Sudan’s great strength after a massacre

Much of the world has condemned Monday’s massacre in Sudan of more than 100 pro-democracy protesters. The harsh attack on peaceful civilians by the military rulers even brought a rebuke from the African Union, a 55-nation bloc which itself includes ruthless despots. Yet on the ground in the capital, Khartoum, the reaction among protesters was very different. It may even offer a lesson on how to react to evil acts.

After the Army dispersed thousands of Sudanese outside its headquarters with indiscriminate shooting, the demonstrators simply moved to other parts of the city. Their fight was not with bullets but with the bullying during Sudan’s three decades of repression. They set up new barricades, called for a general strike, and relied on an amazing unity formed during six months of a peaceful sit-in.

They expressed relief that the military had finally revealed its true intent. Despite the fall of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir in April as a result of the protests, the remnants of his regime still clearly seek to cling to power despite promises of elections.

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“Our weapons are peace [and] courage,” said the main organizer of the protests, the Sudanese Professionals Association, in a statement.

The sit-in itself was a microcosm of the kind of society that the protesters seek to create. It was well-organized in supplying food and water. It was inclusive of women, workers, and the country’s diverse ethnic groups. People provided lessons in civic education. Organizers took surveys of who should run a transitional civilian government.

The protest chants included ideas on how to build a new Sudan. One popular chant was by poet Azhari Mohamed Ali: “The bullet doesn’t kill. What kills is the silence of the people.”

The Army’s violence certainly deserves international censure. And, as in countries from Egypt to China to Venezuela where those with guns and no democratic legitimacy still rule, Sudan could be in for a long struggle. Yet the world should also take notice of the dignity, democratic ideals, and nonviolent tactics of Sudan’s protesters. Real power does not come out of the barrel of a gun.

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