Nagi Musa is the co-founder of the Sudanese pro-democracy group Girifna. He recently moved to Egypt, in anticipation that the state security forces in Sudan would arrest him again as protests in his hometown of Omdurman and across the country have intensified. He spoke to the Enough Project about the Friday protests that have become a weekly event after prayers, his friend and fellow Girifna member Rudwan Dawod, who was arrested last week, and the impact the government’s crackdown on peaceful demonstrators is having even on those who haven’t taken to the streets.
Today people gathered in cities across Sudan for another round of protests. What are you hearing from your contacts in Sudan about the turnout, the response from the public, and the reaction from security services?
Musa: A lot of people were arrested and the tense situation is still going there. The security and the police entered some houses around Omdurman and places where demonstrations are; a lot of security and a lot of police everywhere. We’re not sure yet how many have been arrested, but for sure we can say it’s more than 50. They are arresting people randomly, and they are arresting the leaders. There are a lot of faces that people in security know, so when they see them moving in the street, they capture them. And also they capture people randomly, like if they see three or four guys walking together, they might get suspicious. They will arrest all of them.
In some places, imams during the prayers were talking about how bad the situation is, how people can’t take it anymore. But there aren’t a lot of mosques like that, because they are controlled by the government. We’ve heard that one imam was arrested today. The security and the police are watching all of the mosques, undercover NISS people, and they arrest the people who are starting [the protests]. Today in Omdurman in Wad Nubawi mosque, there was a big demonstration, and there were a lot of injuries and a lot of arrests, even from just the houses near the mosque. We have counted five Girifna leaders, women leaders, who were arrested.
What kind of injuries are people suffering?
Musa: Police are shooting tear gas, and [the canisters] hit some people and cause injuries. And the police have some iron sticks and pipes, and they are beating people with them.
You left Khartoum on Sandstorm Friday, June 22, a major day of protests in Sudan. Why did you decide to leave and go to Cairo?
Musa: A week before those protests at the University of Khartoum, the demonstrations were beginning. They were still small, but they were getting bigger and bigger. And before this, I was arrested in January for two weeks, and before then too. I’m known by [the security services]. They know my house; they know everything. So there were three times [during the week before June 22] when I was almost arrested, and I managed to not be. I knew if the situation gets rougher for the [ruling National Congress Party, or NCP] I will be for sure arrested. And then I wondered, is it better to be inside the jail doing nothing, and maybe jeopardizing my [network], like if they take my laptops? Or is it better for me to be in a safe place and continue communicating with people inside and getting the information out?
One of your close affiliates at Girifna, Rudwan Dawod, was arrested last week and then charged this week with "terrorism and criminal organization," offenses punishable by death in Sudan. What can you tell us about the work he was doing?
Musa: We started Girifna in October 2009, and after two months, we knew this group of youth led by Rudwan who supported our activities. He was among the activists who were going out onto the streets with us and talking to people about the work we are doing. He really knew how to get people’s attention and get the message out.
He also did a lot of activism in South Sudan, which is where he met his wife and then decided to move to the U.S. He was in touch with Manute Bol’s friends, and we were working on the Youth Forum for Social Peace. We wanted to do something for the South before the referendum, to show that whether there is unity or not we are all human beings, and we have the same history. The people in the North had done bad things, but that doesn’t represent us as a new generation. What these leaders in power in Khartoum are doing does not represent us as Sudanese youth, and we were going to the South to show that we are sorry for what is going on. Manute Bol’s friends, like Tom [Pritchard of Sudan Sunrise], were very happy about having us come to Turalei, the hometown of the late NBA legend Manute Bol, to build a school. So when Rudwan came back to Khartoum, we started organizing this Peace and Reconciliation Convoy to Turalei. But even before this, Rudwan was very active in social peace work in the South. He was giving most of his time to promote this message of reconciliation and peace, which is why it’s so strange for the [Khartoum] government to now say that he was planning a terrorist attack. It is nonsense. (N.B.: This trailer for the Sudan Reconciliation Film Project features Rudwan speaking about his work with Manute Bol.)
Dawod is of course one of many activists in detention right now. Your group reported this week that more than 2,000 protestors are being detained in Sudan. Can you talk about the nature of these cases, what people are facing in prison?
Musa: I can speak from my own experience, because from the friends I’ve talked to, the same situation is going on now. The first two days are very difficult, very bad. During the arrest itself you will be sweating a lot, and if you try to escape or do anything you will be beaten badly. And then they covered my eyes and put me in a pick-up and took me to a big villa and made me sit in the grass, and one guy kept pouring water on me. Then they make a lot of threats. They say, “You want to overthrow this regime, but we will show you now.” This man with scissors – these farm scissors used for trees – would put them at my neck. And then when they take [the blindfold] off, you see that everyone is wearing normal clothes, you are in a normal house, not a police station. In these places I saw lots of new cars, new motorcycles; these people have lots of money. Everyone is carrying weapons, and you know that you are just in their hands. So they can do whatever they want. They are just humiliating you, and you know you can’t say anything. I was made to sit on my knee [which was injured] and hold up my arms, sitting in the sun. Then they put you in a cell while they decide what to do with you.
How is the general public in Sudan reacting to these ongoing protests? And how much information about these thousands of detention cases is available or recognized in Sudan?
Musa: In some areas the police are letting out some police dogs. They don’t want people to go out from their houses. For the police and security, they are panicking. When Bashir said the other day that there is “no [Arab] spring” in Sudan, only a hot summer that burns people, he was threatening these people on the street. He’s putting armed men and thugs on the streets to beat the students and the people protesting, so it shows us how they are going to deal with this situation. People are turning against this government. It is becoming bigger than the Friday [protests].
Many people are afraid to go out in the streets, but it’s clear that no one can say now, ‘We support this government; they are good people,’ because they see people all around them who are arrested, who are beaten by this security of the NCP. They see the economical situation that is very bad. All of that is making the public opinion turn against the government.
So are you seeing the numbers of people turning out for the protests growing, because more people are joining? Or are people being deterred by the brutality of the reaction of the security forces?
Musa: A lot of people stay in their house, because more than 2,000 people have been detained by the security, and they are leaders in their communities. And the security knows that the people in the communities are moved by what these leaders say, so the security has targeted them. But people are turning against, like the students at Khartoum University. The government announced yesterday that they are closing the university, because the government can’t handle it anymore. So they closed the largest and the oldest university in Sudan, and they said you will come after Ramadan to sit for the exams. No classes anymore.
You've been concerned about the government cutting phone lines and the internet to make it more difficult for people in Sudan to organize and to prevent information from getting out. Is this still a concern of yours? How would that possible move by the government impact the pro-democracy movement?
Musa: Of course, yes, we’re concerned to think about how we’ll be able to get the information out and how people in Sudan will be able to coordinate with each other. But Sudan did have the experience of two revolutions in the past, where we had big demonstrations, like in Egypt and Tunisia. And there was no Net at the time, no mobile phones. The majority of Sudanese are still not using the internet. It is very helpful for getting the picture out, in moving international pressure towards this government. I read this article “The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted,” and I think that’s true. So in Sudan, if the government cuts down the internet, it will not stop.
This interview has been edited for brevity.
Read other Enough coverage about the protests in Sudan at our #SudanRevolts page.