Blue Out on Insta

Sudan Flag Sticker on a Car. pjbury. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Sudan Flag Sticker on a Car. pjbury. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Blue Out on Instagram: Support for Sudan through Social Media Awareness

Recently, a specific shade of blue has been popping up around Instagram in the form of profile pictures. This Blue Out was started by Instagram influencer Shahd (@hadyouatsalaam). She is a Sudanese-born, New York City-based activist—or how she likes to identify herself, “a political scientist by degree and a social media influencer by interest”, according to her recent Insta post, introducing herself to her new followers. 

Shahd created this movement for the sole purpose of raising awareness to what is currently going on in Sudan. Protests in Sudan began in December of last year, when there was a price-spike in basic commodities (i.e. bread). It was not until April 11th, after a mass, multi-day sit-in, that the Sudanese people did see the change they wished for. The current President, a man named Omar al-Bashir, and his party were being jailed or put on house arrest. The protestors believed this to be a victory. They were wrong. General Awad Ibn Auf, the Vice President, soon gave a televised statement explaining the new governmental system that was going to be put in place—one run by three separate military factions called the Transitional Military Council (TMC). He stated that they intended to remain in power for two years until the country could elect a new President, also claiming a three-month state of emergency and curfew. The people did not accept these conditions and in under 24 hours, Ibn Auf resigned and General Abdelfattah al-Burhaan become the new chairman.

Since General Abdelfattah al-Burhaan’s new appointment, negotiations between the people and the TMC have been chaotic. Once again being fed up, the Sudaneese people, with the people of the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), organized a mass strike from the 28th of May to the 29th. These strikes immediately became violent and the TMC used these mass demonstrations to portray the SPA in a vicious light. On June 3rd, government forces began shooting at the protestors which, reportedly, left 118 dead and many more injured. Since then, an Internet black out has been in place and thus sparked social media outcry.

But why should this matter to us? The answer is simple: because we have the power and the privilege of accessing the Internet with the capable means of shouting loud enough that somebody will listen. Over the past two weeks, because of the uproar on social media, there have been an influx of articles written about what is going on, how long it has been going on, what is the important information that we need to know about the revolution in Sudan. One Instagram user, Rachek Cargle (@rachel,cargle), with the help of “an incredible group of activists” has even composed a masterlist of articles ranging from immediate updates to fundraising efforts, according to her post that calls for any more information to add. 

Unfortunately, with the uproar, there have also been people who cruelly want to capitalize on the movement for clout reasons. Just last week, a post went viral that claimed for every re-post to a page or story, the originators of the account would donate meals to the Sudanese people. Very soon, the page was labeled as a hoax given curious peoples’ inquiries into how they would provide the food, where is the funding coming from, and other questions which the page either did not answer or gave vague responses to. From these instances, it is important to remember that when trying to get information out, there needs to be a more thorough and conscious effort on the part of other social media users to not just mindlessly click-and-post, but rather, do a quick search about what the post is, and then determine whether or not it is legitimate. 

Using the privilege we have—whether it be from simply having the means to repost an article or getting in contact with local government officials so they can talk about what is going on—is a butterfly-effect that will change how the Sudanese revolution will go. Being complacent or a bystander is just as harmful as supporting the violence because inaction is not action, inaction does not bring about change but lets things remain as they are, because they are not directly affecting us. I encourage those of you reading this article to look at the Instagram influencers I have mentioned as well as the hashtag #Iamsudanrevolution. There you will find countless posts, articles, links, and organizations that can inform you, help you, and guide you on how you can help. For immediate action, check out Cargle’s post which is a picture of protestors with SUDAN in bold, blue letters and the subtitle of Information & Support Round Up. There you will find the link to the master document which will provide the beginning of any information you want to know. 

I must repeat—acting as a bystander perpetuates the actions that are harming individuals because it is neglecting them the action they need. Use your privilege for something productive. 

OLIVIA HAMMOND is an undergraduate at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. She studies Creative Writing, with minors in Sociology/Anthropology and Marketing. She has travelled to seven different countries, most recently studying abroad this past summer in the Netherlands. She has a passion for words, traveling, and learning in any form. 


Don’t Blame Sharia for Islamic Extremism – Blame Colonialism

Conservative lawmakers in dozens of U.S. states have raised fears that Islamic fundamentalists want to impose Sharia on Americans.  Reuters/David Ryder

Conservative lawmakers in dozens of U.S. states have raised fears that Islamic fundamentalists want to impose Sharia on Americans. Reuters/David Ryder

Warning that Islamic extremists want to impose fundamentalist religious rule in American communities, right-wing lawmakers in dozens of U.S. states have tried banning Sharia, an Arabic term often understood to mean Islamic law.

These political debates – which cite terrorism and political violence in the Middle East to argue that Islam is incompatible with modern society – reinforce stereotypes that the Muslim world is uncivilized.

They also reflect ignorance of Sharia, which is not a strict legal code. Sharia means “path” or “way”: It is a broad set of values and ethical principles drawn from the Quran – Islam’s holy book – and the life of the Prophet Muhammad. As such, different people and governments may interpret Sharia differently.

Still, this is not the first time that the world has tried to figure out where Sharia fits into the global order.

In the 1950s and 1960s, when Great Britain, France and other European powers relinquished their colonies in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, leaders of newly sovereign Muslim-majority countries faced a decision of enormous consequence: Should they build their governments on Islamic religious values or embrace the European laws inherited from colonial rule?

The big debate

Invariably, my historical research shows, political leaders of these young countries chose to keep their colonial justice systems rather than impose religious law.

Newly independent Sudan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Somalia, among other places, all confined the application of Sharia to marital and inheritance disputes within Muslim families, just as their colonial administrators had done. The remainder of their legal systems would continue to be based on European law.

France, Italy and the United Kingdom imposed their legal systems onto Muslim-majority territories they colonized.  CIA Norman B. Leventhal Map Center ,  CC BY

France, Italy and the United Kingdom imposed their legal systems onto Muslim-majority territories they colonized. CIA Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, CC BY

To understand why they chose this course, I researched the decision-making process in Sudan, the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence from the British, in 1956.

In the national archives and libraries of the Sudanese capital Khartoum, and in interviews with Sudanese lawyers and officials, I discovered that leading judges, politicians and intellectuals actually pushed for Sudan to become a democratic Islamic state.

They envisioned a progressive legal system consistent with Islamic faithprinciples, one where all citizens – irrespective of religion, race or ethnicity – could practice their religious beliefs freely and openly.

“The People are equal like the teeth of a comb,” wrote Sudan’s soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Hassan Muddathir in 1956, quoting the Prophet Muhammad, in an official memorandum I found archived in Khartoum’s Sudan Library. “An Arab is no better than a Persian, and the White is no better than the Black.”

Sudan’s post-colonial leadership, however, rejected those calls. They chose to keep the English common law tradition as the law of the land.

Why keep the laws of the oppressor?

My research identifies three reasons why early Sudan sidelined Sharia: politics, pragmatism and demography.

Rivalries between political parties in post-colonial Sudan led to parliamentary stalemate, which made it difficult to pass meaningful legislation. So Sudan simply maintained the colonial laws already on the books.

There were practical reasons for maintaining English common law, too.

Sudanese judges had been trained by British colonial officials. So they continued to apply English common law principles to the disputes they heard in their courtrooms.

Sudan’s founding fathers faced urgent challenges, such as creating the economy, establishing foreign trade and ending civil war. They felt it was simply not sensible to overhaul the rather smooth-running governance system in Khartoum.

The Sudanese city of Suakim in 1884 or 1885, just prior to British colonial rule.  The National Archives UK

The Sudanese city of Suakim in 1884 or 1885, just prior to British colonial rule. The National Archives UK

The continued use of colonial law after independence also reflected Sudan’s ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity.

Then, as now, Sudanese citizens spoke many languages and belonged to dozens of ethnic groups. At the time of Sudan’s independence, people practicing Sunni and Sufi traditions of Islam lived largely in northern Sudan. Christianity was an important faith in southern Sudan.

Sudan’s diversity of faith communities meant that maintaining a foreign legal system – English common law – was less controversial than choosing whose version of Sharia to adopt.

Why extremists triumphed

My research uncovers how today’s instability across the Middle East and North Africa is, in part, a consequence of these post-colonial decisions to reject Sharia.

In maintaining colonial legal systems, Sudan and other Muslim-majority countries that followed a similar path appeased Western world powers, which were pushing their former colonies toward secularism.

But they avoided resolving tough questions about religious identity and the law. That created a disconnect between the people and their governments.

In the long run, that disconnect helped fuel unrest among some citizens of deep faith, leading to sectarian calls to unite religion and the state once and for all. In Iran, Saudi Arabia and parts of Somalia and Nigeria, these interpretations triumphed, imposing extremist versions of Sharia over millions of people.

In other words, Muslim-majority countries stunted the democratic potential of Sharia by rejecting it as a mainstream legal concept in the 1950s and 1960s, leaving Sharia in the hands of extremists.

But there is no inherent tension between Sharia, human rights and the rule of law. Like any use of religion in politics, Sharia’s application depends on who is using it – and why.

Leaders of places like Saudi Arabia and Brunei have chosen to restrict women’s freedom and minority rights. But many scholars of Islam and grassroots organizations interpret Sharia as a flexiblerights-oriented and equality-minded ethical order.

Women in Saudi Arabia have campaigned for gender equality, including the right to drive cars.  Reuters/Faisal Nasser

Women in Saudi Arabia have campaigned for gender equality, including the right to drive cars. Reuters/Faisal Nasser

Religion and the law worldwide

Religion is woven into the legal fabric of many post-colonial nations, with varying consequences for democracy and stability.

After its 1948 founding, Israel debated the role of Jewish law in Israeli society. Ultimately, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and his allies opted for a mixed legal system that combined Jewish law with English common law.

In Latin America, the Catholicism imposed by Spanish conquistadors underpins laws restricting abortiondivorce and gay rights.

And throughout the 19th century, judges in the U.S. regularly invoked the legal maxim that “Christianity is part of the common law.” Legislators still routinely invoke their Christian faith when supporting or opposing a given law.

Political extremism and human rights abuses that occur in those places are rarely understood as inherent flaws of these religions.

When it comes to Muslim-majority countries, however, Sharia takes the blame for regressive laws – not the people who pass those policies in the name of religion.

Fundamentalism and violence, in other words, are a post-colonial problem – not a religious inevitability.

For the Muslim world, finding a system of government that reflects Islamic values while promoting democracy will not be easy after more than 50 years of failed secular rule. But building peace may demand it.

MARK FATHI MASSOUD is an Associate Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz.


How Sudan’s Protesters Upped the Ante, and Forced Al-Bashir from Power

Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir has resigned after three decades in power. AHMED YOSRI/EPA

Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir has resigned after three decades in power. AHMED YOSRI/EPA

Following months of protests, and a prolonged sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum, Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir was placed under house arrest on April 11 as the country’s military prepared for a transitional government.

Many have described the Sudanese uprising as a “bread protest” against a rise in inflation. In fact the Sudanese people took to the streets for much more than a struggling economy, or the price of bread. They have been calling for freedom, peace, justice and the downfall of the regime.

And they have finally won.

The generation leading the uprising was born and raised during al-Bashir’s 30-year rule. The protesters are mostly young professionals who have been directly affected by the regime’s Islamisation and Arabisation policies.

These policies have been particularly harsh against women’s freedoms and rights, which explains why young Sudanese women are at the heart of the uprising. The policies have also resulted in multiple years of conflict and insecurity in Darfur, South Kordofan, and the Blue Nile.

Sudan’s governing system has already deteriorated because of years of state autocracy, nepotism, corruption and violent conflict.

Al-Bashir’s removal may bring down the state if a strong successor isn’t positioned to replace him. But in my view, given how Sudan has historically been run, the democratic preferences of many young protesters is unlikely to come to fruition. Their expectations for a functioning democracy, with free and fair elections, and constitutional freedoms will not be met unless the next leader of Sudan is a reformist.

Al-Bashir’s first responses

The regime responded to the protests in three ways.

First, al-Bashir tried to quickly reconsolidate his power by proposing constitutional changes that would have allowed him to stand for reelection in 2020. That was quickly taken off the table.

He then declared a year-long nationwide state of emergency. The emergency state prohibited “unauthorised” gatherings and movements. Violence followed as the state deployed heavy-handed tactics to break up the protests.

Al-Bashir also dissolved federal and state governments, replacing almost all of Sudan’s 18 state governors with army officers. And he ordered parliament to delay deliberations over proposed constitutional amendments that would allow him to run for an extra-constitutional term in next year’s elections.

When the protests didn’t subside he called for broad-based dialogue.

In a bid to stay in power, al-Bashir also reached out to those who had backed him financially on previous occasions. These included the Persian Gulf states as well as Egypt and Russia. However, these allies have done little more than offer him vague statements of support.

Read more: How foreign backing is keeping Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir in power

He also began to lose the support of Western backers. Once warm to al-Bashir, they recently began to issue stern reprimands.

The protests

By the time al-Bashir stepped down protests had taken hold in more than 35 cities across the country. People took to the streets in more and more places following the first demonstration in the northern Nile-side town of Atbara.

The current uprising was triggered by a government decision to lift subsidies on essential commodities and to drastically increase bread prices. In a matter of weeks, the protest in Atbara would reach the capital Khartoum 349 kilometres away.

As protests erupted across the country agents of the powerful National Intelligence and Security Service and riot police began to crack down on demonstrators. Throughout, however, the army refrained from intervening. Rumours began to surface that al-Bashir was ready to hand over power to the armed force. But this was swiftly rejected by the Minister of Information and government spokesman of the government, Hassan Ismail.

In the final days before al-Bashir stepped down thousands of demonstrators reached the ministry compound in Khartoum. This also houses al-Bashir’s residence, the secret service headquarters and the defence ministry.

Protesters then upped the stakes by trying to gain support from the army. What began to emerge was that senior officers were possibly weakening, or that they were hoping to use the protests to pressure factions within the ruling elite.

Protesters used a number of tactics to keep the momentum going. These included using social media such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. All evolved during the uprising despite the government’s attempts to block the user, and Virtual Private Networks were used to access the women’s only Facebook group called “Minbar Chat”.

Videos recorded by the protesters became important in documenting the crimes perpetrated by the security forces during the peaceful protests. They also became the main means of informing the Sudanese people and the international community about the brutality of al-Bashir’s regime.

Now that al-Bashir has resigned he will probably be required to leave the country by agreeing to safe passage to a friendly state, possibly somewhere like Egypt, or Qatar. The only way he can remain in Sudan is if he had prior agreement with the military to ensure his safety. It’s possible that the new generals he appointed after the declaration of a state of emergency might side with him.

Their support could have been one of the reasons why he felt that he could step down. Looking ahead, with or without Bashir, there’s also a possibility that the protests could continue if the people of Sudan feel that the swamp has not been drained of all the regime’s oppressive leaders.

ANDREW EDWARD TCHIE is an Editor at the Armed Conflict Database; a Research Fellow at the Conflict, Security and Development at International Institute for Strategic Studies at University of Essex.