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Sudanese Mainers cut off from loved ones back home as military seizes power

A man wearing a vest and baseball cap leans against a truck with his arms crossed.
Ari Snider
Maine Public
Aymen Korika outside his home in Westbrook. Korika says he's had only minimal contact with his father, who is still in Sudan, because the military has cut off most communication networks.

As a military coup unfolds in Sudan, some Sudanese immigrants in Maine said they are concerned about the safety of their loved ones, and about the future of democracy in their home country.

Some are calling for greater diplomatic intervention – while others take a measure of hope in the pro-democracy movement in Sudan.

Sudan’s military had been sharing power with a civilian government after a pro-democracy revolution two years ago.

But in late October, the military abandoned the power-sharing agreement and arrested the civilian Prime Minister, taking full control of the government.

The military has also clamped down on communication networks, which has cut off many Sudanese Mainers from friends and relatives still in the country.

"Internet has been really awful. We don’t know what’s happening, we don’t know how our families are doing," said Ekhlas Ahmed, a Sudanese refugee and peace activist who now lives Portland.

Ahmed said the coup did not come as a surprise for her, given the country’s long struggle to achieve peace and democratic rule.

A woman wearing a blue dress stands at a lectern in front of a microphone
Ari Snider
Ekhlas Ahmed speaking at a diversity celebration in Portland earlier this month. Ahmed said she wore blue to express solidarity with pro-democracy demonstrators in Sudan, who've popularized the hashtag #BlueforSudan.

Meanwhile, Westbrook resident and community leader Aymen Korika said he would like to see the U.S. and other nations use diplomatic channels to steer Sudan back into its transition toward democracy.

"Put more pressure onto this military wing of the government to hand over power to the civilian government," Korika said.

Korika said he’d also like to see the Sudanese military stay out of politics altogether, which has not been the case during much of country's post-colonial history.

"Get back to what actually [the] military does which is actually just keep the security of the country," he added.

Despite the upheaval, Ekhlas Ahmed said she takes some hope in recent pro-democracy protests that have drawn thousands of people onto the streets of Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, even in the midst of a severe military crackdown.

"So it’s a new wave of change," she said. "And I am sad that we are going backwards, but in a way it’s literally making us more hungry for peace, as Sudanese people."

Ahmed said the coup leaders may have doubted the Sudanese people’s desire for peace – and she hopes this moment will prove them wrong.