media has chosen to designate Sudan’s people as global villains. Now the journalists are finding it impossible to backtrack on that position and hail the Sudanese as normal people aspiring for a better life (…) The war in the South was the closest a civil conflict could resemble a “classical” war between armies. Though atrocities were committed, these were not the deeds of civilians. The genocide in Darfur was the work of an organized army and its paramilitaries.’

Here we are. El Dahshan rightfully says that the genocide in Darfur was the work of an organized army and its paramilitaries, not civilians. There is no doubt on that but it’s a fact most of the international media have chosen to designate Sudan’s people as ‘global villains’ to quote El Dahshan. So the question remains, why? Because to most people I asked (it was not a study but they’re being quite representative of the global community feelings), they think, from the little they read on newspapers, Sudanese passively let al-Bashir engage in atrocities in Darfur, in South Kordofan, Blue Nile. They think Sudanese have a ‘selfish’ reaction and are now revolting only because of austerity measures. Because they have enough of the life they’ve had, and certainly not because their President has been charged with Darfur genocide. Mohamed El Dahshan raised up a good question and this may be another part of the answer on the reasons why international media sometimes designate Sudan’s people as ‘global villains’.

Most people, ordinary people, understand Sudanese didn’t take part to the Darfur genocide (and that’s a big step) but they don’t understand why Sudanese didn’t express a more active support (could they?) to Darfur, Blue Nile or South Kordofan, regions of Sudan which are part of their country. But now that Sudan has to take austerity measures, as very well explained by Yousif ElMahdi in Sudan’s Economy And Why ‘Fiscal Austerity’ Is A Sham, Sudanese people protest against recent price hikes and years of repression of civil liberties. So if  (Western) public opinion supports the protests, they may be somehow reluctant because Sudanese, at least from what they have read in the media, have been (guilty) silent for years.

Maha Sanosi, who has been arrested during the protest (read her powerful article: When Nightmare Turns Into Realitytweeted a few days ago: ‘Dear western media,re #SudanRevolts: 1- Stop calling it an Arab Spring, 2- It’s not just abt austerity measures, 3-Condescension isn’t cool.’ She is right, we, as people knowing about Sudan, know why protests across the country shouldn’t be called ‘Arab Spring’, we know it’s not just about austerity measures, and of course nor condescension or disdain should be tolerated. The police uses violent means to quell the protests, and many of them have been arbitrarily arrested for peaceful protest like Usamah Mohammed Ali and Rashaida Shams Al-Deen or journalist Shaimaa Adel. In a previous post I asked everyone to Support #SudanRevolts and take action!

Let’s go back to the media coverage. El Dahshan highlights something important: ‘It was easier to explain Sudan’s conflicts with simple dichotomies. The North-South civil war was invariably reduced to “the Muslim North versus the Christian South.” I’m sure you’ve read this sentence before. When commentators and writers realized that Darfuris were Muslim too, the Darfur genocide became an “Arab versus African” conflict. But the global community knows next to nothing about the reality of Sudan.’ This is indeed the way most of media describe the conflict. Although I have to underline these are not only dichotomies, some racist words have been pronounced by none other than al-Bashir himself.

And now back to the carrot and stick: if it is about isolation or blockade, we know from Iraq child mortality in the country had more than doubled when United Nations sanctions were imposed. In his article, Mohamed El Dahshan adds: ‘Part of the blame also rests on sanction-happy, U.S.-based activists and various celebrities who failed to understand the complexity of the conflicts, and somehow believe that punishing the people of Sudan would stop the wars.’ The recent protests started as a result of economic austerity measures induced, in part, by these sanctions.

There are obviously many parts to blame, many falsehoods, absence of accuracy, lack of interest, comprehension and understanding.

El Dahshan concludes his article with those words: ‘The global community, the media, and humanitarian activists need to snap out of their facile anti-Sudanese racism, and should give the situation in Sudan the attention it deserves — and the admiration its protagonists on the street deserve. We need to start joining them as they demand their basic rights, the release of political prisoners, and the freedom from a tyrant who, in his increasingly visible panic, will stop at nothing to destroy them. Expressing our interest in the revolts, even if passively, would pressure al-Bashir and provide much-needed support to the Sudanese revolutionaries.’ I wrote several times about ‘good will’ in Darfur, Congo, Burma: is ‘good will’ enough? and People of goodwill against the rest of the world? Maybe… I keep thinking Tall oaks from little acorns grow and that in unity there is strength.

Time will tell is these protests will make a revolution, but two things are sure: we should support the protests and whatever will happen if there is a change. A clear, independent, disinterested, non-patronizing support to the many peoples of Sudan. To those who are living abroad, I would like to conclude with a wonderful article: The Agony of the Sudanese Diaspora. Nubian(Q) writes: ‘Something awe inspiring is happening right now, right at this very moment in Sudan, as I type these words. Something that we could only speak to our pillows about at night, sending our flesh into goosebumps and causing all sorts of a frenzy in our systems when thought about. A blinding spark, started by non other than the ladies of the University of Khartoum. This spark may lead Sudan to unimaginable heights, and yes the road to absolute change will be dangerously tedious, and may die then sputter to life in a sporadic cycle, but again, the spark has happened…’

A definite must-read.

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