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Story Publication logo July 21, 2008

Sudan: Popcorn, poems and protest


Media file: Sudan_Photo.jpg

Northern Sudan is a region that has largely been ignored, eclipsed by rebellion in Darfur and a...


For days, there has been talk of a million-man protest that was to take place today on the streets of Khartoum, in opposition to the International Criminal Court prosecutor's decision to pursue the Sudanese president for genocide and crimes against humanity. Police, journalists and UN had been awaiting the massive rally, which was to put all the other protests that have taken place almost daily to shame.

From what I've heard, 10 people showed up.

And the protests that have gone on so far have been widely believed to be organised by the government - in one case all civil servants were apparently given the afternoon off work, loaded onto busses and taken to the rally.

I went to one of these shows the other day. I call it a show, because it was complete with popcorn. That's right, street vendors had caught onto the game and begun setting up shop in the protest venues. As a journalist friend of mine noted, "This is so silly. They wouldn't even be here if we [the media] weren't."

That's not to say there's nothing genuine about these people's feelings. I think they have heard certain lines repeated so many times, they have begun believing them themselves. But when a local Sudanese man pulled out a poem he had typed up for Ocampo, I had to raise an eyebrow.

"Ocampo, Sudan is the greatest nation," he began. "Ocampo, you will not take our president. Ocampo..." It's amazing how quickly Ocampo has become a household name in a country where 40 percent of adults are illiterate.

But all media stunts aside, there is a legitimate thread that brings all these people together. As one communications advisor to the government told me today, the Sudanese are so sick of having the West decide what is best for them. And this anger over the West's arrogance, as he called it, has united political parties that were otherwise unitable. And, he says, it has paved the way for Bashir's re-election in the elections that are supposed to be held next year. It is quite possible that Sudanese who don't even like Bashir will vote for him just to stick it to the international community. And then the world will be stuck with a democratically-elected Sudanese president indicted for war crimes.

That's not to say there aren't supporters of this decision, even among Arabs. Justice, after all, is an important concept in Islam, and from what I've heard, there are Arabs who are disappointed that it was only Bashir who was indicted, when so many others are also responsible.

It has also given the SPLM (the southern movement that was at war with the government for decades and is now part of the National Unity government) a bargaining chip. It has stuck by the NCP in not publicly supporting the ICC decision, but with conditions of course.

I wish I could show you pictures of these protests, but my camera (as well as passport, money, phone, etc) was stolen the other day. So you'll just have to imagine the men dressed in galabiyas (long, white tradiional gowns), screaming "Allahu Akbar" (God is great) through a megaphone while holding up pictures of Bashir...Pull up a lawnchair and bring some drinks. But don't worry about the popcorn.






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