Sudan Protesters Say They Will Not Leave Until Military Hands Over Power

May 3, 2019
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For months, protesters in Sudan took to the streets demanding the ouster of longtime President Omar al-Bashir. Thousands gathered for a round-the-clock sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum, and they won. Bashir was ousted less than a month ago, but the sit-in continues, a 24-hour symbol of defiance and a celebration of freedoms many protesters had never experienced. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports from Khartoum.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAND DRUMMING)

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Eighteen-year-old Mohamed Abdul-Raman sits on the grass with a handful of friends on the banks of the River Nile. He's on the drums. His friends sing backup.

MOHAMED ABDUL-RAMAN: (Singing in foreign language).

PERALTA: He has turned an old song of heartbreak into an indictment of former President Omar al-Bashir.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

(SOUNDBITE OF HAND DRUMMING)

PERALTA: "Bashir was poisoned by his own tears," he sings, "tell his loyalists, they'll never be seen again." In some ways, this protest doesn't feel like a protest. It feels like a music festival. Graffiti lines the walls. Women recite poetry on top of cars. Faris el Sheikh, a DJ in Khartoum, looks around in wonder.

FARIS EL SHEIKH: This revolution right now is probably arguably one of the most beautiful revolutions that the world has ever seen.

PERALTA: For 30 years, Sudan has been one of the most repressive countries in the world. It's governed under Islamic law and President Omar al-Bashir ruled with brutal force. But last December, young men, and especially young women, descended on the streets by the thousands. They ran towards bullets, demanding justice and equality. And suddenly, factions of society that had never really come together did, and they forced a military coup with nonviolent resistance.

EL SHEIKH: We are a very peaceful nation, and that's what we're trying to achieve now. And love always wins. And that's exactly what's happening right now.

PERALTA: But the truth is, some parts of this sit-in do not look like love. It's surrounded by military, soldiers behind machine guns and riding in tanks. And while the military is negotiating with protesters, they have also refused to hand over power. And the day before, they tried to break up the sit-in with threat of force.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

PERALTA: Protesters fortify their roadblocks with boulders, and hundreds stand just outside the military buildings staring at the troops, shouting, revolution. Muada Melad is leading a group of about 50 men marching back and forth in front of the military. She's wearing a sparkling blue headscarf. She's 21. And when she began going out on the streets when snipers were shooting demonstrators, her friends, her family, told her she was crazy. She had a good life. Why take such a risk?

MUADA MELAD: (Foreign language spoken).

PERALTA: She says she went out into the streets because she couldn't stay quiet in the face of so much injustice - Sudanese who weren't getting an education, who didn't have enough to eat. I ask her if she ever imagined this moment when she could march in front of the military headquarters, where she could denounce Omar al-Bashir, where she could lead a bunch of men in defiance of an Islamist regime.

MELAD: Yes. Yes. I always imagined this day will become. I imagined in my mind, are we going to have freedom and have justice and have peace?

PERALTA: She walks back into the crowd. It's already midnight, but this protest doesn't end.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

(SOUNDBITE OF HAND DRUMMING)

PERALTA: Drummers, singers, dancers, Muslims and Christians who say they will not leave until the military hands over power. Kids and adults, women and men, determined to defend a revolution with just their body and spirit.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

PERALTA: Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Khartoum. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.