“With great power comes great responsibility” is the motto of Spiderman, one of the most beloved superheroes in the world. Words that symbolize the sense of duty that Peter Parker acquired after obtaining his superpowers. The curious thing is that the phrase pronounced by his “Uncle Ben” was a teaching that preceded those powers. He talks above all about the “great power” that we all have, as normal people, to change the world, to improve society.
In Sudan there is a man who understood the power that this great responsibility entails, and who donned the suit of the arachnid to become a a symbol of resistance, freedom and struggle for its people, who have spent years in the streets of the country protesting to overthrow a dictatorship, and so that their revolution is not stolen.
In October 2021, the military staged a coup in Sudan, toppling a civilian transitional government that had come to power after the fall of a dictatorial regime that had ruled for more than 30 years and was headed by Omar al-Bashir.
“They will not steal our revolution”, says the “Spiderman of Sudan”, who participated along with hundreds of thousands of people in the 2019 riots and who since last October returned to the streets to become a symbol of resistance.
Two years ago, when they were fighting to overthrow the dictator, “Spidey” lost his best friend at the hands of the repressive forces of the State, which have been accused of violating the human rights of protesters, sexually assaulting women and persecuting activists.
It was in honor of him that he decided to wear the suit. A colorful blue and red costume, with increasingly gnawed and worn eyes, that when it appears in a demonstration energizes the citizens, who receive it with praise and cheers to the real-life “superhero” who has decided to accompany his cause.
“Spidey” is one of the most active in the protests. He is usually in the front line of fire, repelling tear gas, braving water cannons, helping build makeshift barricades, and often dodging live bullets.
“The military and the counterrevolutionary parties stole the revolution from Sudan. They are like the previous government of 30 years: there is no difference between them and Bashir’s National Congress party.” Spidey says. “They are dictators and they just want control.”
His story came to light thanks to social networks, which have made him a symbol of the Sudanese resistance to the military coup, but also to a documentary recently published by The Guardian in which he talks about his motivations.
Bashir and the beginning of the revolution
The former Sudanese president came to power in 1989 as a result of a coup, following the tradition of his African neighbors. For three decades he ruled with an iron fist, in a mandate that was clearly defined by war and that has been one of the longest in history.
Sudan under Bashir was the largest country in Africa, but it faced a rebellion from the southern provinces that for years left hundreds dead, 21 years of civil war that ended in 2011 with the separation of South Sudan.
Bashir tried to end the conflict many times, first with heavy crackdowns, then with a political settlement in 2005 that sought to pacify the country. But from then on, the rebellion concentrated in the western region of Darfur and the government’s response was with unrestrained violence.
Between 2009 and 2010, two international arrest warrants were issued against him by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including genocide, murder, torture, rape, looting, attacks on civilians, and much more.
The international condemnation began to make the government unsustainable, and although both in 2010 and 2015 he won the elections again, that last victory was framed in a generalized political boycott of all the opposition forces in the country.
By December 2018, tensions in Sudan were at their peak and they ended up overflowing after the Bashir government announced increases in fuel and bread prices.
Since then, the wave of protests took over the entire country, and citizens began to raise the flags of a “revolution”.
Our hero was there, albeit without a mask, and experienced firsthand both the people’s longing for freedom, the hope of a new country, as well as the terrible repression of which they were victims and in which dozens of protesters died, including their best dude.
On April 11, 2019, Bashir’s government fell, and the president was arrested. In its place a civilian transitional government was installed and Abdallah Hamdok took over as caretaker prime minister, promising to call elections in two years, in order to give the final transition to democracy.
Coup d’état and the birth of a hero
As a child our Spiderman heard a story that left him fascinated, it was a story of a spider that protected the prophet Muhammed and his companion, spinning a web at the mouth of a cave in which he was hiding, protecting them so that passing enemies could not look in and find them.
The story resonated with Spidey as protests erupted again, after two years hoping for change, and in response to the military takeover that ousted Hamdok and put his allies to flight.
He thought that if he had been protected before, perhaps his friend would not have died, and he thought that he, as another citizen, was not only exposing himself to death, but that death could be transcendental.
“The night comes and the night goes, every day is like this”, Spidey says. “With the will of God, we still go out. To this day we continue to try to liberate the country but we are not afraid. The people of Sudan, all of them, will continue to face the security forces and their bullets.”
Since the demonstrations broke out again the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors has counted at least 95 dead, and several human rights organizations have denounced an increasing use of shotguns against the crowd by the security forces, which has increased the number of victims. In regions like Darfur, where the conflict with the government has been going on for decades, the death toll is in the hundreds, with peaks of violence like the one at the end of April, where 235 people died in just 4 days.
In the documentary, Spiderman and other activist leaders are shown during a secret meeting of a resistance committee that coordinates localized actions in the country, there he and his companions made two things clear: they were united as Sudanese in the purpose of overthrowing the coup plotters regardless of the violence used against them; and more determined support from the international community in their cause was needed.
The protests do not seem to stop and although international efforts have focused on bringing the parties to a dialogue table, the most rebellious factions of the protesters repeat the slogan of the three “no” that they have adopted during the protests: there is no legitimacy, there is no negotiation and there is no association.
Looking to the future
At a critical moment in the documentary, Spiderman receives a call from what is interpreted to be a friend or family member. He is lying on his bed, without a costume, but until that moment we have not seen the face of our hero and we do not know his name either, for security reasons.
His interlocutor questions him, tells him that what he is doing is crazy, that he is going to die, and that he must leave the Spiderman costume behind. But “Spidey” replies that he will not stop, that he feels empowered when he puts on the mask, and that he brings energy to the people in the streets, people who are demonstrating for all Sudanese and he cannot leave them alone.
That desire for a better Sudan is the main motivation behind the suit, and it’s not just manifested in his role in the protests. Our unnamed hero is a self-styled “self-taught scientist” who uses “what little” he has learned about science to teach future generations.
“Spidey” directs a program focused on children, teaching them to investigate, develop their skills and live in freedom. That is where she says, lies the future of her country, and of a new generation that she hopes will not have to live under the yoke of genocide and dictators.
Finally, we see the face of our Spiderman, a face still without a name, which could be that of any Sudanese, like the hundreds of thousands who go out daily to demonstrate throughout the country. That is the power and responsibility of symbols.
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