The Incredible Story Behind This Viral Image Of A 22-Year-Old Activist

An image of a young Sudanese woman protesting in the country's capital, Khartoum, began to go viral this week, bringing the world's attention to the volatile political situation in the northeast African country.
The striking photo of 22-year-old architecture student Alaa Salah, pictured on Monday standing above the crowd atop a car, pointing to the sky and dressed in white, has become a symbol of hope for many women and girls in Sudan, a country known for state repression of women's rights.
The arresting image was taken by Twitter user Lana Haroun and had been retweeted more than 18k times and garnered over 62k likes by Thursday morning.
Video clips on social media, captured in front of the heavily guarded military and intelligence services' HQ, show Salah leading chants of "revolution" to motivate the crowd. "[Salah] was trying to give everyone hope and positive energy and she did it," Haroun told the Guardian. "She was representing all Sudanese women and girls and she inspired every woman and girl at the sit-in. She was telling the story of Sudanese women ... she was perfect."
Haroun knew she had captured the zeitgeist when she saw the image on her phone, she continued: "I immediately thought: this is my revolution and we are the future."
What's motivating the protestors?
The first wave of non-violent protests against President Bashir began four months ago, on December 19, after the government trebled the price of bread. The discord has escalated and spread in recent weeks, with Salah and an increasing number of other female activists urging the president, who took power in a coup in June 1989, to stand down. Despite the almost entirely peaceful nature of the demonstrations, between 45 and 60 people have been killed by the government and hundreds arrested, some of them tortured, the BBC reports.
What role have women played in the movement?
Young women have been instrumental in calling for the president's resignation, often comprising the majority of the crowds, and as a result around 150 female activists were detained following the initial wave of protests in December. According to the international NGO Human Rights Watch, national security services make particular efforts to target women during crackdowns. They are frequently arrested by the country's "public order police" for their clothing choices or exposing their hair, and subjected to flogging, stoning and other corporal punishment for "morality crimes", including adultery. Under Bashir in 2016, some 15,000 women were reportedly sentenced to flogging.
"For many women this regime is synonymous with all types of repression," said Jehanne Henry, from Human Rights Watch. "It is not surprising that they are seeing this as an opportunity to change things that matters to them."
What does Salah make of her sudden fame?
For a start, she's happy about the global attention the picture has brought to the chaos in her country. "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 told the Guardian on Wednesday, adding that she is not motivated by politics or sectarian divisions, but by a love for Sudan.
"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." Salah's apparent ease with public speaking is a result of a lot of practising while at university, but that didn't stop her from getting a sore throat from all the chanting, she added.
After 30 years in power, Sudan's military announced Thursday it has arrested and overthrown al-Bashir. Defence minister Awad Ibn Ouf told state TV that the country had been through a period of "poor management, corruption, and an absence of justice," and that a three-month state of emergency has now been put in place the BBC reports.

More from US News