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On Facebook and Twitter, spreading revolution in Syria

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Although the Syrian government has offered some concessions in recent days, including a promise to grant citizenship to stateless Kurds and end the draconian state of emergency law by April 25, protestors gathered Friday for the largest demonstrations since unrest began last month. At least 10 protesters were reportedly killed by government forces, which have been responsible for shooting more than 100 people in a bid to quell the uprising.

An online revolution

From his cramped apartment tucked into a narrow street in east Beirut, Mr. Aumran, lean with a chiseled face and intense gaze, monitors the protests closely using Facebook, Twitter, and Skype as his eyes and ears, allowing him to track developments and disseminate information.

Foreign journalists presently are banned from reporting in Syria, meaning the dozens of Facebook pages that have sprung up since the uprising began March 18 and the daily Twitter feeds from activists have become vital sources of information that provide a glimpse of conditions in the country.

“We are using Skype to communicate because the authorities often block the cellphone lines and then we tweet the information,” Aumran says. “We have to be the journalists.”

Malath Aumran is not his real name but a pseudonym he adopted when he began his activism to avoid being identified by the Syrian authorities (Malath means “shelter” in Arabic, and Aumran was the name of his younger brother). Even the profile picture he uses on his Facebook page is artificial, a composite of 32 male faces.

“It looks like everyone but it is no one,” he says.

The catalyst that drove him to pursue the potentially hazardous path of civil rights campaigning in Syria began five years ago when a female friend was victim of an “honor crime,” beaten to death by a relative for an alleged sexual misdemeanor that brought “dishonor” upon her family.

When the killer received a prison sentence of only six months, an appalled Aumran joined an illegal organization called the Syrian Women’s Observatory that campaigns against “honor crimes.” He bought a computer, went online, discovered the power of the Internet and then established with some friends a web magazine called Syria News, which included an open forum for civil rights issues.

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