A young Sudanese woman is being hailed as the symbol of Sudan’s political movement after a powerful photograph of her chanting at a rally was shared across the world.
Her name is Alaa Salah.
In the photo, which was taken by Lana Haroun on Monday, the 22-year-old is standing atop a platform and leading a chant at a protest in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.
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Protesters were demanding at the rally that the 30-year rule of president Omar al-Bashir come to an end, and that’s what happened on Thursday.
Sudan’s military overthrew al-Bashir after months of bloody street protests over his repressive rule. But pro-democracy demonstrators were left angry and disappointed when the defense minister announced the armed forces will govern the country for the next two years.
The developments echoed the Arab Spring uprisings eight years ago that brought down entrenched rulers across the Middle East. But like those popular movements, the new ones face a similar dynamic — a struggle over what happens after an autocrat’s removal.
The protests, which have involved a mix of young activists, students, professional-employee unions and opposition parties, initially began last December over the deteriorating economy but quickly turned into demands for the president’s ouster.
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The involvement of youth and especially young women in the protests has been praised online.
According to BBC News estimates, roughly 70 per cent of protesters in Sudan who helped bring down al-Bashir’s 30-year rule were women.
Salah has spoken out about the viral moment in media interviews and told The Guardian that she’s happy it’s brought attention to Sudan’s plight for democracy.
“I’m very glad that my photo let people around the world know about the revolution in Sudan,” she said.
“Since the beginning of the uprising I have been going out every day and participating in the demonstrations because my parents raised me to love our home,” the engineering and architecture student said.
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She noted that on Monday, she went to 10 different gatherings and read a “revolutionary poem.”
“In the beginning, I found a group of about six women and I started singing, and they started singing with me, then the gathering became really big,” she said.
The poem, she said, helps boost morale and inspire demonstrators.
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One line of the poem that generates the most reaction is: “The bullet doesn’t kill. What kills is the silence of people.”
Beyond the poem, Salah’s attire also made a powerful statement.
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Hind Makki, an interfaith blogger, explained in a series of tweets that the white cloth Salah donned is worn by working women in the country. It’s also made of cotton, which is one of Sudan’s biggest exports.
She also noted that the clothing is similar that worn by Sudanese women between the 1960s to 1980s, during protests over previous military dictatorships.
Women taking part in the protests are being called “Kandaka,” which was the title given to queens in ancient Sudan.
The queens were known to be powerful and successful in their own right, some ruled alone while others were considered equals to the king.
However, some women in Sudan have pushed back against the “Kandaka” label, saying they are not treated as such by the law.
Women in Sudan have endured limited rights for years. The country’s “Public Order” laws dictate much of how women are expected to act, including how they dress.
— With files from The Associated Press