The return of the barricade, a trusted tool in anti-coup protests in Sudan

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Barricades once again cut the streets of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, still reeling from the October 25 coup. Barricades were also a key tool used in 2019 during the wave of protests that led to the fall of dictator Omar al-Bashir. The barricades, known in the local dialect as “mataris”, are often made of bricks or cobblestones, and have helped protesters deter security forces. Ahead of last weekend’s protests, Sudanese unions again called on the population to erect barricades against military junta blockade agents.

Residents across Sudan have been on the streets since October 25, when Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, military chief and de facto leader, putcivil Prime Minister AbdallaHamdok under house arrest and arrested a number of ministers.

Security forces cracked down on protesters, killing at least 11 and injuring 170, according to the Sudanese Medical Committee. Protesters erected barricades on some of Khartoum’s main roads in an attempt to block economic activity.

The Sudanese Professionals Association, a collective of unions that contributed to the downfall of Omar al-Bashir, called for massive protests on November 13, demanding an end to the military junta and the return of a civilian government.

Even though military authorities shut down the internet, activists have still managed to launch a hashtag called “barricade nights” in recent days.

“People often put up barricades in the middle of the night, usually between 2 and 4 am, because it is unlikely that the security forces will intervene at this time of the night,” said Mustapha Hussein, a Sudanese activist who lives now in Germany. . Hussein, a sociology researcher, also runs an online platform coordinating the efforts of the Sudanese opposition from a distance:

Barricades protect the demonstrators. When security forces start chasing people in pick-ups, they are stopped dead by barricades. Because they actually have to stop the car, get out and tear down the barricades, the protesters then have precious time to flee, reorganize themselves and set up another barricade at another location. They constantly play cat and mouse with the authorities.

This video shows security forces in a van stopped in front of barricades near Al Steen Street, a main street in Khartoum, on October 27.

There are also “internal barricades” that the demonstrators erected in their own neighborhoods. When security forces try to follow protesters home, they are slowed down by barricades and protesters have time to flee.

During general strikes, protesters erected barricades in the middle of main streets, stopping traffic to and from major markets. This means that the markets have to close and people cannot get to work. When a general strike took place on October 27, protesters used a giant billboard to block Al-Sajana Street, which is a busy road. Many people took part in the general strike.

Protesters knock down a sign to block Al-Sajana Street on October 27 in Khartoum.

During the most intense period of the 2019 protests, protesters began using a tactic of erecting a new barricade whenever they managed to advance about three miles. They slowly gained ground until they reached the army headquarters, where they began a sit-in on April 6, 2019. They held this ground for several months, thanks to the barricades they had erected around it. their camp. Finally, the army and the rapid support forces [Editor’s note: former Janjaweedmilitias, which have been accused of carrying out atrocities during the conflict in Darfur] used excessive force to drive out the protesters on June 3, 2019.

“There is one person responsible for protecting each barricade” The Sudanese have a long tradition of using barricades during protests. They first appeared during the demonstrations of 1964 that ended the military regime led by Ibrahim Aboud. Protesters also used them in 2013 during protests against Bashir.

During the 2019 protests, the barricade system became more advanced. The barriers were no longer just piles of stones and other objects, but rather sophisticated tools used to protect protesters from counterattacks, said Khaled Masa, a Khartoum-based activist who spoke to FRANCE Observers. 24:

There is one person assigned to protect each barricade. If the barricade is hit by a projectile or damaged by a vehicle, they must repair it quickly. We call this person “al-tars sahi”, which means “barricade guard” in the Sudanese dialect. Some of these guards died trying to protect their barricade. We call these people “martyrs of the barricades”.

Each barricade also has someone we call a “jerdel man”. His job is to seize tear gas canisters thrown by security forces and trap them in a bucket so the gas does not suffocate protesters. Then he will sometimes try to return the container to the security forces.

The barricades have also gradually become a kind of meeting place where activists can meet to discuss, read poetry, listen to music, play football, make speeches and organize themselves. This has been happening on barricades throughout the suburbs of Khartoum since October 25.

This video shows young people listening to music next to a barricade in the Barri neighborhood of Khartoum on October 30.

Young protesters play football near a barricade in Khartoum on October 28.

The international community has almost unanimously condemned the military takeover. Meanwhile, the crisis in Sudan seems not to end, as the Association of Sudanese Professionals has refused to negotiate with the military council, demanding a return to civilian rule.

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