The New Normal
October 30, 2019
In 1993, when Omar al-Bashir dissolved the Revolutionary Command Council and became the president of Sudan, Elbadri’s aunt was a professor at the University of Khartoum. Elbadri’s mother was a journalist. Her father, also a journalist, practiced law.
“There were a lot of people speaking out against [al-Bashir], especially people like my father–journalists, politically minded individuals,” Elbadri said. “Political dissenters very often did this thing where they would write…opinion articles…but they wouldn’t use their personal names. [They would use] their group titles…so that was what my father was doing. He wasn’t writing under his real name, he was writing under his group. There’s an expected secrecy with that. When you’re writing against this regime that’s coming to power, that many people aren’t happy with…you’re not trying to expose anyone.”
At that point, it had been four years since al-Bashir had overthrown the previous Sudanese government. In those four years, he had begun what would become a pattern of violence, quelling of opposition, and military control.
“When [al-Bashir] rose to power after the coup, what he first did was silence the political dissent. Anyone who had an opinion, like political figures, journalists, he shut them down. He either killed them or put them in jail,” Elbadri said.
After someone informed the government about his writing and political dissent, Elbadri’s father was held in Kober prison, where many other political dissenters were incarcerated, and where Omar al-Bashir’s own forces would imprison him more than 25 years later. At the time, though, there was no end to al-Bashir’s regime in sight. His military government was in firm control at Kober and, Elbadri said, used that control to get information from those held there.
“They would torture [political prisoners] for the whereabouts of the local dissenters. My father was lucky,” she said. “He eventually escaped. He went to [my mother] and told her the situation; she was already pregnant with my sister and brother at the time.”
Elbadri’s father fled to Egypt, where he had to keep his identity a secret. He went back and forth between the two countries, hiding in apartment complexes.
“He was a wanted man, in hiding. He wasn’t eating enough. He was very sick; a lot of health problems emerged that he still has,” said Elbadri.
While Elbadri’s parents managed to leave the country, she stressed that there were many others who continued to live under al-Bashir’s regime and its effects for a longer period of time and who tried to fight back, even within her own family.
“People [in the United States] are shocked and they’re [asking], ‘He was in power for 30 years, and no one was doing anything?’ But when he rose to power people were doing things, and there were punishments for people,” Elbadri said. “My aunt…refused to rat out students who were writing against the government; she refused to fail them and get them kicked out of university and possibly thrown into jail. She lost her job for that.”
Eventually, though, she said, many Sudanese people gave up on fighting back and accepted the new normal, even when it seemed incredible to outsiders.
“While he’s been committing war crimes against the people of Sudan, Sudan has also held elections; sometimes he’s been the one candidate you’ve been able to choose. I’ve seen the Sudanese elections before on TV and it has ballot boxes and people are walking up and they’re putting in their ballots. The thing is, we all know it’s not a true election. At the end of the day, he’s going to be president,” Elbadri said.
Elbadri said that there were reasons for the seeming compliance of the Sudanese people with the regime, despite the theater of the one-party elections.
“People know what the military can do, what can happen. Their families were thrown in jail or their families were thrown out of jobs or their families were killed. People know what’s going to happen if you speak up against him,” Elbadri said. “All these years…pretending like everything’s normal, that was the normal. For so long…it was fear. When the protests started, it was like, ‘What changed?’ and that’s what I was wondering about the most. What was it that finally started everything?”