What's happening in Sudan is nothing short of amazing. This is the country that has been ruled since 1989 by President Omar al-Bashir -- the man who faces a global arrest warrant after being charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court for his country's exterminationist policies in Darfur. This is a guy who was willing to kill millions of his compatriots -- and not only Darfuris -- in order to keep himself in power. Now, thousands of Sudanese are taking to the streets to defy him and his regime. Many have already disappeared into torture chambers for their efforts.
You could be forgiven if you hadn't noticed. Western media coverage has been thin. CNN aired just a few grainy videos -- which is actually pretty commendable, considering that even the New York Times can't bring itself to do more than printing a few terse Reuters dispatches. (Unless you count their excellent blog The Lede, which finally brought out a good piece on the protests late yesterday.)
But there are a few news organizations that have been doing their best to report on the developing situation: the BBC, Bloomberg, and Agence France-Presse. It's surely no coincidence that some of their correspondents have run into trouble with the authorities. On Tuesday the Sudanese authorities deported Salma El Wardany, a Bloomberg reporter who was arrested by the security services for several hours last week. An AFP journalist was also detained by the police until Western diplomats intervened on his behalf.
The Sudanese government has very good reasons for targeting the handful of foreign journalists in Khartoum. How the outside world covers the uprising in Sudan -- billed by some as the latest installment of the Arab Spring -- will have a major impact on what happens there next.
That was the most important takeaway from my conversation this week with Yousif Elmahdi, a young oppositionist in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. His activism really began in January 2011, when the Tunisian uprising first inspired Sudanese students to demonstrate against the Bashir government. Elmahdi was arrested and tortured by Bashir's secret police. This time around he's decided to confine his protest to the realm of social media rather than participate directly in the protests, but he has no illusions about what's likely to happen next. After our conversation he sent me a text:
Thank you -- I'm going to eventually get detained anyway if this thing increases so I'm trying to do as much as I can in the meantime without doing anything crazy to hasten the arrest.
And yet he was willing to let me use his name. That says something important, I think, about the grit of the people behind the protest movement now under way in Africa's third-largest country.