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Meet Alaa Salah, the 22-year-old Sudan’s Nubian queen who is proof enough that words are mightier than swords and helped remove Omar al-Bashir with a street poem

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As Sudan continues to push for an end of President Omar Al Bashir’s 30 year rule, a woman seen leading the protests in the country’s capital Khartoum has become a symbol of the uprising.

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In most of the videos that have gone viral on social media, one face and voice has remained clear, the 22-year-old woman identified as Alaa Salah is seen singing and conducting crowds. Alaa Salah, a 22-year-old architecture student in Khartoum

Alaa Salah, The 22-Year-Old 'Nubian Queen' Who Stood Against Bashir
One of the ‘iconic’ photos taken by local photographer Lana Haroun in Khartoum on Monday shows Alaa Salah standing atop a car with a sea of protesters keenly listening in, most of them with their smartphones in hand, recording as she passionately delivers her message of ‘revolution’.

One of the ‘iconic’ photos Khartoumtaken by local photographer Lana Haroun in Khartoum on Monday shows her standing atop a car with a sea of protesters keenly listening in, most of them with their smartphones in hand, recording as she passionately delivers her message of ‘revolution’.

https://twitter.com/iAlaaSalah/status/1115989597983510528

“I’m very proud to take part in this revolution and I hope our revolution will achieve its goal,” the engineering and architecture student at Sudan International University told AFP.

Female backbone

Dubbed online as “Kandaka” or Nubian queen, she has become a symbol of the protests which she says have traditionally had a female backbone in Sudan.

“If you see Sudan’s history, all our queens have led the state. It’s part of our heritage,” said Ms Salah

Her new-found fame pushed her to set up her own Twitter account in which she thanked everyone “from the bottom of my heart”.

“The struggle for a democratic and prosperous Sudan continues,” she said.

Alaa Salah, The 22-Year-Old 'Nubian Queen' Who Stood Against Bashir
Salah comes from a simple Sudanese family and her mother is a fashion designer working with the traditional Sudanese Toub

“Hero”

In another tweet Wednesday she said she “wanted to get on the car and speak to the people… speak against racism and tribalism in all its forms, which affect everyone across all walks of life”.

“I wanted to speak on behalf of the youth. I wanted to come out and say that Sudan is for all.”

The online community, including those far beyond the boundaries of Sudan, has reacted to Ms Salah’s photo, with many calling her a “hero” and an “icon”.

While sharing a video of Ms Salah, Samira Sawlani wrote on Twitter, “Women are at the forefront of the uprising in Sudan. Just look at her. Absolute queen. Crowd are chanting ‘revolution’.”

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Mohamed Hassan wrote, “This image from Sudan will be in the history books” while sharing Ms Salah’s photo on Twitter.

Kenyan Donald Kipkorir, who also shared a photo, wrote, “The unfolding revolution in Sudan against Dictator Omar al-Bashir, 75, that didn’t have a leader has finally found one in a pretty and iconic Alaa Salah, 22 … History shows the most successful revolutions are led by such angelic leaders.”

Alaa Salah, The 22-Year-Old 'Nubian Queen' Who Stood Against Bashir
Alaa Salah, a Sudanese woman propelled to internet fame after clips went viral of her leading powerful protest chants against President Omar al-Bashir, addresses protesters in front of the military headquarters in Khartoum on April 10, 2019. PHOTO | AFP

Death Threats

But late on Wednesday Ms Salah tweeted that she had received “death threats” after her footage went viral.

Still she said, “I will not bow down. My voice cannot be suppressed.”

Women have made up a large part of the demonstrators who have, since Saturday, thronged outside the sprawling army complex.

Braving regular volleys of tear gas, the crowds have been the biggest yet to rally against President Bashir’s rule since unrest broke out late in December 2018.

“In such movements, women are widely participating not only for their rights but for the rights of the entire community… there’s no difference between women’s rights and community rights,” Ms Salah told AFP.

“Women of Sudan always encourage their youths to fight. This is part of the history of Kandaka,” she added.

The poem

Salah told the Guardian she was happy that the image, taken on Monday evening at a demonstration in the Sudanese capital, had been viewed so widely.

Alaa Salah, The 22-Year-Old 'Nubian Queen' Who Stood Against Bashir
Alaa Salah stands on a vehicle as she sings to the crowd. Photograph: -/AFP/Getty Images

“I’m very glad that my photo let people around the world know about the revolution in Sudan … 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 said.

The current wave of protests against the 30-year rule of Omar al-Bashir started in December but intensified at the weekend when huge crowds gathered at a crossroads in front of a heavily guarded military complex in the centre of Khartoum.

Salah said she does not come from a political background, and took to the streets to fight for a better Sudan. “Our country is above any political parties and any sectarian divisions,” she said.

“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.

“I have practiced presenting at the university; I don’t have an issue with speaking in front of people and at big gatherings.”

A line in the poem she read – “The bullet doesn’t kill. What kills is the silence of people” – is popular with protesters, and was chanted by demonstrators in January 2018 and during unrest in September 2013.

Salah’s mother is a fashion designer working with the traditional Sudanese toub – the dress she was wearing in the photographs – and her father owns a construction company.

The garment has become a symbol of the female protesters, and Salah said she had narrowly escaped arrest when she wore the toub at an earlier demonstration.

“The toub has a kind of power and it reminds us of the Kandakas,” Salah said.

Kandakas were queens of the Nubian kingdom of Kush, which ruled much of what is now modern-day Sudan more than 3,000 years ago.

Some commentators have raised concerns that the reference represents only one of Sudan’s many ethnic and tribal communities and that while the history of the Nubians is particularly popular with the Sudanese diaspora it excludes many of the country’s communities.

Salah said she now has to rest her voice as her throat has become sore from all the chanting this week.

Nationwide campaign

Ms Salah said she has taken part in the protests since they first erupted on December 19 in response to a government decision to triple the price of bread.

The unrest quickly morphed into a nationwide campaign against Mr Bashir’s rule with rallies held across cities, towns and villages.

The longtime leader has remained defiant and imposed a slew of tough measures including a state of emergency across the country.

Officials say 49 people have died so far in protest related violence since demonstrations erupted across Sudan.

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