Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

Around 30 students gathered for a May 4 rally and vigil for peace in Sudan on Ho Plaza. From rallies to webinars to fundraisers, students and faculty are raising awareness for the Sudan crisis on Cornell's campus.

May 13, 2023

From Webinars to Rallies, Cornell Students, Faculty Keep Their Eyes on Sudan

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On April 15, fighting broke out between two previously allied military factions, the Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese Army, over control of Sudan, leading to hundreds of civilian deaths and causing many to flee. In response to the crisis, members of the Cornell community have begun holding webinars, rallies and fundraising events to educate and raise awareness about the situation in Sudan.

In 2019, the two warring parties — the Sudanese army and the RSF, a paramilitary group — cooperated to depose Sudan’s former president, Omar al-Bashir, in a coup d’etat during a revolution supported by the masses. While the coup initially inspired hopes for democracy among the Sudanese populace, those hopes would later be crushed when the leading generals, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan of the Sudanese army and Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan of the RSF, rid Sudan of its civilian prime minister in 2021. 

Now, four years after the coup of al-Bashir, a bubbling rivalry between Sudan’s de facto leaders, exacerbated by a plan to merge the Sudanese Army and RSF into one coalition, has stalled democracy once more. For the past month, the Sudanese population has been subjected to constant gunfire, displacements and raids as the rival generals have continued to battle.

Following the developments in Sudan, the Critical Ottoman and Post-Ottoman Studies department of the Cornell Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies held a webinar on May 4 entitled Sudan: Insight into Current Events. Moderated by Mostafa Minawi, a Cornell associate professor of history and the director of CO+POS, the webinar addressed the current conditions of Sudan and offered insight into civilian resistance groups, the conflict’s history and the global community’s role in it.

The webinar included three speakers — Mai Hassan, an associate professor of political science at MIT, Nisrin Elamin, an assistant professor of anthropology and African studies at the University of Toronto and Deen Sharp, a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Hassan began with discussion of why Sudanese civil society has been unable to overcome the power of Gen. al-Burhan and Lt. Gen. Hamdan. She said that due to the formal nature of many civil society organizations, such as labor unions and political parties, they were easily identifiable and thus able to be neutered by the al-Bashir regime prior to the 2019 revolution. According to Hassan, under al-Bashir, civil society groups were coerced into submission, generating weariness among the Sudanese population that dissuaded them from joining such groups. 

“When Burhan and [Hamdan]… launched the 2021 counter-revolutionary coup… one of the things that helped that happen is [their recognition] that the civilians that they were negotiating with had really lost a lot of grassroots support, and they didn’t have the most mobilization power that they did before,” Hassan said.

Elamin, who had just evacuated from Sudan days prior to the webinar, provided first-person insight into the current state of Sudan — such as the difficulty and inaccessibility of evacuation, the neighborhood resistance communities providing support to locals like her family and the constant warfare.

“As we were driving through this bus station, we were seeing missiles strewn all over the floor… the market had been completely burnt out [and] we were still here in gunfire, even though it was supposedly a ceasefire,” Elamin said.

Elamin also remarked on the failures of the international community regarding the crisis, which she viewed during her own evacuation. Much of the work being done in Sudan to support the Sudanese people has come from local resistance groups rather than international aid agencies, many of which have evacuated Sudan.

Moreover, Elamin condemned powerful nations that have been able to cause momentary ceasefires for their own interests for not doing the same for Sudan. She expressed belief that the crisis in Sudan necessitates a coordinated international response that accounts for the humanity of suffering people, which remains to be seen. 

“We left with a ship that was provided by the Saudis. There were many ships that came afterward and none of them had food or medicine for days — I think the first shipment arrived a couple days ago,” Elamin said. “I don’t understand that. How can you get an entire… huge ship into the port without thinking about bringing in supplies? So, I think that is a form of action in its denial in a way that needs to stop.”

Another major topic discussed in the webinar was the international media’s coverage of the events in Sudan and its focus on the evacuation of foreign nationals rather than the conflict itself. 

The speakers remarked on the difference between the coverage of the war in Sudanese versus the coverage of the Ukraine crisis that routinely features stories directly featuring Ukrainian victims. However, when it comes to Sudan, they said the press focuses more on foreign nationals than actual Sudanese people.

“We see the difference between the coverage of what happens in places like Ukraine, versus what happens in other parts of the world,” Minawi said. “And those are choices, these are editorial choices that are being made that are making assumptions about what the American population will care about. And that’s a very cynical kind of editorial choice, right?”

Sharp, whose home in Sudan had been shelled while he was on vacation, is an urban geographer who does work that focuses on the urbanization of the Arab World and conflict. He spoke about the tendency of the fighting in Sudan to occur in highly urbanized areas, such as Khartoum — the nation’s capital. 

“The nature of this conflict is one that necessitates built-up areas to fight because of the nature of the RSF, because it doesn’t have the type of equipment [necessary to] fight on an open battlefield,” Sharp said.

Thus, much of the war in Sudan has directly threatened the lives of civilians, turning their neighborhoods, and other public spaces like airports, into battlegrounds.

“Human Rights Watch has already issued a report on the way in which both [the Sudanese Armed Forces] and RSF are using explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas — meaning that cafes, schools, hospitals and the basic infrastructure that makes urban life possible, such as electricity, water and roads, have all become critical targets,” Sharp said.

In closing the webinar, the speakers offered their thoughts on Sudan’s future. Elamin grew emotional answering the prompt due to her familial ties to Sudan. However, she said her confidence in the Sudanese people keeps her hopeful.

“This has to stop. There’s no other option… We don’t really have the privilege to lose hope, you know,” Elamin said. “There needs to be a coordinated, unified international response to stop these war criminals…  I think [that] once fighting stops and there’s some relative normalcy that returns, we can then look at the mistakes that have been made that got us to this point.”

Shortly after the webinar, the Pan-African Muslim Student Association and the Cornell Muslim Educational and Cultural Association held a rally and vigil for Sudan on Ho Plaza to raise awareness about the devastation. The event featured Sudanese students who spoke about their personal connection to the conflict.  

Osama Awadalla ’25, who spoke at the rally, has family in Sudan that recently fled to Egypt. 

“My family lives in Khartoum Bahri, which is sort of one of the epicenters for the war and the airstrikes there,” Awadalla said. “A few days after the war broke out, they fled to Egypt. … Usually, it’s less than a dollar to go to Egypt [by] bus. And now it’s almost a thousand, I think… we [had] to support [their evacuation] financially.”

In order to cope with the war in Sudan, Awadalla has organized fundraising through events such as the rally and subsequent PAMSA and MECA fundraiser, held on May 8 in the Klarman Hall Atrium. The fundraiser provided games, food, thrifting and henna to garner donations from the Cornell community.

Ebreez Elbashir ’25 spoke at the rally about the importance of awareness in mitigating the conflict, encouraging the Cornell community to educate themselves and others on the crisis.

“Spreading awareness in any way that they can and keeping Sudan in their thoughts is the best thing that [the Cornell community] can do,” Elbashir said.

Minawi echoed this sentiment, emphasizing that spreading awareness is a crucial step in aiding Sudan. 

“I hope that [the] knowledge or knowing about a certain place would make it real,” Minawi said. “Real enough for people to care beyond the abstraction of some other place, somewhere else where it’s happening.”