More than 100 members of Iowa City’s Sudanese community gathered at the Pentacrest on Saturday to protest last week’s military coup in Sudan.
“Today, democracy is under attack in Sudan,” Iowa City Mayor Pro Tem Mazahir Salih said Saturday. Salih became the first Sudanese American elected to public office in the United States when she won her seat on the Iowa City Council in 2017.
In 2019, popular uprisings in Sudan forced an end to the 30-year dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir, leading to a government with power shared between representatives of the military known as the Transitional Military Council, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and a coalition of civilian groups known as the Forces of Freedom and Change.
Late on Oct. 24, Burhan moved against his civilian partners in the government, and at noon the following day, the general announced he had dissolved parliament and the military was now in charge. Civilian prime minister Abdalla Hamdok was deposed and detained by the military.
Sudanese citizens took to the streets to oppose the coup. The international community condemned it as well, calling for a restoration of civilian institutions.
The military and a militia aligned with Burhan have attacked protesters in Sudan, resulting in deaths and many injuries. It isn’t possible to get exact numbers because one of the first actions Burhan took was to cut off internet access, as part of near-total communications blackout, designed to isolate the country.
Several of the speakers on Saturday talked about the anxiety caused by not being able to contact family and friends in Sudan. All the speakers assured the Sudanese people they had the full support of the diaspora community in Iowa. They also called on the military leaders who seized power to reverse course, and for the United States and other countries to push for the return of civilian rule.
“My simple message is that three dictators before you, Mr. Burhan, three brutal dictators, three military dictators were toppled in the last 50 years [in] Sudan,” one speaker said. “…You are not stronger than them. Sooner or later, Sudanese people — the Sudanese young boys and girls — will topple you as they did with your three predecessors.”
Although most of the speakers were members of the Sudanese community, some supporters also spoke on Saturday, including Mayor Bruce Teague.
“I stand with you today in complete solidarity,” the mayor said. “We know as a people that we have to fight for our human rights.”
“This will continue,” Teague said near the end of his remarks. “We’re going to continue to stand against hate, stand against genocide, we’re going to continue to stand together in love.”
Organizers of the protest distributed flyers with suggestions on how people can help. The flyers ask everyone “to write your senator and representative” and tell them to push for the restoration of internet service in Sudan, protection for protesters and return of the civilian-led transitional government.
The people gathered for the rally chanted calls for justice for Sudan and sang Sudanese songs, between speakers. When the speeches concluded, there was a spirited march through downtown that ended with a return to the Pentacrest, where discussions among community members continued.
This was the second protest against the coup by Iowa City’s Sudanese community. They also gathered at the Pentacrest on Monday. Saturday’s rally was part of a coordinated international day of protest, with Sudanese diaspora communities from Norway to Australia organizing rallies in solidarity with large protests inside Sudan on Oct. 30.
“We’re trying to have our voice heard,” Mohamad Hassan told Little Village. Hassan, who is originally from Sudan, has lived in Iowa City for almost 14 years.
“The European Union and the U.S., they can help,” Hassan said. “But if we’re just waiting for the world to help us, that is not going to happen easily. That is why we need to have our voice heard.”