By Saja Elshaikh
Published on January 10, 2017
September 30, 2013 is a day I will never forget. I decided to turn my phone off to focus on school work without distractions. Two hours later, I turned it back on to find numerous missed calls and text messages from my mother and family back home. My mother told me over the phone that my seventeen-year-old cousin, Faris, was shot by the police in Sudan and was in critical condition.
During my many visits to Sudan, I would always stay at my grandparents’ house where Faris and his family also lived. He was the one who took me around to show me the beauty Sudan has to offer. Faris was like a little brother to me so the news of his shooting broke my heart. Later we learned that the shooting took place in my mother’s birth city, Omdurman, just meters from my grandparent’s home—the same house where my mother was raised, the same house where I sleep when I visit Sudan, the same house where Faris calls home. Apparently at around 5 PM that day, Faris was on his way to the nearby bazaar when he spotted two policemen on the back of a pickup truck. He started to run when he noticed that their rifles were pointed right at him but could not outrun the bullet that pierced his chest. Despite the gunshot wound, the adrenaline rush got Faris to the doorsteps of his house where he collapsed. This scene replays over and over again in my mind. The bullet had just missed one of Faris’ major arteries.
During the time, there were ongoing protests opposing Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir. The revolution in Sudan was taking place at the same time as the Egyptian, Libyan, and Syrian revolutions. Sudanese citizens had finally had enough of the government of Omar al-Bashir, the only current president with two outstanding arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court for his role in the Darfur genocide, and widespread antigovernment protests known as “Sudan Revolts” had been taking place since 2012 . To repress public protests, the Sudanese government was cracking down and arresting, and even killing hundreds of people. Faris was not directly involved in the protests, but had been in the vicinity when he was shot.
Oceans away from Sudan, my family never stopped praying for his safe recovery. Our prayers were finally answered when he was well enough to return home from the hospital. The bullet that went through him was lost somewhere in the streets of Ma’ki. The government denied involvement in Faris’ shooting, the gunmen was never identified, and no one was ever prosecuted for Faris’ shooting.
After Faris’ incident, I became more interested in the North African uprisings and the resistance against al-Bashir’s corrupt regime. Days following my cousin’s shooting, the Sudanese Community Centre of Toronto mobilized a rally to pressure Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister at the time, to intervene. The Toronto rally raised awareness of the political repression in Sudan and the increasing death toll, and brought attention to the never-ending unemployment and injustice.
Being a relatively small diasporic community, the Sudanese community’s turnout outside of Toronto’s Old City Hall was astonishing. I stood with my community in solidarity with the many lives lost, those injured, and for my cousin who was still in critical condition at the time. The solidarity rally brought together Sudanese people living in Toronto, Hamilton, Mississauga, and London, and there was a deep sense of connection among everyone. Although we were thousands of miles away from Sudan, we were still fighting for better conditions back home. It is difficult to describe all the feelings I felt during the protest, but I can say that the passion that day was beautiful. I left with hope restored that Omar al-Bashir’s government will come to an end, and bullets would not pierce children anymore.
- Gaeta, Paola. 2009. “Does President Al Bashir Enjoy Immunity from Arrest?” Journal of International Criminal Justice 13.5 (2009): 315-32.
- Prosecutor V. Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir (Warrant). ICC-02/05-01/09. March 4, 2009.
- Rayner, Ben. 2013. “Toronto’s Sudanese Community Calls for Government Action against Violence Overseas.” Thestar (dot) com.
- Smith, Dane. 2013 . “Sudan: Survival Depends on Getting to Inclusive Government.” The Journal of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy 35 (6): 339-45.
Saja Elshaikh was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and is of Sudanese descent. She has been a Canadian citizen for thirteen years, but continues to carry a lot of her traditions and experiences from her childhood. She is majoring in human geography and city studies and minoring in Geographical Information System at the University of Toronto Scarborough. Her childhood consisted of a lot of travel and migration due to her father’s satellite engineering profession, and this has sparked an interest in human geography and how people interact with their environment. Saja enjoys sharing her experiences as a Black Muslim woman in a world that favours white male superiority.