The Revolutionary Force Behind Sudan’s Protest Movement? Doctors

Security agents chased down and pummeled the pro-democracy protester nytimes
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Security agents chased down and pummeled the pro-democracy protester, who said his pursuers were celebrating as if they were “fishermen who just made a catch.”

“‘Who are you?’” the protester, Ahmed Sanhouri, recalled the agents demanding. He carried no identification or cellphone, and he insisted he was a laborer.

He is, in fact, a young doctor, but that is something that has been dangerous to admit in Sudan in recent months. Doctors have played a central role, along with other professionals, in organizing the mass protests that recently toppled the longtime autocrat Omar Hassan al-Bashir and fostered a powerful, if still uncertain, pro-democracy movement.

“Doctors had a great role, and they still have a great role, in this revolution,” said Dr. Mohamed Nagy al-Asam, 28, a leader of the movement.

Protesters in Khartoum this month.Credit Ozan Kose/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In Sudan, where the government and its allied militias had committed atrocities across the country’s south and west over decades, it was not an armed group or a long-running opposition party that forced out Mr. al-Bashir. That accomplishment belongs in large part to a semi-secret alliance of doctors, lawyers, journalists, engineers and teachers organized under a bland name, the Sudanese Professionals Association.

Doctors have played a particularly striking role in shaping the protest movement. Its most identifiable leader for many Sudanese is Dr. al-Asam, and one of its most famous victims was a doctor killed while trying to treat wounded protesters.

Behind the scenes, doctors helped transform what started as protests over bread prices into a coherent movement, complete with a declaration of demands and a tightly organized protest schedule that survived months of repression. Their prominence reflects the fact that this revolution has been guided by the disintegrating middle class around the capital, Khartoum a demographic easy to overlook amid Sudan’s woes.

Before toppling a dictator, the Sudanese Professionals Association was best known for a minimum wage study it undertook last year.

Now it falls to the association and the relatively narrow demographic it represents to unite disparate opposition factions from left-wing groups to religious parties to armed rebels around a political agenda that calls for civilian rule, women’s empowerment and an end to the nation’s civil wars.

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