Social media has played a key role in Sudan’s youth-led revolution, from December 2018, at the start of protests against Omar al-Bashir, who was toppled by the military on April 11, 2019, to last week, when the army and civilian groups agreed on a transitional government.
In recent months, social media was used as a practical tool, to mobilise and organise protests on the ground.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
As protests grew, news spread on social platforms across the digital world, amplifying to the international community the demand for a civilian-led government.
And importantly, these platforms were used to document footage of the brutal government crackdown against peaceful protesters, according to activists and protest leaders.
“This is the first time I’ve seen a revolution truly led by the youth,” said Omer Hadra, a 90-year-old protester who has witnessed the past two uprisings in Sudan.
Each phase of the latest movement was accompanied by a social media campaign, from #SudanUprising to #KeepEyesOnSudan.
US-based Sudan researcher and analyst Eric Reeves said social media sets the current uprising apart from events in 2013.
“It’s a night and day difference,” he told Al Jazeera.
“The power of images and video footage [shared on social media] has been important to giving a reality to what is happening to the people of the uprising.”
Since demonstrations began late last year, the most common chant was “tasgut bas”, in Arabic, which translates to “just fall”, calling for the removal of Omar al-Bashir‘s decades-old leadership.
The chant made its way from the streets to social media, becoming the leading hashtag of the protest movement.
“Without the #TasgutBas ‘just fall’ hashtag, our revolution and our message wouldn’t have reached the world,” Althuraya Saad, a protester in the capital Khartoum, told Al Jazeera by phone.
— ود البيه (@khalidalbaih) February 25, 2019
For several months, protests across the country were met with live ammunition and tear gas from government forces.
On April 6, thousands of protesters made their way to the military headquarters in Khartoum, where they staged a sit-in.
Less than a week later, on April 11, the military overthrew al-Bashir and a transitional military council (TMC) assumed power.
Protesters remained at the headquarters and continued their call for a civilian-led government, saying that while al-Bashir may have been removed, his “regime” was still in place.
The sit-in lasted for two months, until it was violently dispersed by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group, led by TMC deputy head Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
The sit-in served as a hub for people from all regions of Sudan to come together.
Videos showcasing the scene of the sit-in site were shared under #SudanUprising, allowing the diaspora to witness the movement.
“Seeing the pictures and videos of people so united during the sit-in was impressive and made me love Sudan that much more,” said Aimen Bedawi, a Sudanese national living in Qatar says.
Journalists, activists and human rights groups followed #SudanUprising, receiving updates in English and the UN and Amnesty, among other the international organisations, condemned attacks on the protesters.
Following what has been described as the “June 3rd massacre”, the TMC shut off the internet, ultimately isolating the country.
“Because of the success and the growing concentration of power behind certain phrases and hashtags – the regime decided it couldn’t afford to allow for free exchange of information,” Reeves told Al Jazeera.
One of the leading protest groups, the Sudanese Professional Association (SPA), described the blackout as an attempt to bury the truth.
The #IAmTheSudanRevolution solidarity hashtag soon emerged, used by the diaspora to raise awareness about the atrocities taking place in their homeland.
Personal stories were shared across different platforms to humanise the revolutionaries.
As the blackout continued, further information about the June 3 attack emerged.
The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors (CCSD) said more than 100 people were killed – among them was 26-year-old engineer Mohamed Mattar.
We shouldn’t stop talking about Sudan because:
1. Civilian government is not met
2. Streets arent safe & neither are hospitals or homes
People are still getting attacked, killed and raped by the RSF
3. Internet cut for 19 days #SudanUprising #BlueForSudan #IAmTheSudanRevolution
— walaa (@urbaaee) June 23, 2019
Following his death, Mattar’s family and friends changed their profile pictures to blue, his favourite colour.
#BlueForSudan quickly turned into a global movement to honour and stand in solidarity with all of the victims.
American singer and actress Rihanna and Nigerian singer Davido, were among dozens of celebrities and high-profile artists who used their platforms to shed light on the crisis, further driving the momentum online.
Military rulers need to be held accountable. Praying for no more killings or abuse today.
— Rihanna (@rihanna) June 30, 2019
International music star Wyclef Jean released “Nubian Queen”, a song to express his support.
From early on, US Senator Cory Booker, who plans to contest the US presidential election next year, offered support to the protesters and condemned the violence in Sudan.
Reeves said Sudan’s story spread across the world in part because accounts with huge followings took notice.
In turn, non-Sudanese supporters took it upon themselves to take action.
“The first time I heard about what was going on in Sudan was on social media. I feel the movement wasn’t covered until it reached social media,” Kara Cotto, a 23-year-old American who works as a digital asset coordinator, told Al Jazeera.
“The social media movement allowed me to learn about little things that I could do like changing my profile picture to blue in solidarity, sharing different funds that people can donate to, it just compelled me to learn more about it.”
When the internet was restored on July 9, people outside of Sudan wanted to know what had happened during the blackout.
Social media was then flooded with more images and videos of the violence on June 3 and in the following weeks.
On July 17, Sudan’s opposition and military signed a power-sharing political agreement.
But the reaction was mixed – as one Dubai-based Twitter user said, he was: “happy to be moving forward but cautiously optimistic.”
In a recent effort to continue the conversation, Media for Justice in Sudan (MJS), a collective of Sudanese individuals seeking accountability for victims, launched the hashtag #KeepEyesOnSudan.
“Not only is the revolution not over yet but anything can still happen just like the June 3rd massacre happened right around the time of a supposed imminent agreement,” said Ebba Elmelik, MSJ executive director.
A constitutional declaration was signed on August 4 by both sides paving the way for a transitional government. This will set in place an interim leadership that will govern the country for the next three years until elections are held.
Sudan now appears to have embarked on the path to democracy that protesters demanded.
“The transitional phase to democracy in Sudan is a critical and fragile phase and if we don’t continue to emphasise our rights and demands, we might very well lose them,” said MSJ programme director Sara Sinada.
As Sudanese continue to fight for a civilian-led government, social media will continue to be essential in their calls.
#KeepEyesOnSudan 👀 is an important campaign to monitor the progress in #Sudan for the next 18 months. It’s our duty to continue monitoring to ensure a true transition to a civilian led government. It’s our duty to make sure that justice & accountability are achieved. Join now ✌🏽 pic.twitter.com/KLnolL56gg
— Saragalilo (@Sarajalilo) July 8, 2019