Center for Migration and Refugee Studies

Author's Department

Center for Migration and Refugee Studies

Document Type

Research Article

Publication Title

Sudanese Refugee Protest in Cairo: Community Dynamics and Broader Implications

Publication Date



In the autumn of 2005, Sudanese refugees staged a protest of UNHCR in Cairo. Demonstration organizers were young, single men who confronted tasks of maintaining control and discipline and negotiating with an international agency. Their attainment of community authority would have been improbable in Sudan. Why did people listen to them, and why were they allowed to represent so many others? This paper evaluates the demonstration leadership in terms of preservation of masculine identity and status attainment. Their roles in the demonstration can be viewed as masculine “performance.” These considerations are developed through an examination of how leaders exercised authority, presented themselves to UNHCR, media representatives, and the public. In this event, identities were being transformed. Not only were gender identities being forged, but refugee identity was simultaneously affirmed and “de-stigmatized.” Traditional Sudanese tribal distinctions and cultural identities were also subsumed in collective identifications as refugees and protestors. The demonstration became a self-governed community for refugees and challenges us to reconsider the possibilities for refugees to regain a measure of agency in their lives. The connections made in this paper should not be taken as causative but as an exploration of the possible impact of gender performance and identity transformation upon events.

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