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Your Take: Leading Sudanese blogger reflects on danger and digital activism

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Amir Ahmad Nasr speaks at the 2011 Oslo Freedom Forum about Sudan's failed uprisings in 1964 and 1985. (Oslo Freedom Forum/YouTube)

Amir Ahmad Nasr, also known as Drima and @SudaneseThinker, is Khartoum-born writer, blogger and speaker. His opinions have been referenced by media outlets like The New York Times and BBC News, and his writing has appeared in Foreign Policy magazine.

Nasr has made several television appearances on Al Jazeera English -- including on AJE's social media-focused show The Stream -- and has served as a public speaker and panelist on the subject of digital activism.

He is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Philosophy and has authored a book about Islam in the digital age, which will be published next year by St. Martin's Press.

Please note that the following is not a traditional news story. It is one person's perspective on the role of social media in events unfolding in Sudan.


Friday, June 29th was easily one of the most exciting yet anxiety-inducing days for me as a Sudanese, and for my generation of politically aware countrymen and women, especially from North Sudan, and Khartoum.

It was the day before the 23rd anniversary of President Omar al-Bashir's military coup, and anti-regime protests, unprecedented in size and intensity, broke out throughout Khartoum and numerous small cities and towns all over North Sudan.

Thousands of people, including students, women, and the elderly attended the demonstrations, which were in-part coordinated by three anti-government youth groups - Girifna, SudanChange, and Sharaara (the Spark).

These groups strategically and cleverly utilized social media to spread the call to demonstrate, mainly through Facebook and Twitter.

But these advocacy efforts are not without their constraints.

Within Sudan, a limited number of Sudanese have access to platforms like Facebook due to the low Internet penetration rate. Hence, there has been more reliance on mobile phones and word of mouth to get the news out inside the nation.

However, social media has been absolutely critical in keeping the outside world informed about what has happened in the country so far.

On Twitter, continuous updates keep flowing out under the hashtag #SudanRevolts, which since June 29th has thankfully grabbed the attention of international media outlets that picked up the story and began reporting more actively.

Unfortunately since then, the protest movement has been met by an increasingly violent and effective crackdown - for now.

More than 2,000 are reportedly in detention.

Activists who've been helpful in getting stories out via social media have been arrested, badly beaten and intimidated. Many were taken from their homes in front of their distressed families.

As a result of all those heinous repressive measures, the #SudanRevolts momentum has slowed down significantly, as evidence by the smaller "Kandaka protests" on July 13.

Despite all this, there's still reason to remain optimistic.

Sudan's economic, political and social problems are real. Bashir's incompetent, dictatorial, murderous regime can deny and minimize them all it wants, but people of Sudan face worsening poverty, staggering corruption, and raging wars against innocents and groups with legitimate grievances.

These serious, tragic circumstances must be addressed, or else, popular resentment will continue mounting to unsustainable levels.

In other words, while the regime has successfully slowed down the #SudanRevolts momentum, the circumstances that gave rise to the movement still abound unaddressed.

And while fear has admittedly spread in many quarters, a spirit of stubborn resistance has become more entrenched in places like Wad Nubawi in Omdurman, which witnessed some of the fiercest demonstrations.

Moreover, with the worsening economic situation and oppression, we can expect more dissent. How big, when, and in what form remains to be seen. But at the end of the day, the status-quo is untenable.

Something has got to give. And when it does, you can bet that digital activists and citizen journalists will be there doing their best to fight Bashir's predictable media blackout efforts.

Digital activists will get busy tweeting, YouTubing, Facebooking, and writing articles to get the stories out to the world, so that protesters on the ground know the world is watching.

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