Why are Sudan’s student protesters so brave?

Tuesday 2 April 201904:20 pm

The scene is repeated with different people and places, but they are frequent and semi-identical events. The interaction of the student movement with the revolution is as follows: students announce a sit-in inside the university campus, and the ones who do not do their duty fail to attend. The vehicles of the security forces surround them. The university administration abandons them. The army breaks into the campus and beats them, arrests them and shoots tear gas at them. The photos spread on social media pages, and then we sleep to wake up to the same scenario but in another university.

Well, that's the summary and you can stop reading the rest of the article now. Because all I'm going to do is tell a few facts and make a modest attempt to understand what makes it like an endless cycle.

Well, that's the summary and you can stop reading the rest of the article now. Because all I'm going to do is tell a few facts and make a modest attempt to understand what makes it like an endless cycle. When will the regime change its ways? Isn’t trying the same thing several times and waiting for a different result the definition of madness? Have Omar al-Bashir and his cronies gone mad?

The “Danger" of the University of Khartoum

Since joining the University of Khartoum, I have heard the stories of those who preceded me. From the buildings of the old center complex, there were demonstrations that overthrew Sudanese autocratic regimes, so it was natural for al-Bashir to attempt to control my university, and he tries to do so regularly. I experienced the closure of the university for "security" reasons in 2002, which lasted for six months.

Thus, the University of Khartoum and all public higher education institutions have been closed indefinitely since the outbreak of popular protests in December last year. The regime's reactions are predictable and obvious.

The University of Khartoum, with its location close to the city center, specifically the Arab market and al-Qasr Street, the thoroughfare leading to the Republican Palace, is an excellent starting point for the demonstrations and must be removed from the map of the revolution, and unfortunately the regime’s wish has been fulfilled as the university street has not been part of demonstrations up till now.

Private Colleges

By removing public university students from their campuses and closing them, everyone expected that the student movement would not be part of the uprising. They would certainly participate in the demonstrations and rallies, but as citizens rather than as students.

What surprised the regime was the reaction of students of the middle and upper classes who are stereotyped as being very distant from the realities of Sudan, and it was the first time these young people had experienced attacks by the riot police.

We came to know the smell of tear gas and tried to escape by climbing up the walls. Private university students did not go through this experience.

When I was a student I ran away several times and hid with my colleagues in the labs and barricaded ourselves in the women’s dorms all in separate incidents that led the riot police to storm the University of Khartoum. We came to know the smell of tear gas and tried to escape by climbing up the walls. Private university students did not go through this experience.

Has the Sudanese revolution finally begun?

Politics at the University of Khartoum is part of university life. If you pass through the main sidewalk from the gate to the Grand Library, you will often find a crowd of students around a chair with a banner and one of them in the middle orating loudly about it.

On the other hand, most students of private universities sign a declaration swearing off political activity as part of admission procedures. But what is the value of this agreement between students and management when the concern is greater than political debate? As citizens come out on the streets to overthrow the regime, it is regrettable - in my opinion - to adhere to such things.

Between fear of the future and revolutionary enthusiasm

To agree on a sit-in at Khartoum University is easier because there are no academic consequences, unlike in private universities, such as the University of Medical Sciences and Technology (UMST), where a 15 percent absence rate means being deprived of the right to take the final exam.

I can understand the hesitation of students to organize a sit-in when they feel their future is at stake, especially final year students who are very close to graduating. What if the university administration decide to expel them? Doesn’t the declaration stipulate that students should not protest or comment on public affairs?

But the majority is incensed by the spirit of a relentless revolution, thank God.

Suppression of a peaceful sit-in

UMST has a few colleges and most of its reputation stems from its controversial owner, Mamoun Hemeida, a millionaire and corrupt Minister of Health who gathers students to his school of medicine, mostly from the diaspora.

It is by immigrant parents for their children because it teaches medicine and other subjects in English and the grades required for acceptance are lower than those at the University of Khartoum, and because the government limits the number of seats for non-Sudanese secondary education certificates. So the students were not born in the country, nor are they fluent in then language and are criticized by other Sudanese for speaking English outside the classroom.

These are the most prominent people who have rebelled against the government recently. The regime has met their peaceful sit-in with severe repression. This all embarrassed the director of the college, especially since a picture of him was taken as he watched the security forces capture the students and detain them as criminals. The next day, the university closed its doors indefinitely along with the University of Khartoum and Dr Mamoun Hemeida issued a statement attempting to absolve himself of the crime and apologize.

“Killing a student .. killing a nation"

During the rule of President Ibrahim Abboud, a general who ruled from 1958 to 1964, Qureshi, a student at the University of Khartoum, was killed while protesting. This resulted in a famous chant passed from generation to generation: “killing a student… killing a nation.”

We revived these chants when another student was killed by stray bullets in the new millennium. We are used in my university to scattered memories of horror that are often easily lost in the midst of the pursuit of an education.

I do not want to differentiate between us. The reader may think that I am biased towards the public university students or believe in the stereotypes of private university students, but I just want to draw a picture for you for a reality that changed after December 19, 2018.

Take Mahjoub, a student at the International University of Sudan, who risked everything without fear of death when he used his body as a human shield to protect colleagues at the gates of college from the violence of the security forces. But the security men beat him to death. The crime scared the regime and they discussed the initiation of investigations. After a while there is no longer anyone who asks, "Where are Mahjoub's killers?" The focus shifted quickly to the next demonstration.

In an interview with the German DW channel, Mahjoub’s mother talked about him. Contemplate the fact that she sent him to his homeland and to study and learn about it, when she could have sent him to any other country. I hope that Umm Mahjoub will look at the big picture of the Sudan of tomorrow and know that her son is one of our eternal heroes. There is no consolation in victory but the love of the cause will be the only solace for the mothers.

The revolution continues with the students

There is no space in this article to tell you the full details of the student movement that I am blown away by. I still can’t find an answer to my question: if the scenario of Mamoun Hemeida’s university is a recurring one and despite the students knowing how Mahjoub died and going out to protest anyway, why does the regime persist in it’s methods? Is it despair? And where do the students get this determination and courage from?

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