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Politics
Yellowknife

In Yellowknife, survivors of past conflicts urge action in Sudan


Members of Yellowknife’s Sudanese community say they are joining many thousands of people in Sudan’s streets in resisting the military takeover staged in the past week.

After more than three decades of dictatorship and military-backed rule, Sudan had been on the verge of transitioning to a democratically elected civilian government.

However, a general named Abdel Fattah al-Burhan led a military coup on Monday, seizing control of the country and arresting senior politicians including Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

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On Saturday, several dozen Yellowknife residents with connections to Sudan staged a protest in the city’s Somba K’e Park condemning the coup. Yellowknife’s Sudanese community wants Canada to vocally “stand against these brutal forces and support Sudan’s revolution to civilian rule,” a news release from the protesters stated.

Political unrest in Sudan has been taking place for decades. For 30 years, the country was led by the dictator Omar al-Bashir, who overthrew the democratically elected government of Sadiq al-Mahdi in 1989.

Magdi Hassan, who has lived in Yellowknife for the past six months, was arrested and tortured by al-Bashir’s government in the late 1990s while president of the students’ union at Ahlia University in the country’s largest city, Omdurman.

A US Department of State report compiled in early 1998 details the regime’s treatment of Hassan.

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“Armed security personnel with handheld radios detained Ahlia University student, Magdi Abdelmoniem Hassan, chairman of the student union of the university. They took him to two locations where they severely beat him. Photographs show weals on his back and his medical report also indicated a ruptured ear drum,” the report states.

Hassan says the damage to his ear was permanent.

“I was arrested, like, seven times,” he told Cabin Radio after addressing the crowd at Somba K’e Park.

“The last time I was arrested, I had a tough time. I was beaten from the afternoon till night. I passed out.”

Hassan came to Canada as a political refugee in 1998. He now wants his adopted country’s government to speak out forcefully against the revival of military rule in Sudan.

“We need to send a message to all the world: people in my country are struggling to survive right now,” he said.

“There are millions of people on the street, refusing to accept the military government. We are here to say we support them: you are not alone, we are going to fight with you, and we’re pushing our government in Canada to take strong action.”

Members of Yellowknife's Sudanese community in Somba K'e Park
Members of Yellowknife’s Sudanese community in Somba K’e Park. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

Earlier this week, Canada signed a European Union and United Nations statement to “strongly condemn the ongoing military takeover in Sudan.”

The statement called for a return to the transitional arrangement that had, since al-Bashir’s removal from power in 2019, seen military and civilian leaders share power and move slowly toward the eventual election of a civilian government.

“Any attempts by the military to unilaterally modify these provisions and upend the critical civilian-military partnership are unacceptable,” the statement read.

“The actions of the security forces deeply jeopardize Sudan’s hard-won political, economic, and legal gains made over the past two years and put Sudan’s security, stability, and reintegration into the international community at risk.”

Internet access cut

On the ground, that statement appears to have made little difference.

General al-Burhan claims he led the coup to prevent “civil war,” alleging civilian leaders had been inciting violence against security forces.

On Saturday, thousands of protesters took to Sudan’s streets and demanded the reinstatement of Prime Minister Hamdok. In Omdurman, the city where Hassan once led a students’ union, three people were reportedly shot and killed by military forces.

Internet access in Sudan is currently almost non-existent and many phone lines have also been cut. Gen al-Burhan earlier said the internet would only be restored “in phases if we feel that the media is telling the truth,” the BBC reported.

“They are being silenced but I can hear them,” said Amna Idris, a Yellowknife 15-year-old who left Sudan when she was two, referring to protesters in the country where she was born.

“No matter what side of the world I’m on, if I was there with them, I’d be protesting the same way I am here.”

Ritaj Hamad Dawoude and Amna Idris at a rally of Yellowknife's Sudanese community on October 30, 2021
Ritaj Hamad Dawoude, left, and Amna Idris. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Salah Mohammed attends a rally of Yellowknife's Sudanese community on October 30, 2021
Salah Mohammed. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

Idris said she feared for the safety of her relatives and friends in Sudan.

“Since they don’t have wi-fi they can’t communicate anything to us. It’s very difficult being in the darkness that way,” she told Cabin Radio.

Salah Mohammed, who moved to Canada in 1967 but spent time in Sudan during a previous uprising, said the forces that divided the country during the civil war that created South Sudan were emerging again.

“They displaced millions of people. We lost a third of the whole country,” said Mohammed, a Yellowknife resident for the past six years. “And then they came back to the north with the same iron fist: repression, killing, displacing.

“We are born free. We have to live free in the context of the law – not the law of the AK-47 or whatever tanks, it doesn’t work.

“I wish the free world and Prime Minister of Canada would condemn what is happening in Sudan with very strong language. There is no in-between here.”

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