All artworks are from Al-Qiyada 

In the shadow of the army general command, a land of dignified protest wholly filled with hope, poetry, art, and life. It was the place where the dreams of a nation manifested in a historic manner. Throughout Khartoum’s Al Qiyada Al-3ama, music rang through the streets like the waves of change echoed on the horizon. The revolution’s hallmark sit-in persisted for two strong months through the sweltering heat and exhaustion of the summer, with no indication of slowing down or faltering. Inside, the people built a functioning, free nation in their own vision. Truly, it was the central symbol of hope for the Sudanese revolution.

For each person fortunate enough to witness it, the sit-in was the honor of a lifetime. There, wide walkways hosted civilian protesters of all kinds and backgrounds. The national anthem took on new meaning through the fall of two oppressive leaders and the anticipation of a better future. The central stage hosted speakers, organizers, revolutionaries, and performers alike. It became the main ground for applying pressure on negotiating parties for the anticipated transitional period.

 

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Qiyada Billboard: Protestor Alaa Salih, whose photo was taken by Lana Haroun and went viral

 

As the Charles Dickens quote likens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” It was the highest of hopes and the lowest of sorrows.

 

The sit-in was the scene for some of the revolution’s happiest and most joyous moments. We saw the tides of freedom turn with the overthrow of Omar Al-Bashir and Awad Ibn-Ouf and sang songs of freedom long into the night.

 

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Fight for Your Right: Mural by Mona Laif and picture by The Art Revolution

 

On Clinic Street, a haven for arts and music and literature was built, and it became a gathering point for Sudan’s rich creative scene. Books were continuously displayed in the traditional mafroosh spread, provided for visitors to read any time. Musicians gathered to play revolutionary songs and classic tunes on a daily basis, such as Ibrahim Al-Kashif’s Ana Afriki, Ana Sudani (I am African, I am Sudanese) and Mohamed Wardi’s Ya Sha3ban Lahabak Thawritak (Your flame is your revolution, my People) - both deeply reflective of the strong collective spirit and Sudanese identity during the revolution.

Above on the overpasses, thowar al-nafak kept the rhythm of the people alive. Day and night, the steady clanging of rocks and sticks against the exposed metal bridges brought a sense of peace and familiarity to the rapidly changing security and negotiation situations. Protesters engaged in poetic chants and strived to spread consciousness through numerous talks and initiatives organized in sponsored tents and informal gatherings. During this time, homeless children were provided with food and shelter, as well as classes organized daily. The Sudanese consciousness was critically awakened to include fellow people of all backgrounds and classes - a responsibility missing in Sudan for several crucial years.

 

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al-Nafak: The University of Khartoum overpass overlooking a striking mural by Galal Yousef

Steadily, the sit-in site was filled with colorful murals of all kinds. Over 100 different artists contributed to making these artworks, arguably among the most significant and widely-shared public arts in Sudan’s recent history. The many murals painted during Sudan’s sit-in are preserved online with their locations and artists’ credits in the online gallery: sudanrevolutionart.org. The sit-in advanced the culture of art and expression in Sudan in lasting, powerful ways.

Deeply emblematic of the motivated environment of the sit-in, the youth of El-Mastaba TV brought about “Al-Qiyada Nights”, just one example of the many efforts put into building a better society for all Sudanese people. The project was undertaken to clean a trash-filled area and convert it into a stunning space for artistic expression. Graffiti and string lights laced the perimeter and added to the ambience. Performances included spoken word, music, and stories, which were live-streamed and inspired many. Indeed, countless moments at al-Qiyada were experienced jointly by those in Khartoum and Sudanese people around the country and world.

 

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El-Mastaba TV After: Scene of “Al-Qiyada Nights” after cleaning and organizing took place (featuring art by Assil Diab, Fly249, Galal Yousef, and others)

 Horror was Soon to Follow

At the sit-in, the Sudanese revolution also witnessed some of its most intense sadness and betrayals. The nation cried together as the first martyrs of Ramadan were gunned down right outside the sit-in on the 8th day of the holy month, falling on May 13th, 2019. Yet more evils came quickly. On June 3rd, 2019, Al-Qiyada al-3ama was emptied by use of sickening force in the early morning hours, just as Eid al-Fitr was set to come. The scene felt as if doomsday had arrived. Chants rang out “It’s you or your country, come ready with your coffin.” The sky was full of smoke coming from the sit-in and the constant sound of gunfire. The story of the massacre is a known and brutal one. Hundreds were killed and raped, and thousands more were injured and detained. In the early morning hours, the previous evening’s rainfall still glistened in the streets. Droves and droves of army, paramilitary, and militia forces descended on the sit-in perimeter with brutal force.

I arrived at the Blue Nile Bridge side of the sit-in at 5:30 a.m. The onslaught had begun at 5 a.m., a horrific massacre in every sense. By then, armed forces had begun spreading outwards and were firing live ammunition and tear gas, backing into neighboring areas in Bahri, Khartoum North. Protestors who had been beaten and injured were emerging, running from the sit-in. A sense of collective dread hung in the air. To survivors of the massacre, it is a painful and traumatic memory that left witnesses feeling years older than it had found them. A deep sense of betrayal from the armed forces in particular was palpable. One witness of the University of Khartoum barricades, remaining anonymous, recalled, “I realized that day that we are not human to them. We saw death all around us. There were just bullets and more bullets.”

The legacy of Sudan’s historic sit-in lives on.

Emerging from such a dark period, the defiance and resilience of the Sudanese streets cannot be understated. Protests abounded after the dread that gripped Sudan during what was supposed to be a joyful Eid celebration at the sit-in. The country persisted. The revolution continued to remain true to its peaceful ideology, using million-people marches, civil disobedience, art, poetry, and community organizing to push its demands.

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Peace Over Violence: Buri St Mural, Artist Ahmed Salah a.k.a Zool 249 (Photographer: The Art Revolution)

Though the sit-in met a bitter end, its story evolved. As revolutionaries explained, “For those who believed in the sit-in, the sit-in had been emptied. But for those who believed in the revolution, they knew that the revolution lived on.” In this sense, Al-Qiyada Al-3ama was never emptied. Its spirit only grew. And all of Sudan became an extension of the beautiful foundation established at the sit-in.

Many groups formed at the sit-in continue long beyond. Abtal al-Qiyada is one such organization, which has continued to provide services to homeless children after the sit-in. Reggae Everywhere is a band made of young members that covered well-known songs and wrote original pieces about the revolution. Still playing and composing music following the sit-in, Reggae Everywhere released share3 al-Khiyana (The Street of Betrayal) to express their experience during the emptying of al-Qiyada al-3ama. They sing, “Our lives were stolen from us, but the dream is still alive.”

The dream is still alive. Sudanese society is still striving to build the nation that it envisioned and lived through the sit-in in Khartoum and many other cities. Art has increasingly re-colored the streets, and workers of all kinds are contributing their skills to the new Sudan through coordinated organizations and local initiatives.

The journey towards change is surely long, but the commitment to change is longer. Now the legacy and sacrifice represented through the Sudanese revolution and sit-in are living on through the spirit, determination, and expression of the very same generation that brought it to fruition.

“Freedom, peace, and justice.”

(One Year After - April 6th, 2020)

This post is also available in: Arabic


Ilham Ali

Ilham Ali is a Sudanese-American engineer and technologist. She has interests in sustainable development, finance, arts, and public policy. Ilham is the founder of sudanrevolutionart.org and a director of the Sudanese Peace Music Festival. In her free time, Ilham paints and plays the guitar.