Viral Photo Shows Role of Women in Sudan Protests

A woman has become the face of Sudanese protest against President Omar al-Bashir's regime after a photo of a 22-year-old standing on the roof of a car while leading a demonstration went viral. As a result of activist efforts, al-Bashir was removed as president and arrested on Thursday after 30 years in power, the BBC reported.

Defense Minister Awad Ibn Ouf said on state TV that Sudan’s military is in control and a three-month state of emergency has been put in place in the country, according to the publication.

The iconic photo, which was taken by Lana Haroun, surfaced on Monday, three days before al-Bashir was ousted from power. As of Thursday, the photo has 65,000 likes and over 19,000 retweets on Twitter. Haroun told CNN that the woman, identified as Alaa Salah, was trying to spread positive messages to the crowd of protesters in Khartoum, Sudan — the nation’s capital and largest city. "She was trying to give everyone hope and positive energy and she did it," Haroun told the news station. "She was representing all Sudanese women and girls and she inspired every woman and girl at the sit-in. She was telling the story of Sudanese women. ... She was perfect."

Since December, people in Sudan have protested the rising of cost in bread and fuel, Al Jazeera previously reported. Protesters demanded that al-Bashir step down from his 30-year regime. Salah, a student who studies architecture in Khartoum, told The Guardian that she was happy her photo had gained so much attention on social media. “I’m very glad that my photo let people around the world know about the revolution in Sudan," Salah said. "Since the beginning of the uprising I have been going out every day and participating in the demonstrations because my parents raised me to love our home.”

Salah told The Guardian she had been to multiple demonstrations on Monday and read a poem to keep the crowds motivated. She said she has not been involved in politics for long, but joined the protests in an effort to make Sudan a better place. “The day they took the photo, I went to 10 different gatherings and read a revolutionary poem. It makes people very enthusiastic. In the beginning I found a group of about six women and I started singing, and they started singing with me, then the gathering became really big,” Salah told The Guardian. “I have practiced presenting at the university; I don’t have an issue with speaking in front of people and at big gatherings.”

Salah told the publication that her mother is a fashion designer who made the iconic dress she is wearing in the photo. The dress, which is known as a toub, is a symbol of female protesters and Kandakas, the queens and leaders of Sudan more than 3,000 years ago, according to The Guardian. The architecture student told the outlet she had almost been arrested for wearing the toub at a gathering earlier in the day on Monday.

An estimated 70 percent of protesters are Sudanese women, the BBC noted. The protests have also called to end sexism in the country, according to the publication.

Government spokesperson and Information Minister Hassan Ismail told Reuters on Wednesday that 11 people were killed in Khartoum, including six members of “state forces.” Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) tried to disband thousands of protesters outside of the Defense Ministry on Tuesday by firing warning shots in the air and deploying troops, according to the publication. Ismail told Reuters that the Khartoum state police chief acknowledged the deaths but did not explain how they died.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.