Photo Essay

Sudan’s Citizens Refuse to Give Up

One year after a military coup, activists continue to mobilize despite deadly crackdowns.

A man ties a piece of cloth over a demonstrator’s face in Sudan.
A man ties a piece of cloth over a demonstrator’s face in Sudan.
A man ties a piece of cloth over a demonstrator’s face to lessen the effects of tear gas during a protest against military rule in Khartoum, Sudan, on May 12. Ela Yokes Photos for Foreign Policy
By , an independent photographer and journalist based in Istanbul and Khartoum, Sudan.

KHARTOUM, Sudan—In a shared apartment overlooking a quiet neighborhood in July, Duaa, a final-year medical student in Khartoum, dug out items from the back of her wardrobe. On the floor, she laid out a gas mask, a pair of safety goggles, a Sudanese flag, cardboard signs with slogans in Arabic, and a large white cloth spray-painted with an image of a young man who was killed during anti-coup demonstrations in January. (Duaa asked to be identified by a pseudonym to avoid potential retaliation from military authorities.)

A couple days after a protest on June 30, Duaa and a friend were pulled over by the police. “They found these items in the trunk of our car and held us in detention for 12 hours,” she said. “They kicked me, broke my glasses, and searched through our phones.” Duaa, who regularly attends demonstrations calling for full civilian rule in Sudan, was also shot by authorities with a shotgun at a rally in March, injuring her in four separate places.

Since Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan led a military coup on Oct. 25, 2021, security forces have killed at least 119 protesters and injured more than 7,000 individuals during primarily nonviolent anti-coup demonstrations, according to data gathered by the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors. The coup ruptured Sudan’s transition to democracy, which began in 2019 after the overthrow of former President Omar al-Bashir’s government.

KHARTOUM, Sudan—In a shared apartment overlooking a quiet neighborhood in July, Duaa, a final-year medical student in Khartoum, dug out items from the back of her wardrobe. On the floor, she laid out a gas mask, a pair of safety goggles, a Sudanese flag, cardboard signs with slogans in Arabic, and a large white cloth spray-painted with an image of a young man who was killed during anti-coup demonstrations in January. (Duaa asked to be identified by a pseudonym to avoid potential retaliation from military authorities.)

A woman poses for a portrait in Sudan.
A woman poses for a portrait in Sudan.

Duaa, who uses a pseudonym, poses for a portrait in a women-only cafe in Khartoum on June 29.

A couple days after a protest on June 30, Duaa and a friend were pulled over by the police. “They found these items in the trunk of our car and held us in detention for 12 hours,” she said. “They kicked me, broke my glasses, and searched through our phones.” Duaa, who regularly attends demonstrations calling for full civilian rule in Sudan, was also shot by authorities with a shotgun at a rally in March, injuring her in four separate places.

Since Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan led a military coup on Oct. 25, 2021, security forces have killed at least 119 protesters and injured more than 7,000 individuals during primarily nonviolent anti-coup demonstrations, according to data gathered by the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors. The coup ruptured Sudan’s transition to democracy, which began in 2019 after the overthrow of former President Omar al-Bashir’s government.

Sudanese protesters chant slogans.
Sudanese protesters chant slogans.

Sudanese protesters chant slogans during a rally in Khartoum on June 3, marking the third anniversary of a crackdown on a sit-in outside the army’s headquarters in 2019.

Tires burn on a street in Sudan.
Tires burn on a street in Sudan.

Tires burn on a street leading up to the presidential palace during a demonstration against military rule in Khartoum on May 12.

A man carries an unconscious woman in Sudan.
A man carries an unconscious woman in Sudan.

A man carries an unconscious woman out of a crowd after security forces fired tear gas during a protest against military rule in Khartoum on May 12.

A Sudanese boy carries a makeshift shield.
A Sudanese boy carries a makeshift shield.

A Sudanese boy carries a makeshift shield during a procession to the presidential palace in Khartoum on May 12.

A year on, the country’s military leaders have faced little accountability for using lethal force against peaceful protesters and activists. Burhan recently attended the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II and the United Nations General Assembly as Sudan’s internationally recognized head of state. Meanwhile, Sudanese citizens have endured deteriorating economic and humanitarian conditions as well as a resurgence of conflicts across the states of Darfur, Blue Nile, and Kordofan.

The military takeover has also brought greater attempts to stifle freedoms in Sudan, said Ebrahim Nugdalla, a photographer and activist from Omdurman, a city neighboring Khartoum. Nugdalla has been photographing clashes between security forces and demonstrators since the beginning of the Sudanese revolution in 2018. He posts these images to his thousands of followers on Facebook. After he was arrested at a procession in July, Khartoum North’s police department opened a court case against him on charges of “photographing military areas” and “breaching public order,” which were dismissed at trial last month. Artists like Nugdalla have been increasingly targeted under military rule. On Oct. 20, nine people, including artists and musicians, were detained during a raid on a cultural center in Khartoum, where art related to the revolution was being exhibited.

Nevertheless, civil resistance efforts—including strikes, sit-ins, and other forms of nonviolent mobilization—have persisted. While Western governments have been advocating for a new power-sharing agreement between military and civilian components, many protesters and opposition groups continue to push for a solution that would limit the scope of the military’s role in government to security and defense matters. They have called for the reinstatement of a civilian government until democratic elections, which are scheduled for mid-2023, take place.

A demonstrator covers his face with his shirt in Sudan.
A demonstrator covers his face with his shirt in Sudan.

A demonstrator covers his face with his shirt after tear gas was fired by security forces during a protest in Khartoum on May 19.

Yet even as they continue to mobilize, some activists admit that the prospect of military authorities ceding political power is unlikely. As Akram Kamal, a 19-year-old student who was shot in the neck at a rally on March 17, said last week, “We don’t have any means of achieving our demands other than through our peaceful resistance.” Still, activists have not given up, and this week, they continued to stage protests across the country to mark the anniversary of the coup.

Ela Yokes is an independent photographer and journalist based in Istanbul and Khartoum, Sudan. Twitter: @ElaYokes

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