Women’s key role in the Sudan protests that toppled Omar Al-Bashir

Alaa Salah, whose image made her an icon for the demonstrators demanding change in Sudan, stands in front of a mural depicting her famous gesture from the roof of car in Khartoum. (Reuters)
Updated 21 April 2019

Women’s key role in the Sudan protests that toppled Omar Al-Bashir

  • Sudan's public morality laws targeted women
  • Women were beaten and harassed at protests

DUBAI: It began with protests over the price of bread. But it was an image of Alaa Salah, a young woman dressed in white, standing on  a car with her hand pointing up to the sky, that captured the world’s attention as the protests led to the toppling of Omar Al-Bashir.

For some women, the revolution was not just about bread — it was about regaining a feeling of safety inside their homes and fighting a regime that oppressed women.

Ihsan Abdulaziz, speaking from her Khartoum home, remembered the knock at her door. It was members of the security forces. They had come to arrest her.

“They didn’t even give me time to pack. I put on my abaya and veil and left with them,” she told Arab News, recalling the moment she was snatched away from her family.

Abdulaziz, a leader of the new Sudanese women’s movement, was arrested on Jan. 5, 2019. She was held for 58 days without charge or explanation.

She described the conditions of Omdurman women’s prison.

“The rooms were overcrowded. One of the cells, meant for solitary confinement, had 5 people inside it.”

Abdulaziz said they tried to fit two other women into the room, one of whom was believed to be over 75.

The female guards singled out detainees, treating them disrespectfully and delaying the delivery of medicine.

“Our prison was still better than others,” Abdulaziz added.

Abdulaziz, who had been detained on three previous occasions, learned that security forces beat up her son so severely that both his hands were in casts. “Even our kids, those of activists, are targeted.”

The associate director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division, Jehanne Henry, said that thousands had been arrested and that women were among those being kept in custody without being charged

But the participation of Sudanese women in demonstrations is not new.

“Sudanese women have always been willing and strong to protest,” Henry told Arab News.

Salah’s white garment and golden earrings are inspired by the outfits that Sudanese women wore during revolutions in the 1960s and 1980s.

Women were active in other revolutions too, such as those in 2011 and 2013.

But there are more women taking to Sudan’s streets now.

“These protests have a much wider base, the Sudanese Professionals Association has mobilized so many professions,” Henry explained.

Women from all classes, interests, occupations and ages took to the streets this time.

“It is no longer limited to politically active women, all the women were out in the street,” Abdulaziz said.

Some would even estimate that almost 60 percent of the protesters were women, she added.

A Sudanese architecture graduate, who is living in the UAE, said most of her female friends and relatives participated in the demonstrations and sit-ins.

“Even my older aunts and grandmother took part in the protests, even those who were not politically engaged,” Ebaa Elghali told Arab News.

Women were the most disadvantaged group under Bashir’s regime which is why they were actively protesting against it, Elghali added.

Human Rights Watch said that public morality laws, implemented by Bashir, targeted women and curtailed their basic freedoms.

In 2009 Sudanese women started a movement as a protest against these laws.

“They are (the laws) dedicated to control the clothes of Sudanese women, many faced unjust treatment because of it,” Sudanese activist Tahani Abbas told Arab News.

“Sometimes they say the clothes are indecent, but they never specify how. You could be fully covered and they still won't like it,” Abdulaziz explained.

Although the regime claimed to follow Sharia, several Sudanese women said the government was as far removed from Islam as it could be.

Women faced various violations during the protests, such as “beatings and harassment by national security during arrests,” Henry said.

Some women were starting to report incidents of sexual harassment and assault, she added.

 


Iraqi PM tightens government grip on country’s armed factions

Updated 17 September 2019

Iraqi PM tightens government grip on country’s armed factions

  • The increasingly strained relations between the US and Iran in the region is casting a large shadow over Iraq

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi is putting increased pressure on the nation’s armed factions, including Shiite-dominated paramilitary troops and Kurdish guerrillas, in an attempt to tighten his control over them, Iraqi military commanders and analysts said on Monday.

Military commanders have been stripped of some of their most important powers as part of the efforts to prevent them from being drawn into local or regional conflicts.

The increasingly strained relations between the US and Iran in the region is casting a large shadow over Iraq. 

Each side has dozens of allied armed groups in the country, which has been one of the biggest battlegrounds for the two countries since 2003. 

Attempting to control these armed factions and military leaders is one of the biggest challenges facing the Iraqi government as it works to keep the country out of the conflict.

On Sunday, Abdul Mahdi dissolved the leadership of the joint military operations. 

They will be replaced by a new one, under his chairmanship, that includes representatives of the ministries of defense and interior, the military and security services, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and the Ministry of Peshmerga, which controls the military forces of the autonomous Kurdistan region.

According to the prime minister’s decree, the main tasks of the new command structure are to “lead and manage joint operations at the strategic and operational level,” “repel all internal and external threats and dangers as directed by the commander-in-chief of the armed forces,” “manage and coordinate the intelligence work of all intelligence and security agencies,” and “coordinate with international bodies that support Iraq in the areas of training and logistical and air support.”

“This decree will significantly and effectively contribute to controlling the activities of all combat troops, not just the PMU,” said a senior military commander, who declined to be named. 

“This will block any troops associated with any local political party, regional or international” in an attempt to ensure troops serve only the government’s goals and the good of the country. 

“This is explicit and unequivocal,” he added.

Since 2003, the political process in Iraq has been based on political power-sharing system. This means that each parliamentary bloc gets a share of top government positions, including the military, proportionate to its number of seats in Parliament. Iran, the US and a number of regional countries secure their interests and ensure influence by supporting Iraqi political factions financially and morally.

This influence has been reflected in the loyalties and performance of the majority of Iraqi officials appointed by local, regional and international parties, including the commanders of combat troops.

To ensure more government control, the decree also stripped the ministers of defense and interior, and leaders of the counterterrorism, intelligence and national security authorities, and the PMU, from appointing, promoting or transferring commanders. This power is now held exclusively by Abdul Mahdi.

“The decree is theoretically positive as it will prevent local, regional and international parties from controlling the commanders,” said another military commander. 

“This means that Abdul Mahdi will be responsible to everyone inside and outside Iraq for the movement of these forces and their activities.

“The question now is whether Abdul Mahdi will actually be able to implement these instructions or will it be, like others, just ink on paper?”

The PMU is a government umbrella organization established by former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki in June 2014 to encompass the armed factions and volunteers who fought Daesh alongside the Iraqi government. Iranian-backed factions such as Badr Organization, Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah represent the backbone of the forces.

The US, one of Iraq’s most important allies in the region and the world, believes Iran is using its influence within the PMU to destabilize and threaten Iraq and the region. Abdul Mahdi is under huge external and internal pressure to abolish the PMU and demobilize its fighters, who do not report or answer to the Iraqi government.

The prime minister aims to ease tensions between the playmakers in Iraq, especially the US and Iran, by preventing their allies from clashing on the ground or striking against each other’s interests.

“Abdul Mahdi seeks to satisfy Washington and reassure them that the (armed) factions of the PMU will not move against the will of the Iraqi government,” said Abdullwahid Tuama, an Iraqi analyst.

The prime minister is attempting a tricky balancing act by aiming to protect the PMU, satisfy the Iranians and prove to the Americans that no one is outside the authority of the state, he added.