Mohamed Mattar was a 26-year old engineer and graduate of London’s Brunel University when he was shot by the Sudanese Rapid Support Forces (RSF) while attempting to protect two women. He was one of the estimated over 100 casualties of that day, June 3rd, when the Transitional Military Council (TMC) attempted to clear the sit-in protest in front of their headquarters.
Yet, unlike the many killed in what has come to be called the Eid Massacre, Mattar has become a symbol for the #BlueForSudan social media campaign where thousands of people have replaced their profile pictures on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to his favorite color blue, to show solidarity with the protestors demanding civilian government and draw attention to the atrocities committed by the military regime. It is one of the many social media campaigns that have moved the crisis in Sudan into an international internet spotlight despite the country’s own citizens being deprived of internet access by its military government.
Sudan is a country in transition. In December 2018, protests over bread and cash shortages evolved into protests against President Omar Al-Bashir who had been in power for thirty years. In April, Al-Bashir was arrested by the military who took control of the transition, declaring a three-month state of emergency and a two-year transition led by the military until the country could see free and democratic elections. However, this was not supported by protestors, who demanded the creation of a civilian government and continued their demonstrations, including their continued sit-in in front of military headquarters. In response, the military cracked down, bringing in the RDF, a group originating from the Janjaweed militias who were responsible for the 2011 Darfur genocide, to scatter protestors, and periodically blocking social media and internet access to prevent mass organization with these tools, throwing the country into an internet blackout.
Still, Sudan’s social media attention outside of its borders exploded. In addition to #BlueForSudan, hashtags like #SudanMassacre and #IAmSudanRevolution have trended on Twitter, condemning the TMC. Media personalities as varied as Rihanna, George Clooney, Philip DeFranco, and Hasan Minhaj have used their platform to speak out about the situation, Campaigns on GoFundMe and Facebook have started to raise money, and a Change.org petition that demands a UN inquiry has over 100,000 signatures. This is a social media firestorm, and even with the subject of the firestorm prevented from accessing the internet, it could still shape the end result of Sudan’s transition.