Lebanon’s Year of Fire


From self-immolations to forest blazes, the country’s conflagrations are igniting pan-sectarian protests.


Lebanese demonstrators stand by a fire near a makeshift barricade during clashes with security forces at a mass protest in Beirut on Oct. 18. AFP/GETTY IMAGES

For the people of Lebanon, struggling under the weight of an ever-growing economic crisis, endemic corruption, and rising social economic crises, it has been a year full of fire. In February, George Zreik, a struggling father who could no longer afford his young daughter’s tuition, torched himself in her school’s playground. His desperate act of self-immolation shook the country to its core. A photo of Zreik embracing his now-orphaned daughter blanketed social media platforms, but Lebanon’s fragile status quo held, if only just.

This week, after unprecedented wildfires ravaged much of the country, popular discontent finally exploded. Paralyzed by corruption, officials watched helplessly as volunteer firefighters battled the flames with rudimentary and aging equipment. Even as Lebanon’s once lush mountains were still smoldering, an out-of-touch government announced a fresh round of taxes, including on WhatsApp, the popular messaging service. The Lebanese had finally had enough.

The ongoing protests, which so far have brought millions of people into the street and led to the resignation of four ministers, are unprecedented in their nature and scale. Unlike previous waves of popular unrest—including the Cedar Revolution of 2005 and the “You Stink” movement of 2015—the current uprising cuts across all the sectarian and class divisions that historically have made mass mobilization difficult. Lebanese of all backgrounds, including Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, and Druze; poor and affluent; urban and rural; are in the streets.

To avoid traditional social cleavages that could undermine the movement, each separate group is focused on bringing down the established political order in its own community. The Sunnis of northern Lebanon tore down portraits of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Christians put posters of President Michel Aoun to the flame. Shiites ransacked offices affiliated with Hezbollah and with parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal Movement.

Although spontaneous and still unorganized, the protesters have a few core demands, namely the resignation of at least the current cabinet if not the entire government; its replacement by a government of technocrats to see the country through political, economic, and administrative reforms; and the lifting of taxes levied on poorer segments of society.

Yet despite the extraordinary public pressure being brought to bear, with the country at a virtual standstill, the entrenched political establishment in Beirut is refusing to give way.

Over the weekend, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Iran-backed Hezbollah and the most powerful political figure in the country, took to the airwaves and firmly outlined his organization’s red lines against the protesters’ demands. He emphasized that the presidency of his Christian ally Aoun is to continue unobstructed and the current government is not to be toppled. If other political parties tried to take advantage of the unrest, Nasrallah threatened, his militant group would move into the streets and display the full extent of its power.

Heeding Nasrallah’s words of warning, Druze leader Walid Joumblatt, who had called on Hariri to resign along with his own ministers, reversed course and decided to back the existing government. Likewise, Hariri decided to buy time, announcing an ambitious set of economic reforms and hoping that the nationwide protests would gradually recede.

Whether Hezbollah’s intimidation, coupled with Hariri’s overtures, will prove enough to contain popular anger remains unknown.

The fear that once kept many Lebanese from openly and directly challenging Hezbollah is giving way. After Nasrallah’s speech, thousands of people thundered back at him from downtown Beirut, “All of them means all of them, and Nasrallah is one of them,” a reference to the political elite they accuse of ruining the country.

More importantly, protesters within Nasrallah’s own Shiite community are taking to the street despite their ongoing suppression by the militia members allied to him. In the southern city of Tyre, a traditional bastion of support for Hezbollah and the associated Amal Movement, people chanted, “How can we fight for you in Syria and Yemen if we are left hungry in Lebanon?”

Hezbollah’s dilemma, and by extension that of its patron in Iran, is that it can no longer pretend that it isn’t Lebanon’s dominant party. It may hold only 10 percent of cabinet seats, but its real power runs deeper; ever since it secured the presidency and much of the cabinet for its allies in 2016, with traditional rivals Hariri and Joumblatt agreeing to be junior partners, much of the public now holds it ultimately accountable.

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Sudan Border closures with Libya, CAR begin to have impact.

By Naba Mohiedeen October 17, 2019 04:00 PM

FILE – Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, left, head of Sudan’s Sovereign Council, meets with South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, in Juba, South Sudan, Oct. 14, 2019. The council has ordered the closure of Sudan’s borders with Libya and Central African Republic.

KHARTOUM – Sudan’s ruling Sovereign Council recently ordered the closure of the country’s borders with the Central African Republic and Libya, citing security concerns. The order has been gradually implemented in the last three weeks.

However, some Sudanese say the decision is affecting business.

Spare parts trader Ahmed Bushara thinks reopening the borders would ease the country’s transportation crisis.  

The current high price of transportation isn’t about the fuel shortages only, he says. Spare parts are a major element for cars. If the borders are open and trade is facilitated, he says, it’ll reflect positively on the car sector and spare parts. 

Unlike Bushara, Noman Eisa has welcomed the measure, even though he once tried to migrate through Libya to Europe, only to return to Darfur.

Map of Sudan

Eisa says Libyan gangs and militias are a danger for Sudanese youth hoping to escape poverty and strife.

He says the closed borders are positive if they stop illegal migration, but he hopes the new government will deal with the people detained and lost in Libya, and handle the root cause of Sudanese youngsters leaving. In addition, he wants measures in place for legal migration.

The Sovereign Council decided to close the borders after a September clash between rival militias in Birau, Central African Republic, that left 23 people dead.

Council members cited reports that militiamen were sneaking into Sudan on their way to join other militias in Libya.

But political analyst Othman Mirghani thinks the council has both economic and security concerns.

The main smuggling of commodities is on the eastern borders not on the westerns ones, he says, but western borders have many security concerns, including weapon smuggling and armed troops entering the country from Libya and other countries that suffer from security issues.

Sudan is located on a widely-used migration route that links east and central Africa with the Mediterranean and Europe.

The unrest Sudan has seen before and since the ouster of former president Omar al-Bashir led the European Union to suspend funds for migration control, allowing a greater number of migrants to enter the country. It remains to be seen whether the border closures will slow that flow.


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Sudan Talks Delayed After Attacks in Nuba Mountains.

By Waakhe Simon Wudu October 16, 2019 03:53 PM

FILE – Sudan People Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-North) leader Malik Agar (L) speaks as Sudanese Deputy head of the Transitional Military Council, General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo (R), looks on during a press conference in Juba, South Sudan, July 27, 2019.

JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN – The SPLM-North (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North) faction based in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains suspended peace talks in Juba with Khartoum officials after military forces allegedly bombed several areas in the region and killed a sheik on Tuesday. The group’s leader said the sustained attack shows the Sudanese government’s failure to respect the cessation of hostilities agreement the parties signed last month.

Amar Amoua, SPLM-North’s Secretary General and spokesperson for the group, told reporters in Juba Wednesday his group will not take part in any peace talks until there is a full investigation into the attack. For the last 10 days, Amoua said Sudanese government forces bombarded several areas of the Nuba Mountains.

Amoua said SPLM-North will not return to the bargaining table until their demands are met.
“Our coming back to negotiate on table is bound by government decision to clear all these things. The government should withdraw its forces and stop from gaining new ground by occupying new areas. We will not allow that and also we need the government to release immediately the traders whom they have arrested with all their property and hand them to SPLM/N authorities in Nuba Mountains,” Amoua told South Sudan in Focus.
Amoua said Tuesday’s attack included 25 armed Land Cruisers that attacked civilians in Kor Waral, a rebel-controlled area of the Nuba Mountains. He said a local chief named Sheik Mahamed Afdal Fadil and one soldier were killed in the area, while at least 10 people are missing.
“We are asking the government also to make thorough investigations into the chief, who is been assassinated because he rejected passing of nomads in that new road, which passes through farm lands,” Amoua told VOA.
The Sudanese government downplayed the accusations, blaming the attack on cattle herders.
Mohammed Hassan Eltaishi, a spokesman representing the transitional Sudanese government delegation at the peace talks in Juba, told reporters Tuesday that the government has full knowledge of what he referred to as the “incident,” and indicated military leaders were not involved in the attack.
“The incident happened at the context of local inhabitants who happen to be herders attacking local merchants. Some fell victim and got captured and local goods were confiscated. The government regrets and condemns in the strongest terms these unfortunate events that keep happening in the area and in other parts of the country,” said Eltaishi.
It is particularly troublesome that “the event” took place at a time when people were entering peace talks, said Eltaishi, adding, “the country is united for the cause of peace in Sudan.”
Eltaishi vowed the government would investigate the incident and hold those responsible accountable.

Tutkew Gatluak, South Sudan President Salva Kiir’s security advisor and a chief mediator in the talks, called on Sudanese authorities to quickly launch an investigation.
“We have received a report from the SPLM-North, led by Alhilu, because there is an incident that happened in (the) Nuba Mountains. It is an unfortunate incident. It is an environment of peace.  We don’t want any situation from both parties that interrupts the peace process,” said Gatluak.
Talks between the Sudan government and an alliance of more than a dozen rebel groups headed by SPLM-North chairperson Abdelaziz Adam Alhilu was to begin on Wednesday, according to mediators. The alliance includes the rebel group Sudanese Revolutionary Front.
Before the announcement of the SPLM-N’s refusal to negotiate, mediators and other observers including the African Union had already convened at Juba’s Pyramid Hotel, the venue of the talks.
Jeremiah Kingsley, the African Union ambassador to South Sudan, offered his assurances of support to regional leaders for the Sudan talks.
“We are grateful that the parties have agreed to come here to begin talking. It is not going to be easy; we can only call up on them to fine each other. It is in the interest the Sudanese people who have suffered a great deal. They should put the interest of the people first,” Kingsley told South Sudan in Focus.
On Monday, Alhilu said the African Union held 22 rounds of peace talks between the Sudanese government and the rebels but the two sides had failed to address the root causes of the problem.


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EU reiterates keenness to help transitional authorities in Sudan

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Source: Xinhua| 2019-10-16 01:13:25|Editor: Mu Xuequan

KHARTOUM, Oct. 15 (Xinhua) — The European Union (EU) on Tuesday reiterated keenness to be key partner to the transitional authorities in Sudan.

Chairman of Sudan’s Sovereign Council, Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan, on Tuesday received Ambassador Robert van den Dool who presented his credentials as the new Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Sudan.

“The European Union and its member states are very keen on being a key partner for the transitional authorities,” said Dool in a statement.

The EU ambassador further welcomed the appointment of the government with four female ministers and the first female chief of justice in Africa as “important signals that the new Sudanese government is making important efforts towards equal rights for men and women.”

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South Sudan displacement crisis still desperate, one year after peace deal

Published 4 Sept 2019

One year on from the signing of the peace agreement, millions of South Sudanese remain displaced as the country continues to face a humanitarian crisis and people fear that peace may not last, according to a new report published today.

Women, who lead the vast majority of displaced households, may be especially vulnerable, including facing the threat of sexual violence. While some women have begun returning to South Sudan, many are not going back to their homes but seeking a safer and better place to live.

The report, No Simple Solutions: Women, Displacement and Durable Solutions in South Sudan, is by Oxfam, Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Care Foundation, Danish Refugee Council, and South Sudanese organizations, Nile Hope and Titi Foundation. It highlights the experiences of women in transit and the conditions they need in order to return home.

After five years of brutal conflict, more than seven million South Sudanese – over half the country’s population – are in need of humanitarian assistance. Homes, schools and hospitals have been destroyed and it will take years for essential infrastructure and services to recover.

The conflict created the largest displacement crisis in Africa with over 4.3 million people forced to flee their homes; 1.8 million people are internally displaced and there are 2.3 million refugees in the region.

Elysia Buchanan, South Sudan policy lead, Oxfam said: “Since the signing of the revitalized peace deal, armed clashes between parties have reduced, bringing tentative hope to many. But because of the slow implementation of the deal, many women told us they are still not sure if lasting peace is at hand.”

The civil war also fueled the rise of sexual violence, including rape as a weapon of war, and the abduction of women and girls who were forced into sexual slavery.

With the sheer scale of the crisis, and endemic levels of sexual and gender-based violence, a South Sudanese woman activist quoted in the report warned humanitarian agencies against rushing to support people to return home. “This would be like throwing people from one frying pan to another. Humanitarian actors should take things slow, until refugees and internally displaced people can move themselves.”

Due to the ongoing humanitarian crisis, people returning from neighboring countries often find themselves in more difficult conditions than when they were displaced, including struggling to find somewhere to live.

Connolly Butterfield, Protection and Gender Specialist of NRC, said: “Time and again, women spoke to us of the challenges they face in returning to their homes. They make the journey back, only to find that their houses and properties were completely destroyed, or had already been occupied by strangers, sometimes soldiers. Some of the women said that if they try to reclaim their properties, they have no means of support. They are more likely to be threatened or exposed to physical or sexual assault.”

Because the context still poses risks, all actors should take a long-term, community-driven vision around supporting the conditions required to deliver a lasting end to the displacement crisis, to mitigate the risk of people falling into an endless cycle of movement. It is estimated some 60 percent of displaced South Sudanese have been displaced more than once, and one in 10 have been displaced more than five times.

Buchanan said: “Helping people return to their homes and rebuild their lives is our goal. But by ignoring or downplaying the issues that make returning dangerous, or not ensuring people have adequate information on what they are coming home to, humanitarian agencies could inadvertently endanger people or make their lives worse.

The international community must only support the return of internally displaced people if conditions are safe and dignified, and the decision to return is informed and voluntary. The humanitarian response must be sensitive to the needs of women and girls, taking into consideration the country’s harmful gender norms.

Martha Nyakueka, Gender and Protection Coordinatior of the national NGO Nile Hope, said: “After years of conflict, it will take time for the country to recover. The warring parties who signed the peace deal must ensure that the agreement leads to lasting changes on the ground, not just in terms of security, but also in terms of improving the lives of the South Sudanese people.”

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US envoys open Sudan bank accounts for first time in decades!

Sudan hopes to revive its failing economy.

16 October ,2019

Four US diplomats on Wednesday opened accounts at a Sudanese bank for the first time in decades, as Khartoum seeks to draw international businesses back to the country to help revive the ailing economy.

In October 2017, the United States lifted its decades-old trade embargo on Sudan. But the move has so far failed to attract foreign investments, seen as vital to revive Sudan’s economy hit hard by foreign currency shortages.

In December 2018 an economic crisis sparked a nationwide protest movement. The uprising eventually led to the ouster of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir in April.

“We lifted economic sanctions in 2017 and we want to show that Sudan is open for business, that banks, international banks and businesses are welcome back here,” Ellen Thorburn, deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Khartoum told AFP after she opened her account at a branch of the Bank of Khartoum.

“The timing seemed right now with the civilian led transitional government and the changes that they are enacting,” Thorburn said.

She also cited the “dramatic changes” Sudan has witnessed this year as an incentive.

With the ouster of Bashir, Sudan is now ruled by a joint civilian-military body, called the sovereign council, which is tasked with overseeing the country’s transition to civilian rule.

Washington has kept Sudan in its “state sponsors of terrorism list” along with Iran, Syria and North Korea.

Sudanese officials say this is still keeping international businesses away.


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Sudan declares ‘permanent ceasefire’ as peace talks hit snag!

AFP Thursday, 17 October 2019

Sudan announced Wednesday a “permanent ceasefire” in the country’s war zones even as a key rebel group threatened to pull out of peace talks, accusing government forces of bombing its territory.

Juba has been hosting talks between new Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s government and delegates from two umbrella groups of rebels who fought now-ousted president Omar al-Bashir’s forces in Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan states.

The talks were launched on Monday, but the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) told journalists it would pull out unless the government withdrew from an area in the Nuba mountains.

The group said that for the past 10 days government forces had kept up attacks on its territory despite an unofficial ceasefire.

Late on Wednesday, the chief of Sudan’s ruling sovereign council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, announced a permanent ceasefire in the three conflict zones.

“General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has announced a permanent ceasefire to show that the government is committed to peace,” the sovereign council said in a statement.

“The ceasefire is valid from the signing of this declaration.”

An unofficial ceasefire had been in place since Bashir was ousted by the army in April in a palace coup following nationwide protests against his decades-old rule.

A joint civilian-military sovereign council is now ruling Sudan and is tasked with overseeing the country’s transition to civilian rule as demanded by protesters.

A new transitional government is in place to carry out the daily affairs of the country and has been leading the peace talks in South Sudan’s capital with the rebel groups.

Bloodshed in the three states has left hundreds of thousands of people dead and millions displaced, in turn severely impacting the northeast African country’s economy. Last Update: Thursday, 17 October 2019 KSA 04:19 – GMT 01:19


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Sudan’s First Female Chief Justice Wins Wide Acceptance

By Carol Van Dam October 15, 2019 01:08 PM

In this frame grab from video, Sudanese women rally on the streets of the capital, in Khartoum, Sudan, Sept. 12, 2019.

KHARTOUM, SUDAN – Sudanese citizens have largely embraced the sovereign council’s move to appoint Nemat Abdallah as Sudan’s first female chief justice, a first in the Arab world.

Nemat Abdallah Mohammed Khair’s appointment is monumental not only for Sudan but for all of Africa. She is only the fifth female justice named in Africa, after Ghana, Ethiopia, Seychelles and Lesotho.

Wafa Adam, who works for the local non-governmental organization Siha, which advocates for women’s rights in Sudan, is elated that a woman now holds a top position in the country, something that was unthinkable for decades under former President Omar al-Bashir.

“I am very excited about that and she is going to support the women and she is going to advocate for women and laws. We expect her to support the women movements and the women,” Adam told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus.

Adam said Sudan is one of three Muslim countries that has not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). She expects Abdallah to ratify CEDAW and to work to reform Sudanese local laws that oppress women.

“For example, public order law, family law and criminal law and many laws that are not supporting women’s rights, we request her to advocate for reforming those laws,” Adam told VOA.

Israa Dawood, a Sudanese youth who took part in the protests that led to Bashir’s ouster, said Abdallah’s appointment is historic.

“This is a huge milestone for Sudan and now we are depending on the judiciary so much, so that atrocities committed during the revolution’s period would be brought to book. Abdallah has played a significant role during the revolution and everybody has pushed for her appointment,” Dawood told South Sudan in Focus.

Haj Hamad, a political science lecturer at Khartoum University, said Abdallah’s appointment as chief justice proves that the overwhelming number of Sudanese trust women’s leadership skills.

“This is a major breakthrough from earlier policies of a different regime in the country, that providing a reprisal step of women professionals and leaders to occupy such kind of very high ranking and influential post,” Hamad said.

Abdallah was initially nominated as chief justice soon after military leaders and the opposition signed a power-sharing agreement in late August, but Sudan’s new executive body, the sovereign council, instead named a man to the post. Public protests led the council to reverse course and appoint her as chief justice on October 10.

Hamad said Abdallah will likely face numerous obstacles during Sudan’s three-year transitional government, but added that the new chief justice will likely stand firm to defend the country’s constitutional declaration and all laws that govern the country.

According to the constitutional document signed on August 17, 2019, the chief justice names the judiciary council.

In addition, the chief justice heads the judiciary and serves as president of the nation’s Supreme Court.

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Sudan’s Government, Rebels Start Peace Talks in Juba

By Associated Press October 14, 2019 03:14 PM

In this photo provided by the official SUNA news agency, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, left, head of Sudan’s sovereign council,…

CAIRO – Sudan’s new transitional government met with rebel leaders on Monday, kicking off peace talks aimed at ending the country’s yearslong civil wars.

The peace initiative was built into a power-sharing deal between Sudan’s army and its pro-democracy movement. That deal was reached after the overthrow of longtime autocrat President Omar al-Bashir in April. The transitional authorities have six months to make peace with the rebels, according to the agreement.

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir is hosting the talks in its capital, Juba, where some rebel groups signed a draft agreement last month that detailed a roadmap for the talks, trust-building measures and an extension of a cease-fire already in place.
South Sudan gained independence from the north in 2011 after decades of civil war. But in the 2000s, Sudan was most known for al-Bashir’s brutal repression of an uprising in the western Darfur region.

Achieving peace is crucial to the transitional government in Sudan. It has counted on ending the wars with rebels in order to revive the country’s battered economy through slashing the military spending, which takes up much of the national budget.

Sudanese authorities have introduced good-will signals. They dismissed death sentences against eight rebel leaders and released more than a dozen prisoners of war. They have also delayed the formation of the parliament and the appointment of provincial governors to allow time for the rebels to come on board.

The government delegation, led by Gen. Mohammed Hamadan Dagalo, a member of the Sudan’s sovereign council, arrived in Juba late Sunday. Rebel leaders arrived earlier this month.

Rebel leader Malik Agar of the Sudan Revolutionary Front, an alliance of Darfur rebel groups, told The Associated Press that they would start “the official opening” of the talks Monday in Juba.

Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of Sudan’s sovereign council, also arrived in Juba to attend the opening session, along with other African leaders including Egypt’s Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, according to the official SUNA news agency.

Ahmed said the start of the negotiations was a “demonstration of the will for peace and reconciliation.” He encouraged “all stakeholders to reach a consensus and redirect their focus to building an inclusive and prosperous Sudan,” his office said.

Ethiopia and the African Union mediated the power-sharing agreement in August which ended months of violence and faltering talks between Sudan’s generals and protesters following the uprising against al-Bashir.

On Sunday, Sudan’s newly appointed top judicial officials were sworn in before Burhan.

Neamat Kheir, a veteran female judge, took the oath as chief of the judiciary. She’s the first woman to rise to Sudan’s highest judicial post. Taj al-Ser al-Hebr, a lawyer, was sworn in as the country’s public prosecutor.

Last month, thousands of Sudanese took to the streets demanding the two original appointees be sacked. Those two had been chosen by the military council that ruled Sudan after ousting al-Bashir.

Protesters insisted that independent judges be appointed before prosecuting members of the old regime, as well as those responsible for a deadly crackdown on protesters in June.

Unlike many judges, Kheir was not known to compromise her integrity to serve the interests of al-Bashir’s government. However, she was widely criticized for not having supported the Sudanese uprising since its inception.

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In Sudan, Women Showed the World How It’s Done


By Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

  • Oct. 15, 2019
Alaa Salah, a Sudanese protester, in April. A photo of her leading a chant against President Omar Hassan al-Bashir became a sensation.
Alaa Salah, a Sudanese protester, in April. A photo of her leading a chant against President Omar Hassan al-Bashir became a sensation.CreditCreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images

The world watched earlier this year as the people of Sudan rose up to demand the ouster of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, an authoritarian who had presided over three decades of brutal rule. A protest over bread prices quickly blossomed into a full-throated demand for civilian government. On April 11, after nearly four months of demonstrations, the military announced it had arrested Mr. al-Bashir, finally ending his reign.

Sudanese women were at the forefront of this movement for democracy and change, having endured years of marginalization, harassment and sexual violence. By some estimates, they made up as many as two-thirds of the protesters. A photo of the young protester Alaa Salah leading a chant against the regime became a viral sensation, illustrating the revolutionary power of the country’s women.

The protest movement that ousted Mr. al-Bashir is yet another example of African women’s increasing participation in the political process, whether as activists or legislators. As of July 2019, four of the world’s top 15 countries with the highest percentage of female lawmakers in their lower or single houses of parliament are in Africa. Thirteen African nations have parliaments with female membership at 30 percent or higher.

Creating inclusive democracies takes time, however. And inclusion cannot occur without strong democratic institutions and basic respect for the rule of law, both of which have long been absent in Sudan.

The months between Mr. al-Bashir’s ouster in April and the August signing of a transitional power-sharing agreement between Sudan’s ruling military council and the pro-democracy opposition were marked by widespread protests and violence. On June 3, a paramilitary group known as the Rapid Response Forces attacked pro-democracy protesters in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, as they demanded an end to the military-led government that took power after Mr. al-Bashir’s arrest. A doctors’ group associated with the opposition estimated that 127 people were killed and approximately 70 raped in the attack. The following month, several student demonstrators were shot and killed by security forces in the city of El-Obeid.

As Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese-born businessman and philanthropist, has written, “Intimidation, harassment and violence have no place in a democracy.” How right he is.

But in order for democracies to be safe, women must have power. That means more than just the right to vote; women need real decision-making authority. Their voices must be heard on the streets and in all branches of government.

Sudanese protesters celebrated the arrest of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in April.
Sudanese protesters celebrated the arrest of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in April.CreditEuropean Pressphoto Agency, via Shutterstock

Electing more women to office normalizes the idea that women and other marginalized groups can wield power effectively. It also changes the government’s priorities and makes it function better over all. Various studies have shown that women tend to be less autocratic and to work more collaboratively. Research also suggests that governments with more women in office are more likely to spend money on health care and education and to advance women’s rights.

A 2017 study by the Brookings Institution found that gender equality and democracy strengthen each other. When there is greater equality in governance, a nation’s “relative state of peace” is increased, security is improved and there is less aggression toward other countries. In turn, when democracy is stronger, women are less likely to suffer violence and enjoy greater political and economic equality.

How can we set this virtuous cycle of inclusion and democracy in motion? The question must be asked, not only in Sudan as the country works to build a stable civilian government, but also all across the world, as women struggle for equality and representation.

I humbly offer three suggestions.

First, quotas must be set for female representation at all levels of government. Research has shown that gender quotas, although not a perfect system, do help women overcome the cultural, economic and electoral barriers that keep them from holding elected office. Such quotas can later be phased out, based on the recognition that women, once in office, will begin to share in the benefits normally granted to men.

Mandated quotas of various kinds have gained traction in Africa and around the world in recent years. For example, a constitutional requirement in Rwanda — the world’s leader in terms of female representation in Parliament — stipulates that women must account for at least 30 percent of all decision-making organizations in government.

In the case of Sudan, which recently embarked on a three-year transition toward democracy after months of unrest, women must have a large seat at the negotiating table and play an active role in the peace process. In a hopeful sign, Sudan’s new cabinet includes the country’s first female foreign minister, Asma Mohamed Abdalla.

Second, the international community must be more responsive in advocating for stronger democratic institutions. Instead of becoming involved only after tragedy occurs, as happened in Sudan, international actors and institutions must learn to detect the warning signs of impending violence and lend support by pressing for open dialogue, ensuring that women have the right to speak up. In this way, nations can make the transition to democracy without resorting to mass protests and bloodshed.

Third, we must support girls in Africa and around the world, by providing them with education, health care and economic empowerment. We also need to think seriously about leadership training, whether that means providing assistance to the young women who are bold enough to enter politics or creating networking platforms that empower women across cultures and continents.

Sudan’s democratic revolution would not have been possible without the efforts of women and girls. I believe that, in time, Sudanese women will enjoy the full fruits of democracy. Until then, we must stand with them, in our words and deeds.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the former president of Liberia (2006-2018) and a joint recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.

This is an article from World Review: The State of Democracy, a special section that examines global policy and affairs through the perspectives of thought leaders and commentators.

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