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How this Instagram influencer is spreading awareness of the Sudan uprising

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How this Instagram influencer is spreading awareness of the Sudan uprising
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REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/August 1, 2019
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Shahd Faisal Khidir is a dual-national citizen who emigrated to the US from Sudan as a child.

She now works as a social media influencer, based in New York. Her Instagram page "@hadyouatsalaam", which addresses subjects including beauty, clothing and lifestyle, has more than 97,000 followers.

Speaking to Euronews, Shahd Khidir described how she has now "crossed lines", which has changed her role as an influencer.

Pro-democracy demonstrations in Sudan began in December last year and continued after the country’s military ousted then-president Omar al-Bashir, who had been in power for 30 years.

Dozens were killed in a military crackdown on protests in Khartoum in early June — one of Shahd’s friends was among them.

#BlueForSudan

The death of 26-year-old activist and artist Mohamed Hashim Mattar captured attention worldwide on social media. Shahd was among the thousands of social media users who paid tribute to him by changing her profile avatar to a deep blue — Mohammed’s favourite colour.

“When I got the news that my friend had been murdered, it was days later,” said Shahd. “We are in 2019 when information flows instantly. To find out days later made me very, very emotional. I could not even get in touch with his family to offer my condolences.”

“Another of my friends went into hiding. He was then captured and beaten and that really affected me,” she added.

Shahd described her immense worry that she could not get in touch with friends and family during this violent period, as Sudan continued to experience widespread internet blackouts.

'I was honestly compromising my work and everything I had been doing'

On June 6, Shahd took to her Instagram page and posted a selfie that showed her crying, with no make-up or recognisable clothing brands.

View this post on Instagram

It’s really hard being an influencer and sharing information that is “off brand” and not worthy of the “feed” but I cannot hold this in anymore. I am at my office crying because I have so many emotions in me and I feel horrible. There’s a massacre happening in my country Sudan’s and a media blackout and internet censorship for four consecutive days. There is no objective media sharing what’s going on expect for @aljazeeraenglish which had their offices shot down. My friend @mattar77 was MURDERED by the Rapid Support Forces. My best friend was in hiding on June 2 and that’s the last time I spoke to him. He was missing for 4 days and when I got in touch with him he said: “I was caught, beaten and abused and humiliated and arrested and had my phone confiscated from me. I am injured currently.” And all I could do this post this. I am sorry to all companies I am running campaigns with but my editorial calendar is currently on pause. I am willing to refund all and everything right away. Please, just send me an email. To my followers/supporters who this is too much for I am also sorry but my regularly scheduled content/reviews is also on pause. If this offends you, I am sorry. But I need to speak out and share this in a time like this. If you want to support me please share this information as widely as possible and don’t be silent. Be an ally because we need your help. And tune into my stories for more information. THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY HAS BEEN SILENT. #sudanuprising #sudanese_protest #مجزرة_القيادة_العامة #عيد_شهيد #اعتصام_رويال_كير #اعتصام_القيادة_العامه #السودان @wawa_waffles @sudanuprising.updates #sudanrevolts #sudanuprising #iamsudan #iamsudanrevolution #sudanese #freesudan

A post shared by Shahd 🇸🇩 شهد (@hadyouatsalaam) on

“I cannot hold this in anymore. I am at my office crying because I have so many emotions in me and I feel horrible.” After describing the death of Mohammed Mattar and what her friends had been through, she went on to encourage her followers to share information about Sudan “as widely as possible”.

“At that point, I was honestly compromising my work and everything I had been doing,” she told Euronews. “Activism and advocacy was not my field of influence.”

Although her post received overwhelming support and more than 700,000 positive reactions, Shahd also said she lost significant numbers of followers and explained that some brands stopped working with her, meaning she had to pause her regular publishing schedule. But for her, this was a worthwhile sacrifice.

'The thing that anyone can do is spread awareness'

Shahd was far from alone in raising awareness of the situation in Sudan. Across the world, activists, Sudanese nationals and celebrities used their social media accounts to show unity with protestors. In under a month, 50,000 posts on Instagram used the hashtag #BlueForSudan, with a further 80,000 on Twitter.

“I felt like it was my responsibility [as an influencer] because it had affected me, and it was a humanitarian crisis that needed to be shared.”

Shahd, who also has a degree in political science, continues to post regularly on her Instagram account, balancing her lifestyle uploads with those spreading news and activism around Sudan. “Beauty and lifestyle are part of my life, but so is the Sudan revolution,” she explained.

“The thing that anyone can do is spread awareness. My hope is for a true, civilian-led democracy, where citizens are able to partake and have a voice in government.”

On Thursday, the Sudanese Professional Association, an umbrella association of 17 different Sudanese trade unions, reported that protest leaders and their rebel partners had ended their differences over a power-sharing deal signed with the country's military rulers, vowing to work jointly for peace.

“International context is very important now,” said Shahd. “It's a significant time for Sudan’s political history and it's so important to continue to push for and spread awareness”.