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Viewpoint from Sudan – where black people are called slaves

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Ali al-Nayer

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Reem Khougli and Issam Abdulraheem faced abuse for marrying each other

In our series of Letters from African journalists, Zeinab Mohammed Salih writes about the horrific racial abuse black people experience in Sudan.

Warning: This article contains offensive language

As anti-racism protests swept through various parts of the world following African-American George Floyd’s death in police custody in the US, Sudan seemed to be in a completely different world.

There was little take-up in Sudan of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Instead many Sudanese social media users hurled racial abuse at a famous black Sudanese footballer, Issam Abdulraheem, and a light-skinned Arab make-up artist, Reem Khougli, following their marriage.

“Seriously girl, this is haram [Arabic for forbidden]… a queen marries her slave,” one man commented on Facebook after seeing a photo of the couple.

Facebook Live from honeymoon

There were dozens of similar comments – not surprising in a country where many Sudanese who see themselves as Arabs, rather than Africans, routinely use the word “slave”, and other derogatory words, to describe black people.

Sudan has always been dominated by a light-skinned, Arabic-speaking elite, while black Africans in the south and west of the country have faced discrimination and marginalisation.

It is common for newspapers to publish racial slurs, including the word “slave”.

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Universal History Archive

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Sudan was a major slave-trading area in the 19th Century

A few weeks ago, an Islamist columnist at Al-Intibaha, a daily newspaper supportive of ex-President Omar al-Bashir, who does not approve of women playing football, referred to the female football coach of the Gunners, a well-known youth team for girls, as a slave.

And almost all media outlets describe petty criminals in the capital, Khartoum, as “negros” as they are perceived to be poor and not ethnically Arab.

When I asked Abdulraheem for his reaction to the racial abuse hurled at him and his wife, he said: “I couldn’t post more pictures on my social media pages for fear of receiving more [abuse].”

Instead, the 29-year-old and his 24-year-old wife did a Facebook live during their honeymoon, saying they were in love and their race was irrelevant.

Few black faces

In another recent instance, the head of a women’s rights group, No To Women Oppression, commented on a photo showing a young black man with his white European wife by saying that the woman, in choosing her husband, may have been looking for the creature missing on the evolutionary ladder between humans and monkeys.

Following an outcry, Ihsan Fagiri announced her resignation, but No To Women Oppression refused to accept it, saying she did not mean it.

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Getty Images

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There have been some small anti-racism protests in Sudan

Racism is insidious in Sudan, historically and since independence when most senior positions have been filled by people from the north – the Arab and Nubian ethnic groups.

Almost all senior military officers are from these communities, which has also allowed them to use their influence to dominate the business sector.

Today if you go into any government department or bank in Khartoum, you will rarely see a black person in an important role.

There are no reliable statistics on the ethnic breakdown of Sudan’s population, let alone their relative wealth, but a Darfuri-based rebel group fighting for the rights of black people estimates that 60% of Khartoum residents are black.

Slave traders ‘glorified’

The racism goes back to the founding of Khartoum in 1821 as a marketplace for slaves.

By the second half of the century about two-thirds of the city’s population was enslaved.

Sudan became one of the most active slave-raiding zones in Africa, with slaves transported from the south to the north, and to Egypt, the Middle East and the Mediterranean regions.

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DEA / BIBLIOTECA AMBROSIANA

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Al-Zubair Pasha Rahma was a powerful slave trader

Slave traders are still glorified – a street in the heart of the capital is named after al-Zubair Pasha Rahma, whose 19th Century trading empire stretched to parts of what is now the Central African Republic and Chad.

Historians say he mainly captured women from the modern-day Sudanese areas of Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains, as well as South Sudan and Ethiopia’s Oromia region. He was also known for his slave army, made up of captives from South Sudan, which fought for the Ottomans.

Another street is named after Osman Digna – a slave trader and military commander, whose lucrative business was curtailed by the then-British colonial administration when it moved to outlaw slavery.

The practice was only officially abolished in 1924, but the decision faced strong resistance from the main Arab and Islamic leaders of that era, among them Abdelrahman al-Mahdi and Ali al-Mirghani, who many believe had slaves working on the vast tracts of land they owned along the Nile River.

Zeinab Mohammed Salih

BBC

The superiority complex of many Arabs lies at the heart of some of the worst conflicts in Sudan”

They wrote to the colonial administration urging them not to abolish slavery, but their request was ignored.

The two men, along with their political parties – Unionist and Umma – continued to wield enormous influence after independence, entrenching notions of Arab superiority in the new state by reserving almost all jobs for Arabs and failing to develop areas inhabited by black people.

Mahdi’s grandson, Sadiq al-Mahdi, served as prime minister from 1966 to 1967 and again from 1986 to 1989, when Mirghani’s son, Ahmed, became president in a coalition government the two men had formed.

Two Sudanese academics, Sulimen Baldo and Ushari Mahoumd, publicly alleged in 1987 that they had uncovered evidence of some northern-based Arab groups enslaving black people from the south. They say these groups were armed by Sadiq al-Mahdi’s military – and were the genesis of the Janjaweed militias, which were later accused of ethnic cleansing in Darfur.

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Getty Images

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Sadiq al-Mahdi has been on the political scene for more than 50 years

The slave-raiding allegations were denied at the time by the government of Ahmed Mirghani and Sadiq Mahdi, who remains influential in Sudanese politics and is close to the current government, which took power after the overthrow of Mr Bashir in 2019.

21st Century slave raids

The superiority complex of many members of the Arab elite lies at the heart of some of the worst conflicts to hit Sudan since independence, as black people either demand equality or their own homeland.

The southern slave raids were widely reported to have continued until the end of the civil war in 2005, which led to the mainly black African South Sudan seceding from Arabic-speaking Sudan five years later.

The women and children abducted by Arab groups to work for a “master” for free often never saw their families again, though in some cases their freedom was controversially bought by aid groups such as Christian Solidarity International.

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And since the Darfur conflict started in the early 2000s, the pro-government Arab Janjaweed militias have repeatedly been accused of arriving on horseback in black African villages, killing the men and raping the women.

Little has changed there in the last year, with reports of rapes and village burnings continuing despite the peace talks organised by the power-sharing government, which is leading the three-year transition to civilian rule.

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AFP

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Mass atrocities have been carried out in Darfur

The transitional government was formed by the military and the civilian groups that led the 2019 revolution, but it is unclear whether it is genuinely committed to tackling the structural racism within the Sudanese state.

The Sudanese Congress Party (SCP), a key member of the civilian arm of the government, says that a law has been proposed to criminalise hate speech. Under the proposal, the punishment for using racial slurs would be five years in jail, SCP spokesman Mohamed Hassan Arabi told me.

But many black people are uneasy about the military’s role in government, given it was part of Mr Bashir’s regime.

One of the few black ministers, Steven Amin Arno, quit within two months of taking office, saying in a resignation letter which appeared on social media that nobody was listening to him.

The government did not comment on his allegations, which he says proves his point.

“What happened with me shows the marginalisation and the institutional racism in the country,” he told me.

More Letters from Africa:

Follow us on Twitter @BBCAfrica, on Facebook at BBC Africa or on Instagram at bbcafrica





Source – www.bbc.co.uk

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Iran imposes 10-day restrictions amid sharp rise in COVID cases | Coronavirus pandemic News

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Tehran, Iran – Authorities in Iran have been forced to impose fresh nationwide restrictions after lack of control over travels during the Persian new year holidays last month led to an explosive rise in COVID-19 cases.

On Saturday, authorities reported 19,666 cases across the country, with the figure only second behind the highest single-day figure of 22,478 cases registered a day earlier.

Iran has reported more than two million cases since the start of the pandemic, including 64,232 deaths, 193 of those being reported in the past 24 hours.

Starting Saturday, all regions across Iran will undergo various degrees of restrictions based on how they have been classified under a colour-coded scale denoting the severity of outbreaks.

Iran’s coronavirus map looks like a sea of red as more than 250 cities, including all 32 province centres, are now classified “red”, indicating the highest level of severity.

In these regions, only essential services can continue while educational activities, dine-in at restaurants, cinemas, shopping centres, and a variety of retail vendors will have to shut down.

Travelling to those regions using personal vehicles will also be prohibited while up to 50 percent of staff will be allowed inside offices.

A curfew is in place across the country for private vehicles from 10pm to 3am.

However, a report by state television from the streets of Tehran showed traffic jams and people crammed in public transport on their way to work on Saturday.

“They say it’s closed but everything is open,” a citizen told the state TV reporter in front of a packed bus.

Fourth wave

Last week, Iran announced the country is facing a fourth wave of infections which would be the biggest so far.

The announcement came weeks after tens of millions of people were allowed to travel across the country and make in-person visits to family and friends during two-week holidays for Nowruz, the Iranian new year, that was celebrated on March 20.

On Saturday, in a televised address during a session of the national anti-coronavirus task force, President Hassan Rouhani said the main reason for the fourth wave is the large-scale entry of the COVID-19 variant first found in the United Kingdom through the country’s western borders with Iraq.

Iranian health officials now estimate that more than half of all cases reported across Iran are of the UK variant.

The president said massively increased shopping activity prior to Nowruz, in-person visits on the day of Nowruz, and weddings in the past two months were the other big reasons behind the rise. Nowruz travels “that were made without following protocols” also contributed to the numbers, he added.

Rouhani said on average only 56 percent of people are now following health guidelines.

“If more than 90 percent of people follow protocols, then we won’t have a new wave. Our healthcare workers are tired. Our society is tired,” he said.

Iran has imported more than 1.7 million doses of coronavirus vaccines from Russia, China, India, and through COVAX, a global vaccine initiative.

Three locally manufactured candidates are also undergoing human trials and five more are in the works.

But less than 1 percent of the country’s population of more than 82 million people has been vaccinated so far.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Iran unveils new centrifuges, civilian nuclear ‘achievements’ | Nuclear Energy News

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Tehran, Iran – Iran began feeding gas to cascades of new, advanced centrifuges and unveiled dozens of “achievements” to mark its national nuclear technology day in an effort to show its nuclear programme is peaceful.

President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday launched several projects across the country via video link in Tehran that was broadcast live on national television, and an exhibition of 133 technological innovations with civilian and medical uses was also unveiled.

The display comes after the opening week of negotiations in Vienna, Austria, to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers – ended on Friday on a hopeful note, and is slated to continue from Wednesday.

In Isfahan’s Natanz, where Iran’s largest nuclear facilities are located, the order was given to feed gas to 164 all-Iranian IR6 centrifuges, with 10 SWU – separative work units that indicate the amount of separation done by an enrichment process.

The IR6 was also deemed the most sustainably efficient centrifuge Iran currently deploys, which is slated to be mass-produced on an industrial level.

It was said to be able to produce 10 times more uranium hexafluoride (UF6) than IR1, Iran’s first-generation centrifuges.

“We can industrialise these machines without any reliance outside the country,” the engineer who answered Rouhani’s questions said.

Rouhani launched an exhibition of 133 technological innovations with civilian and medical uses [Iran President’s Office]

Rouhani also gave the order to begin feeding gas to test a number of 30 IR5 centrifuges and 30 IR6s centrifuges, numbers that could grow if they are successful.

Moreover, mechanical tests began on the top-of-the-line IR9 centrifuge that has a separative capacity of 50 SWU.

Also in Natanz, a unit to assemble and evaluate advanced centrifuges was launched, where the presenting engineer said more than half of all operations are currently industrialised.

The “terrorist move” to blow up parts of the nuclear facilities in Natanz last year in an attack Israel has been suspected of orchestrating did not stop the progress, the engineer said.

In Arak, the second phase of industrial production of deuterium compounds at the Arak Heavy Water Reactor Facility was launched by the president, who also oversaw the launch of a first-of-its-kind emergency unit aimed at treating radiation burns.

A series of achievements were introduced at the National Centre for Laser Science and Technology in the Alborz province, while the president next discussed advances at a national centre to research stable isotope separation.

‘Ill-placed concerns’

After the new projects were launched, the president delivered a televised address in which he once more emphasised Iran does not seek nuclear weapons, and railed against Western powers for acting based on the presumption that it did.

“These ill-placed concerns have created many problems for our people in the past 15 years,” Rouhani said, referring to multilateral sanctions imposed on Iran prior to its nuclear deal that provided sanctions relief for curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Western intelligence maintains that Iran sought to weaponise its nuclear programme, plans that it abandoned in 2003.

President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday launched several projects across the country [Iran President’s Office]

Israel still repeatedly claims Iran is after nuclear weapons despite thorough inspections of its nuclear sites by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Rouhani also harshly criticised world powers and the IAEA for their lack of assistance in developing Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme.

“We don’t owe them, they owe us,” the president said, adding they should have assisted Iran as part of commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Hours before the unveiling of Tehran’s latest nuclear advances, Reuters news agency cited a confidential IAEA report that Iran has produced a small amount of fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor, containing 20 percent enriched uranium.

The IAEA reportedly said in its report that Iran aims to produce molybdenum, which has many civilian uses, including in medical imaging.

As part of the nuclear deal, Iran’s enrichment of uranium was capped at 3.67 percent, a limit that it started gradually scaling back in 2019, one year after then-United States President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned the nuclear deal and reimposed harsh sanctions on Iran.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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10 Myanmar police killed in attack by ethnic armies: Reports | Conflict News

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Fighters from an alliance of rebel groups reportedly attack a police station in a new escalation after the military coup.

An alliance of ethnic armies in Myanmar that has opposed the general’s crackdown on anti-coup protests attacked a police station in the east on Saturday and killed at least 10 policemen, local media said.

The police station at Naungmon in Shan state was attacked early in the morning by fighters from an alliance that includes the Arakan Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, media reported.

Shan News said at least 10 policemen were killed, while the Shwe Phee Myay news outlet put the death toll at 14.

A spokesman for the military did not return calls asking for comment.

Al Jazeera’s Tony Cheng, reporting from neighbouring Thailand, noted the ethnic armies are some of the oldest in the world, having battled central government forces for decades.

“Since the coup, there has been a lot of talk about armed groups operating together but we have not actually seen it before. Today it’s claimed three acted together, joined forces, attacked this outpost manned by Myanmar police, killing a number of policemen,” said Cheng, adding the assault occurred over two hours early on Saturday.

More than 600 people have been killed by the military in the crackdown on protests against the February 1 coup, according to a monitoring group. As violence has escalated, about a dozen armed groups have condemned the coup-makers as illegitimate and pledged to stand with the protesters.

Civilian lawmakers, most of whom are in hiding after their removal, have announced plans to form a “national unity government” – with key roles for ethnic leaders – and are holding online talks about joint resistance to the generals.

Dozens of bodies

Meanwhile, reports from Myanmar say dozens of people may have been killed in a military assault on anti-coup protesters in the city of Bago. About 60 people may have died in the clashes in the city, about 60km (32 miles) northeast of Yangon, according to Radio Free Asia citing witnesses.

News site Myanmar Now cited a protest leader as saying dozens of bodies had been brought inside a pagoda compound where the military was based. Witnesses cited by both media outlets reported hours of gunfire that started early on Friday.

Protests against the February coup continued on Saturday in Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Sagaing, Myeik and many other cities.

The military crackdown has also included reports of protesters being tortured in detention and harsh sentences.

The military issued death sentences on 19 people from Yangon’s North Okkalapa township on Friday. They were charged with beating an army captain, according to Radio Free Asia.

The military coup dismissed the elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who is currently under house arrest.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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