A photo of a 22-year-old woman leading chants in a protest in Khartoum, Sudan, has become the symbol of a months-long, nationwide uprising against the country’s three-decade ruler Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who was ousted this week in a military coup.
The image, taken by photographer and musician Lana H. Haroun, captured the young woman chanting songs of freedom in front of a crowd of predominantly women protestors. BuzzFeed has identified the protestor as Alaa Salah, an engineering and architecture student at the Sudan International University in Khartoum. Salah’s charismatic appearance in a traditional white thobe and large, round gold earrings called fedaya won her the title “kandaka,” which means Nubian queen, and has been widely used to refer the women protesters. An older version of the Sudanese flag can be seen painted on her cheeks.
“She was trying to give everyone hope and positive energy and she did it,” Haroun told CNN. “She was representing all Sudanese women and girls and she inspired every woman and girl at the sit-in.” The protest inspired numerous posters and artworks alongside Salah’s iconic image.
Sudanese women have been at the forefront of the protests against Bahsir, which started in last December. The BBC reported that 70 percent of protestors in the recent sit-in outside the presidential palace and military headquarters are women. Their demands include an improvement in women’s rights in the country; Bahsir’s regime prohibits women from wearing pants, a felony punishable by imprisonment and whipping.
“We [women] have done this before,” activist Dalia el Roubi, member of the opposition Sudanese Congress Party, told Hyperallergic in a phone call from Khartoum. Sudanese women, el Roubi said, have led the last two peaceful revolutions in the country: the October Revolution in 1964 and the 1985 revolt against the Nimeiri regime. “Alaa Salah’s image was not an uncommon one, but it was a perfect one,” she said about the viral photo. “She embodied the spirit of the opposition.”
Defense Minister Awad Mohammed Ibn Ouf, who was sworn in as the de facto leader of the country, announced that a military council formed by the army, intelligence agencies, and security apparatus will rule the country for two years, after which “free and fair elections” will be held.
Ibn Ouf further announced that the military suspended the constitution, dissolved the government, declared a state of emergency for three months, closed the country’s borders and airspace, and imposed a night curfew for one month.
Bashir, who had held power since 1989, is currently detained and being held in “a safe place,” according to the country’s Supreme Military Council. In 2009, the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted al-Bashir for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. Ibn Auf, who was a close aid of Bashir, is sanctioned by the United States for supporting and managing militias accused of carrying out the genocide. Ibn Auf’s interim government announced today (April 12) that it will not extradite the deposed president to the ICC, but will instead put him on trial in Sudan.
Ala Kheir, a Sudanese photographer who is active in the protests, told Hyperallergic that protestors received the news about the military coup with shock and sadness. “The newly appointed head of state, Ibn Ouf, is one of Bashir’s allies in his National Congress Party. This was not a coup, but a setup to help all the government officials to smuggle their money out the country smoothly without being questioned,” he said.
20 protestors have been killed and dozens were wounded in protests so far. Soldiers on the ground are supportive of the protestors, Kheir says, but they have been ordered to impose a strict night curfew for a month. “This is not the first time Sudan is ruled by an army government,” he added, “We had it in the ’60s and ’80s and it was a disaster every time. It’s time we had a civil government.”