Sudan’s cyber-war

Haitham Nouri , Saturday 27 May 2023

Social media may be an ideal way to gauge Sudanese sentiment about the conflict in the country.

Sudan s cyber-war
A Sudanese army armoured vehicle in southern Khartoum (photo: AFP)


Since the fall of former Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir in 2019, political and civilian circles in Sudan have been supporting either the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) or its opponents the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

Divisions have been present on the Sudanese political scene since at least the country’s independence in the 1950s, but they have never been as glaring as they have been during the past five weeks since fighting broke out between the SAF and the RSF.

Both parties are fighting for their existence, said Osman Mirghani, a professor of modern history in Khartoum. “The defeated party will simply cease to exist, which is why neither side approved a ceasefire during the recent talks in Jeddah.”

“This is also why there is so much political and social polarisation in Sudan, because each party is fighting for its existence.”

Twitter, a favourite social media platform for many Sudanese, has seen many users change their pictures to the emblem of Sudan: a secretary bird bearing a shield and two scrolls, with the upper one reading “Victory is ours” and the lower one “The Republic of Sudan.”

“I changed the pictures on my WhatsApp, Twitter, Spock, and Instagram accounts to the SAF emblem,” said Hatem Idriss, an IT specialist at a mobile services company in Khartoum.

“We do not accept being ruled by a militia led by a camel thief,” he added, a reference to Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, the leader of the RSF.

However, not all SAF supporters have changed their social media accounts. Yassin Ahmed has kept his profile intact on Twitter even as he expressed his support for the SAF, ending his tweets with the words “one army. The Janjaweed are ribata [bandits].”

SAF loyalists often refer to the RSF militia, whose origin lies in the Janjaweed militia made notorious by their actions in Darfur during the Al-Bashir regime, as bandits, seeing them as camel thieves, as their political opponents claim.

Al-Ahram Weekly was not able to verify this from a neutral source.

“Many people say ‘may God help the army to emerge victorious’ when I post about the SAF and its victories,” Idriss said. Ahmed could not be reached for comment.

“The war has reached its peak. The two sides cannot co-exist; one of them has to leave the political equation,” Idriss said.

Not all Sudanese support the SAF, however. Mohamed Nagati Al-Talib commented on his social media that “the RSF will be triumphant, God willing.” He often posts news of the RSF “taking control” of a neighbourhood or facility in Sudan.

“Some social media users do not state who they support directly, but instead refer to the flaws of their opponents,” Idriss said.

One user posted a video about complaints made by regular army soldiers to the effect that the military should be reformed, adding that some army personnel are “traitors” or “receive bribes.”

“Focusing on the opponent’s flaws can shake the support of some people. This is war, and it is being seen as such in Khartoum,” Mirghani said.

On the other hand, many Sudanese who support the army refer to the RSF militia by writing that they are “thieves, ignoramuses, mercenaries” and changing their name to “the Rapid Looting Forces.”

The conflict broke out in Sudan on 15 April, and it sees the SAF, established in 1925 and one of the strongest in Africa, pitched against the RSF founded by Al-Bashir in 2013 for use in Darfur and directly answerable to him.

The SAF has 250,000 soldiers in addition to reserve forces, while the RSF is composed of the Janjaweed militias who hail from rural Arab tribes. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has accused the Janjaweed of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Sudanese civil society figures such as Khaled Omar Youssef, minister of Cabinet Affairs in prime minister Abdallah Hamdok’s government, and lawyer Wagdi Saleh, of Baathist orientation and a member of the Commission for the Liquidation of the Al-Bashir regime, have announced the establishment of a Stop the War Coalition to halt the conflict in Sudan.

But “this is an entity that exists only on Twitter,” said Mirghani. “Its members do not have power, nor are they elected. They are ineffective.”

“The conflict has become a military one, and the coalition lacks political support on the ground. In addition, the majority of the Sudanese middle classes believe the coalition is siding with the RSF.”

The Western media often refers to those in Sudan who are against the SAF as “democracy supporters,” claiming it promotes tyranny. The result has been that they are sometimes seen as supporting the RSF.

“If the army is responsible for tyranny, can the RSF militia bring about a democratic transition? The answer is that this is impossible,” commented Mirghani.

A version of this article appears in print in the 25 May, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

Search Keywords:
Short link: