Scenes from a protest camp dispersed
Four people who lived through the dispersal of the sit-in in Khartoum tell Mada Masr what happened that fateful morning
 
 
 

On the last night of the sit-in, a number of homeless children gather around a tailor inside one of the tents of the mass protest camp outside the military headquarters in Khartoum. Some of the protesters had invited the tailor into the camp so that he could make them white galabeyas, which many in Sudan wear on the first day of the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

“We will all pray Eid together in the square, and you must wear these. We want to turn the square all white,” says a protester to the boys who had joined the dusty square.

Beside the protest encampment’s tents for daily cultural salons and civil society functions, protesters had built a tent to house the homeless children, who are fed by the camp’s kitchens.

This is around 1:30 am on Monday, according to Ahmed Saber, who is present when people start circulating news that the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the police were mobilizing to disperse the sit-in.

Saber chooses not to flee the square, even as fear intensifies after opposition forces confirm the news on social media, urging citizens to join the protesters as a last-ditch effort to stave off a potential attack. Warnings are broadcast over megaphones on the ground, and the sit-in radio spreads the message to the surrounding area. As he moves through the tense atmosphere, Saber’s mind stays fixed on the homeless children who went to sleep happy with the new mattresses protesters had given them and with the promise of white galabeyas for Eid prayer.

Saber’s worry rises as tension between the protesters escalates. He walks toward the children’s tent with a friend just before 5 am to wake them, so they would not be attacked as they sleep. He doesn’t expect the assailants to make distinctions between adults and children.

But Saber quickly realizes he is too late. He can hear the sound of gunshots in the not-too-far off distance, which are a prelude to hundreds of soldiers storming into the square. He climbs atop a water tank. From his perch, he watches the massacre unfold.

The sleeping children are not spared from the violence that would leave over 100 people dead. RSF soldiers storm into tents and open fire at protesters. “I watched the children’s tent. Some escaped, and the others, I heard them scream, but I don’t know what happened to them,” Saber says.

 

On the night of the dispersal, Mido al-Sirr is assigned to guard one of the barricades leading to the well-known eye clinic at Khartoum University. At 5 am, the whistle that calls volunteers to reinforce the barricades washes over the sit-in, as the RSF approaches the protest site and surrounding roads.

Sirr waits for backup from the protesters, staying to watch the area for a while. He is surprised, however, to see foot soldiers approaching the barricade. Protesters pick up rocks and begin trying to repel the RSF, who throw rocks back at the camp. This all ends when another group of RSF soldiers arrive and begin shooting at the protesters, immediately killing two people, according to Sirr.

“There was a relentless sound of gunfire,” says Sirr. “Protesters were being shot. The sit-in was being stormed from several entry points. And the RSF had near-total control of the scene. I tried to escape with a group of friends in the direction of Nile Street. Once we got there, we decided to take refuge in an abandoned student housing building. We made it inside and closed ourselves off in one of the rooms. We were five people, and we watched from the windows as the soldiers searched through the building and rounded up detainees outside.”

“A large group of soldiers passed by our room without noticing us. But the last soldier in the group opened the door to our room and called out to the others, who came back and started beating us with sticks and whips,” Sirr recounts. “They took us out of the room to the courtyard and kept beating us as they pushed us toward the nearby Nile Street. There, I saw dozens of injured protesters who were being held in detention, some of whom were receiving medical aid from doctors from Armed Forces hospitals.”

The RSF soldiers force detainees to remove barricades along Nile Street, as the injured lie on the ground. Some are receiving aid as they bleed profusely.

“I watched someone, whose clothes were completely soaked in blood, with several doctors gathered around him,” says Sirr.

Sirr injures his right hand as he flees from arrest, making his way into an ambulance that is full of injured protesters heading to a military hospital.

At the hospital, the situation is desperate.

“In the emergency room, there was nothing,” Sirr says. “Doctors were performing first aid and x-rays while the blood bank did not have a single drop to aid the injured. I was lying on the ground, and, on the bed next to me, there was a man in his thirties who was bleeding heavily after being shot in the leg. The doctors had failed to stop the bleeding. In 30 minutes, the man was dead, while others were transferred to other hospitals for urgent surgeries.”

 

With news of the dispersal circulating in Khartoum, people start to head downtown to help protesters. But the RSF soldiers are deployed to the sit-in’s entry points and prevent people from coming in. However, activist Mohamed Abdel Rahman is able to enter through a small entrance with three of his friends after intense negotiations with RSF soldiers standing guard.

Upon entering the sit-in area, Abdel Rahman and his friends find themselves faced with people lying on the ground, the asphalt underneath them coated in their blood. “As we negotiated with the soldiers, our gaze was on the number of injured. And as soon as we were allowed to enter, we noticed that the number of those injured and lying on the ground was substantial. We gave care to about seven people, two of whom had serious head injuries,” he says.

“The area we moved around in, between the remains of the camp and the smoke from the burned tents was no more than 200 square meters. This is a small area compared to the overall sit-in area. I did not expect this many to be injured. It is painful and an indication of the scale and horror of the massacre,” Abdel Rahman adds.

 

On foot, one would need about an hour to circle the sit-in area. The Armed Forces Bridge serves as an entrance to the sit-in from the east. From the north, it is bordered by Nile Street, which houses multiple ministries as well as the presidential palace. From the west, there are the western borders of Khartoum University, the Ministry of Justice and the Constitutional Court. And from the south, the sit-in is bordered by the Dental Teaching Hospital. Inside this area are government and university buildings, all turned into administrative areas for the sit-in, as well as field clinics and kitchens for food.

Wafaa Suleiman, who handles food, water and shelter as head of the services committee, tries to calm the protesters and keep them in place, despite her concern that this might endanger them. She retreats when chants urge her and others to head to the naval headquarters. On their way there, she sees many who are injured, some of whom are being moved to field clinics as they bleed profusely.

She comes across a woman whose two daughters have been killed in the dispersal. The woman cries out: “‘They murdered my children. They murdered my children,’” says Suleiman.

She urges the woman to leave with the group headed toward the naval headquarters. “Things are completely chaotic and they are attacking us. There is no solution for us all now. We can either die as your children did or we can leave this place which reeks of death,” Suleiman tells her.

But the woman insists on looking for her children. “At that moment, the attack intensified and we were forced to leave without her,” Suleiman says.

For Suleiman, what is most painful is that later, before the internet was shut down nationwide, the same woman’s photo was circulated by activists on social media: She was dead in a hospital close to the sit-in area.

In front of the gate to the naval headquarters, there are cars with RSF soldiers surrounding the area, in addition to more RSF soldiers inside the headquarters. A single Armed Forces lieutenant stands among the crowd of RSF soldiers, Suleiman says.

“After we demanded that they open the gates so the protesters could seek shelter inside, the lieutenant shook his head no and pointed us toward the road leading out of the sit-in area through the Burri area east of the sit-in,” Suleiman says. At this time, the RSF is approaching the sit-in area and the sound of gunfire is becoming louder. The number of injured is increasing. “We asked everyone to take cover to avoid the bullets. The RSF attacked us then and started brutally beating the protesters while they were on the ground. The men sustained substantial injuries when they insisted on protecting the women,” says Suleiman.

“After we were asked to leave — and some of us could not move — armed men in plainclothes pointed their guns at those who were exhausted and those who had become tired of running. They demanded that we keep moving and leave the sit-in area,” Suleiman says. “One of the men in plainclothes grabbed my friend by her hair and pointed a gun at her face and ordered her to get up and keep running.”

“The determination I saw from those in the sit-in to face the dispersal and not leave the area was significant. I watched people chant and shout as the dispersal was happening that the dispersal was our choice and we would not leave the area,” Suleiman says. “Those who survived the massacre came out of it with a lot of anger and determination to keep going.”

Suleiman says she is one of these people, despite what she saw in the gruesome dispersal. “I’ve never seen anything like it. But this won’t deter me from continuing what we started: a revolution through which we can build a civil state and the Sudan we want. We will walk this long road with our steadfast peacefulness. We will not give this up, and bullets will not stop us.”

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