This week I spoke with Azaz, activist and friend of PAX
End of February
President Omar al-Bashir has declared a state of emergency throughout the country for the remainder of the year. In doing so, he fired his entire government and all regional governors. The cabinet ministers still have to be filled, but the new governors have already been approached: 16 of them are military officers, the other two are big shots in the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS). If these appointments go through, Sudan will effectively become a military dictatorship.
In a speech declaring the state of emergency, al-Bashir said he was praying for the protesters who lost their lives and appeared to be softening his stance toward the demonstrators. But you can never trust a fox. No one expects al-Bashir to enter into a reasonable dialogue – the new measures show that he will not give up power or create a climate in which dialogue with the opposition is possible.
He is putting his fate in the hands of the army. Some say he is committing a “coup” within his own party. Minister of Defence Ahmed Ibn Auf – one of six ministers remaining – has also been appointed as the first Vice President. Ibn Auf is the former head of military intelligence and has been on the US sanctions list since 2007 for his alleged role as liaison between the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed during the war in Darfur. After al-Bashir’s speech, people poured into the streets to protest. But they came face to face with even more aggressive soldiers from the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).
“Azaz, what’s happening? How are you?”
“I’m well, thanks, but the NISS are merciless. On Friday, when the people took to the streets, they really went after us. They followed people into their homes and dragged them away to local NISS centres. ”
“Did they do that before as well, take people from their homes?”
“Yes, they did, but not like they are now. They continued rounding people up during the weekend, especially Sunday when there were big protests again. With the state of emergency they’ve got license to do what they want more than ever before. They’ve shut down my whole neighbourhood and are randomly invading houses, looking for people to hit, intimidate or drag to their centre.”
“Everyone is outraged by the state of emergency. It gives the government far-reaching powers to do things that normally wouldn’t be so easy, but actually, it doesn’t change much for us. We already lived in a state of emergency. Only now that it’s official, they get away with atrocities more easily. ”
“That must be scary, on top of everything else …”
“Demonstrating isn’t going to get any easier, that’s for sure. But people don’t give up. It’s like this: if people had reasonable options to deal with problems in this country, we wouldn’t have to do this. Not only do people have no options, the will on the side of the government to help the people isn’t there at all – this man will do everything in his power just to stay where he is. ”
“Can we take something positive from all of this, Azaz, even something small?”
“Maybe. We always knew people can’t continue protesting indefinitely. There was always going to be a time when we would have to move toward a well-organized campaign of civil disobedience. The extra pressure right now could ensure that this happens faster, inshallah (God willing).”
“Inshallah. Take care of yourself and each other Azaz — we’ll talk again soon.”