A glimpse of hope for the future: Protests and emotion in Sudan's Mawkib
I write this with a deep sorrow and sadness in my heart. Initially I wanted to title this piece ‘The joy of the Mawkib’. I wanted to explain how being able to join the protests in Sudan has sparked a feeling of joy and even euphoria. It still does, but I can’t really speak about joy anymore. Too many of the protesters have become martyrs for our cause.
Mawkib is the word that describes a march protest. The Mawkib takes place several times a month or a week, it all depends on the political circumstances. These days there are many. Local resistance committees have already scheduled several Mawakib (p) in January We are disappointed by the political process in Sudan, by the political cadres and all the political organizations. But the Mawkib is, still, a different story.
Emotions’ potential as a political tool
The emotions that arise during a political parade, the Mawkib, should never be underestimated. And emotions and feelings can be an important mobilization tool for political action. Even the word Mawkib itself and its historically rooted meaning is deeply significant in explaining its potential for stirring the political scene. It should also be stressed that the Mawkib in Sudan in a sense de-dichotomizes what is usually seen as mutually exclusive concepts in the world of politics: the politics (rational) vs. emotions (irrational), ‘feminine’ vs. ‘masculine’ and ‘reason’ over ‘passion’. For the protesters in Sudan, and for the Mawkib’s actual effect on political and social life, there is no dichotomy. Politics and emotions, the feminine and the masculine, reason over passion. They all serve the same purpose and are equally significant.
Ever since the first protests took place in December 2018, they have been called Mawkib. The word can be translated to the English word “parade”. In Arabic, Mawkib is defined as a group of people walking together in celebration. This particular Mawkib, our Mawkib, has all along represented a peaceful protest – from the protests that toppled the Bashir regime to the protests against the people behind the coup on October 25th, 2021, carried out by General Abdallah Alfatah Burhan.
When Sudan last saw an uprising, in 2013, the protests were called ‘Mozahara’. Mozahara means protest, not celebration. The difference between the two terms is deeply significant. There is a certainty of victory when people are celebrating, rather than only protesting. To protest carries a probability of victory. To celebrate means one is certain of winning. The 2013 protests were important in terms of reviving -after a long time- the resistance on the streets.
To protest carries a probability of victory. To celebrate means one is certain of winning.
Perhaps what people are celebrating is the unity in joining the streets against a dictator, a long-missed unity, maybe going all the way back to 1989 when the Islamist government made its coup. The celebrations are expressed in different manners, like slogans and songs. But they all share one common feature - the spirit of joy. It is not only a celebration of a ‘yet to come’ victory. It is also about creating a collective memory and celebrating unfinished historical revolutions. On 21 October 2021 thousands of Sudanese for example took to the streets, reviving the memory of October revolution of 1964, which is also the first time the Sudanese people peacefully overthrew a military regime and also the first time that the word ‘Mawkib’ was used for political demands.
It is also about creating a collective memory and celebrating unfinished historical revolutions.
Emotions and feelings are essential to the Sudanese revolution, and both explain why the protests continue even in the face of brutal violence from the military. Since the October 25th coup and to this date, more than 50 people have been killed during the Mawkib and hundreds are injured. This brings about feelings of sorrow and sadness, but also a persistence to win the fight for our future.
How the Mawkib plays out
When deciding to join a Mawkib, I first speak to my friends and see who is going. We agree where and when to meet on the day of the Mawkib. We walk together carrying anger, pride, sadness, and fear, yet also enthusiasm, happiness, joy, and courage. Sarah one of my co-protesters describes it like this,
“When 1 o’clock comes (when the Mawkib starts), I sing my zaghrudah* as an announcement of the Mawkib. People emerge from the shadows of the streets and their tea seller seats; they all stand in the middle of the street shouting the revolution slogans. Then the Mawkib starts. Cars are directed back, people join from all directions, the Mawkib committees distribute signs and slogans, and we walk towards the bigger meeting point two kilometers away. When we walk, I forget the fear because security becomes the responsibility of the Mawkib security committees. I follow their instructions. I feel mixed things - joy, victory, stability, courage, and unity. I care about those around me, I feel supportive and observe if someone is thirsty, tired, etc. If I can’t help then I tell the Mawkib committees...when the authorities start to shoot teargas bombs and sound bullets, I start to panic”.
Another protester, Ibrahim, explains that he senses victory once he puts his foot into a Mawkib. He expresses that he feels challenged and thus he should win,
“I feel longing to the Mawkib, longing to the slogans, to meeting people. It becomes like an event, a social gathering. People are different during the Mawkib, they treat each other differently. You feel like you know everyone there, you share the worries you usually carry alone”.
Going with the flow
The Mawkib allows people to feel a togetherness that they don’t feel in everyday situations. It creates a space for the possibility of victory, translates the emotional burden to action and an embodied experience. The excitement of togetherness, as my fellow protesters mentioned, and the anger is expressed through moving our bodies. The rhythm of the stomping of feet on the ground, the beat of the drums, and the chanting of victory come together to move the Mawkib participants, and to motivate them to come to the next one. People talk about an almost overpowering urge to join. They can’t stop themselves from participating, even on those occasions where they have decided not to go. A mutual yet unspoken feeling of responsibility and belonging, to stand as equals in facing possible danger, to be part of creating a collective memory of generations. Sarah said, “I walk back home from the Mawkib happy and satisfied”. This satisfaction and euphoria of bringing together emotions and bodily expressions can perhaps best be compared to the experience found in a Sufi circle, or as Ibrahim said, “I feel loaded with emotions like a Sufi dancer. When I go home, I feel satisfied seeing happiness in the faces of people walking back. He continues,
“The bodily pain is transformed into a trance of victory. This is food for the upcoming Mawkib”.
This Sudan blog post is written by Mai Azzam, trained as an anthropologist at the University of Khartoum. She also holds an MPhil degree in Anthropology of Development from the University of Bergen, Norway. Azzam is currently a PhD candidate at the Bayreuth International School for African Studies at the University of Bayreuth, Germany. She is completing her degree in the field of political anthropology. Her research interests include youth, women, religion, marginalization, and politics.
If you want to learn more about youth’s participation in the revolution, check out the Bergen Global CMI/UiB webinar Youth mobilization and activism during Sudan’s transition - YouTube
Azzam is a CMI alumni and has been part of the Bergen-Khartoum research collaboration. She works for Sudanese civil society organisations alongside her PhD, and collaborates with different institutions for research and development.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the ARUS project or CMI.
*Zaghrudah is a joyful and melodic sound (scream) that women do in celebrations and has been used as an announcement for starting a Mawkib since 2018.
The Sudan-Ethiopia border needs a soft border solution
Adam Babekir, Lovise Aalen
Addressing gendered violence: A goal or a threat to the Sudanese revolution
Stable economic polices behind the unstable political scene in Sudan
Youth Advantage Versus Gender Penalty: Selecting and Electing Young Candidates
Political Research Quarterly