Sudan in revolt is deja-vu for Egyptians driven out by repression

Egyptians exiled in Sudan, who fled after their elected Islamist president was deposed by the military, say the current standoff in Khartoum reminds them of their own broken dreams.

“It’s the same young people that are trying to carry out the same revolutionary action,” said Abdelaziz, an Egyptian student who has been in Sudan since 2016.

“They have read the same books, lived the same experiences”, he added.

For him and other Egyptians once close to the Muslim Brotherhood, the popular uprising in Sudan reminds them of events in their own country, even if there are some clear differences.

Sudan’s uprising has been led by liberal movements and unions of professionals, which spurred the military to overthrow Omar-al Bashir’s Islamist regime.


In Egypt itself, the Brotherhood polarised the youth movements that spearheaded the 2011 revolt.

But Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, was likewise ousted by the army after mass protests against the Islamist’s divisive year in power.

READ MORE: Living in the midst of revolution: A homage to Khartoum

Like Abdelaziz, many supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood ended up in Sudan after fleeing a deadly crackdown launched in 2013 in Egypt.

He fled to escape a 15-year prison sentence for “protesting” and “acts of vandalism”.

In Khartoum, sitting in the courtyard of his house and dressed in a traditional white Sudanese robe, he spoke on condition of anonymity to protect the fragile stability of his new life.

His host country has been swept up by the same revolutionary fervour that Egypt once experienced.

Post-Bashir Khartoum in 2019 has much in commogn with Cairo after January 2011, when president Hosni Mubarak was toppled by a popular uprising.

On the walls of the city, the slogans are the same: “Down with the military government”.

READ MORE: The slow-motion assassination of Mohamed Morsi

The graffiti depicting Bashir is accompanied by the clarion call of the Arab Spring that once reverberated across Egypt, Tunisia and Syria: “get out”.

“A very enthusiastic person asked my opinion of the situation in Sudan… I laughed and said ‘we did the same thing as you and here we are sitting by your side'”, said Abdelaziz, who is in his twenties.

“Let’s not be too optimistic, let’s stay realistic”, he added.

‘Refuge’

If he is cautious, it is because in his country, the democratic moment ended with the removal of Morsi, and paved the way for the repression of not only Islamists but also secularists.

Detained for almost six years and kept in isolation, the former president died after collapsing during a court appearance on June 17.

His Muslim Brotherhood was branded a “terrorist organisation”, and thousands of his supporters were sentenced to years in prison or handed down the death penalty.

In August 2013, security forces dispersed a pro-Morsi sit-in at Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya square, killing more than 700 people in one day.

“Sudan appeared to be something of a safe haven at a particular time for Islamist opponents of the Egyptian regime”, said H.A. Hellyer, senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

Bashir consistently denied that his country granted asylum to members of the Brotherhood.

In 2017, Sudan and Egypt signed an agreement not to host any opposition groups hostile to their respective governments.

The Egyptian authorities even gave Khartoum a list of names of Brotherhood members allegedly residing in Sudan, requesting their extradition, according to several sources.

In fact, Bashir’s regime — which came to power with the support of Islamists — had turned a blind eye to the arrival of the dissidents.

Today, Sudan’s ruling transitional military council has initiated a rapprochement with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, all fiercely hostile to Islamists.

“The new Sudanese regime is currently reformulating its geopolitical position”, Hellyer said.

‘The same naivety’

Almost every day for more than a month, Abdelaziz has said goodbye to a departing Egyptian friend.

Fellow exile Ahmed, an Egyptian student who came to Sudan since 2015, saw his circle shrink — all his friends went to Turkey, a stalwart Islamist supporter.

“They saw a power change” in Sudan, said the young man who also used a pseudonym.

“The fear of the unknown means they want to find a safer place”.

Detained for a few months in Egypt, he also avoided 15 years in prison for participating in a pro-Morsi demonstration after 2013.

With time and reflection, he said he has distanced himself from the ideology of the Brotherhood, admitting that it had committed “catastrophic errors” in its management of Egypt’s crisis.

To escape the memories and emotions of a painful past, he avoids Sudanese political life.

But it is not easy when Khartoum is engulfed in protest.

“I feel like these people in the streets are a lot like us,” he said.

“It’s the same dreams, the same ambitions, the same fears, the same desire for change, the same naivety too”.

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