Status: In Exile
Rania Mamoun is a Sudanese human rights activist, journalist, and author. She has published two novels in Arabic – Green Flash (2006) and Son of the Sun (2013) and published this year a collection of stories Thirteen
Months a Sunrise in English– the first major translated collection by a Sudanese woman writer and winner of the 2017 PEN/Heim Translation Fund
Grants. Her stories and articles have been translated to English, French, and Persian. Mamoun has also worked as culture page editor of Al-Thaqafi magazine, a columnist for Ad-Adwaa newspaper and a presenter on the ‘Silicon Valley’ cultural program on Al Jazeera. Questioning the capacity of the Sudanese government to bring about positive change, she writes for Sudanese readers who are victims of racism and ethnic violence who she believes will be able to bring about solutions. “Writing is a reflection of my understanding and attitude towards life on the political, humanitarian, and social levels,” she said.
Mamoun identifies first and foremost as a writer. Ever since she was young, she loved reading and was inspired by many writers, both those well-known internationally and those only known locally in Sudan. For this reason, it was difficult for her to decide on one writer who had an impact on her. So she chose three: Tayib Slaih - one of Sudan’s most celebrated authors and the most well-known - along with Ibrahim Isaac, and Issa Al-Hilo had greatly inspired Mamoun. All of these writers have shaped Mamoun’s writing emotionally and intellectually, as well as her personal experiences. “It was not only writers who shaped my writing, but also my childhood and the harsh social circumstances I have been experiencing,” she explains.
However, she does not believe in the role of the artist as being separate from their current environment. She believes that writing and political activism cannot be separated from each other and proves with her actions. Mamoun considers writing a tool for her to voice political ideas, human rights abuses, and especially women’s rights. In her first novel, Green Flashlight, she called for social peace based on love, acceptance, and tolerance towards the differences of other people. She dedicated this book and hoped to inspire the Sudanese community as a whole, both those identifying as Arab or African. Other pieces by her have taken root from more personal experiences. She wrote her story “Passing” as she was experiencing a transformational point in her life; the loss of her father and his moving from life to death.
In September 2013, Mamoun was arrested during a peaceful demonstration against the rise of petrol prices. She was detained along with her brother, and she believes her political activism and disobedience were the main factors behind her arrest. Peaceful demonstrations are legal under the Sudanese constitution, but she was detained and harshly questioned. According to Mamoun, “My brother was just arrested to make it look like that I was not the only one targeted.” Although she was not directly questioned about her writing, the questions of the investigators were all related to her career as a human rights activist and writer. She was sexually harassed during the detention and interrogations. The government officials brought a police officer as a witness, wrongfully claiming she was throwing stones during the peaceful demonstration and that she had slapped a police officer.
In an oppressive, totalitarian system, women demonstrators experience different dynamics of oppression from men. During the detention, Mamoun was dragged to the ground by a group of police officers. She was beaten, humiliated, verbally assaulted, and even threatened to rape her inside and outside the police center. Mamoun noted that she was not an isolated case and that several other women activists have been threatened with sexual violence by government authorities or police in order to force them to stop demonstrating. Husbands and family members of women activists are also threatened and humiliated, which adds another layer of guilt and responsibility for many women. “They think that the more they violently assault us, the more they will break us and intimidate us,” she said. Unfortunately, one of the things most missing for women activists in Sudan are resources to overcome trauma, especially related to sexual assault. Despite the absence of such resources both nationally and regionally, Mamoun still managed to relocate for a short period of time with the help of Protect Defenders and has found support through her family and friends. She has also been supported by Al Mawred Al Thaqafy and the Arab Culture Fund (AFAC).
She has continued her activism work in Sudan despite the danger of police officers being able to arrive at her home and arrest her at any point. “There have been a lot of demonstrations recently in Wad Medani where I currently live, so the government has been targeting the people involved. For that, has been six months since I wrote anything.” Despite the success she has had in her literary career, she is sure that there is much more to be done and wants to be the reason the richness of Sudanese literature becomes more well known. “I aspire to be one of the Sudanese writers who will excel on the international level not just on the local level.”
- Son of Sun, 2013
- Green Flashlight, 2006
- Thirteen Months a Sunrise, 2009
- Leaning on the Wall of Sun, 2009
- The Grant of the Cultural Resource in 2010.
- The Grant of the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture in Jordan 2009.
- The Grant of the Cultural Resource in 2009 – the publication of her book: Thirteen Months A Sunrise.
By Baha’ Ebdeir, May 2019. Baha’ is a Human Rights major with a minor in Society and English Literature at Al-Quds Bard College in Palestine and studied abroad with the Bard Globalization and International Affairs Program in New York. He has a passion for exploring the intersection of literature and human rights as two fields that give power to one another.