Stranded: Egyptian travel blogger trapped in Sudan conflict

A young blogger has been stuck in Sudan since the outbreak of deadly fighting between the army and RSF shut down Khartoum’s airport.

Sudan Egyptian blogger
Egyptian travel blogger, Ahmed El-Badawy, has been stuck in Khartoum since fighting between the army and RSF paramilitary broke out on April 15, 2023 [Courtesy of Ahmed El-Badawy/Al Jazeera]

When Ahmed El-Badawy woke up to the sound of gunfire and heavy artillery in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, the Egyptian travel content creator did not think he would soon be stranded in a flat with little food or water and unable to leave.

It was around 9am on April 15 when the first shots were fired and plumes of dark smoke began rising over the city. Fighting had broken out between the Sudanese army and the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

A few days earlier, locals had told him about tensions between the rival forces in the northern city of Merowe, but everyone brushed it off as mundane in a country used to tension since the outbreak of popular protests in 2019 forced an end to former President Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year rule.

Merowe was El-Badawy’s intended destination that Saturday. The 23-year-old had planned to head for the UNESCO world heritage site and its Nubian pyramids about 420km (260 miles) to the north. Sudan is home to 200 of the stunning structures, which mark the capital of the ancient Kushite kingdom.

Unexpected travel content

El-Badawy, who arrived in Khartoum a week before the outbreak, is now trapped as flights have been halted from Khartoum’s airport, nowa warzone where several aircraft have been destroyed.

The violence has killed at least 413 people and wounded more than 3,550, according to the World Health Organization. The Sudanese Doctors Union says 70 percent of hospitals in Sudan are out of service.

Plumes of smoke rise in the distance as Ahmed El-Badawy follows developments from the rooftop where he is staying during the fighting [Courtesy of Ahmed El-Badawy/Al Jazeera]

Multiple ceasefires have failed to take effect, and the warring generals – the army’s Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the RSF’s Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, widely known as Hemedti – have rejected negotiations.

Despite the uncertainty and fear, El-Badawy continued to post some updates for his followers and says he would not have changed a thing about his travel to Sudan which, like his homeland, straddles the Nile River.

“Even if I’d known … I would’ve come and stayed. It’s always been a dream of mine to document people’s daily lives, even if in conflict,” he told Al Jazeera.

Sudanese men break their Ramadan fast together on the streets of Khartoum [Courtesy of Ahmed El-Badawy/Al Jazeera]

A special country

El-Badawy chose Sudan as his 60th destination. “I wanted it to be a special one, so I chose Sudan,” he said by phone from Khartoum.

“How could I have been to so many places, I thought, and not have visited the one right on our [Egypt’s] doorstep? We share a border, history and culture, and yet I knew very little about Sudan,” he said.

El-Badawy, who has hundreds of thousands of followers on YouTube and Instagram, takes pride in showcasing daily life and the people of each country, especially in the Arab world, a region that global media covers mostly in terms of war and conflict rather than its people, rich history and diverse cultures.

“People have so many misconceptions about other countries, and that’s what I’m out to change,” he said.

El-Badawy was planning to travel across Sudan to Eritrea by the end of April and spent his first week visiting “every part of Khartoum” – like the 200-year-old Souq Omdurman in Khartoum’s twin city – filming along the banks of the Nile, and sampling Sudanese cuisine.

Sudan Egypt blogger
El-Badawy chose Sudan as his 60th destination [Courtesy of Ahmed El-Badawy/Al Jazeera]

“I fell in love with kisra,” he said of the Sudanese flatbread made of fermented sorghum flour that is eaten with a variety of stews.

“Sudanese are extremely generous,” he said. “I’ve tried so many traditional dishes,” he added, describing a Sudanese Ramadan tradition where people block roads with their cars just before sunset to force passers-by to break their fasts with them.

“[T]he highlight of my time here has been the people. It’s always the people,” El-Badawy said.

“Despite the tough economic crisis and ongoing instability, everyone’s been nothing but kind and welcoming,” El-Badawy said, explaining that he has received at least 500 messages on his Instagram account from locals offering to help since the fighting broke out.

Sudan’s economy has been mired in a crisis that led to al-Bashir’s overthrow and has continued since, leading to rising inflation, a sharp devaluation of the currency, and growing poverty and unemployment.

Sudan blogger
Bare supermarket shelves in Khartoum after more than a week of fighting [Courtesy of Ahmed El-Badawy/Al Jazeera]

Waiting it out

Like most people caught up in the fighting, El-Badawy has spent the past week mostly cooped up to avoid the violence.

After two days in rented accommodation, he moved to a family friend’s flat in a safer part of the city that, unlike other areas, still had electricity and running water.

“We’ve just stayed indoors, only venturing out to get some groceries and water from the supermarket,” El-Badawy said.

He explained that finding staples like bread, water and canned food has become harder as shop shelves are stripped and prices surge.

“Sudan, which was already surprisingly expensive, is becoming more and more unaffordable,” he said. “I really feel for the people.”

El-Badawy, who is also a French national, has been in touch with the French and Egyptian embassies in Khartoum. Both advised him to stay home until further notice, as did his family.

El-Badawy has been through other troubles on his travels. He was in Palestine when Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed by Israeli forces while reporting on an Israeli raid in Jenin in May last year.

He joined the Palestinian pallbearers who were attacked by Israeli police as they carried Abu Akleh’s coffin in a funeral procession.

He has also been near an air raid over Aleppo when he visited Syria last year and spent a night in an Iraqi military base to avoid being kidnapped by ISIL (ISIS) when he hitchhiked from Baghdad to Jerusalem.

Although the conflict in Sudan has been intensifying, El-Badawy says he is not afraid.

“I just feel sorry for the Sudanese people for going through this,” he said. “But whatever happens, I’m happy to be amongst them.”

‘Time to leave’

A week into the fighting, El-Badawy still held onto hope that the situation might calm down and he would be able to resume his travel.

But by Saturday evening, a lot had changed. Internet and electricity in his area had gone out, leaving it in complete darkness as heavy artillery boomed.

Sudan conflict
Ahmed El-Badawy with Sudanese men he met during his travels around Khartoum [Courtesy of Ahmed El-Badawy/Al Jazeera]

When El-Badawy and his friends went for a short car ride, he said, they were shot at by RSF forces and stopped and searched by the paramilitary group at three checkpoints across Khartoum.

“The RSF seems to be in control of half of Khartoum,” El-Badawy said. “It’s getting dangerous. I worry the situation will develop into a street war.”

Although the French and Egyptian embassies have not been in touch, El-Badawy plans to take one of the buses leaving Khartoum and head north to Egypt. He says the private companies running the buses have increased the price of tickets up to tenfold.

“I came here from Aswan [in southern Egypt] on one of these buses for $15. Now the tickets are selling for $70 to $150 each,” he said.

“I didn’t want to leave Sudan,” he said. “But unfortunately, it’s time to go.”

Sudan Egypt blogger
El-Badawy spent six days visiting Khartoum and its twin cities of Omdurman and Bahari before fighting broke out on April 15, 2023 [Courtesy of Ahmed El-Badawy/Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera