- cyberspace - Facebook - Internet - Popular revolt - Syria
Exiled cyber-activist refuses to be silenced
A 28-year-old cyber activist who has spent much of the last three years concealing his identity from Syrian security has suddenly become one of the unofficial spokesmen of the revolution against President Bashar Al-Assad.
Holed up in his apartment in Beirut, Malath Aumran has been gathering the words and images coming out of the Syrian revolution and sharing them with the world. With over 3,000 friends on the online social network Facebook and almost 4,000 followers on Twitter, Aumran is described as one of his country’s most wanted cyber activists.
The communicative power of the Internet has allowed Aumran to enrage and inspire countless people in and out of Syria to press on for political change in the authoritarian state. That power also forced him into exile, even before the wave of anti-government protests which erupted in March and which human rights groups say have resulted in the deaths of 400 people.
Malath Aumran is a pseudonym that Rami Nakhle, 28, has used over the last three years to organise campaigns against what he saw as cronyism and injustice. After dozens of interviews with Syrian police last year, Nakhle knew his arrest was imminent and fled his home in January 2011.
Now in Lebanon, Nakhle checks up on his family everyday. He has continued his activism as “Malath Aumran” and has become one of the most prominent voices of the Syrian revolution.
His work has not gone unnoticed by Syrian authorities and, in an ironic twist, his real identity was discovered by President Al-Bashar recently. “I think my voice was recognised in an interview,” he said.
Syrian security forces used Facebook this month to inform Nakhle that they know his real name and his whereabouts. They warned him that the “tiger of Syria” could easily reach him in Lebanon.
The real Aumran
His cover blown, Nakhle has undergone a new transformation to become an unofficial spokesmen of the Syrian revolution. In the last two weeks, and in apparent disregard for his personal safety, he has given full-access interviews to The Guardian, Al Jazeera, BBC, and the New York Times, among others.
In stark contrast to his earlier inconspicuousness, Nakhle’s name has been repeated often and his face figures prominently in photos and video on the web.
International journalists have taken a particular interest in Nakhle and his work. The Syrian government has successfully restricted international coverage of the uprising on the ground and is overseeing a media blackout. Facebook accounts like Nakhle’s are virtually the only way to find out about protests and the government’s deadly backlash against them.
Despite his newfound public image, Nakhle has no plans to drop the Malath Aumran pseudonym. “I have been using this pseudonym for three years. Nobody knows Rami Nakhle. They are following [Malath Aumran]. They are friends with this person. I would not just freeze this account and move to my real account. It doesn’t mean anything,” he explained.
Addicted to freedom
Through Twitter and Facebook, and now the international media, Nakhle is pushing on with his campaign against the government. The regime’s recently announced reforms, such as lifting emergency rule after 48 years, are empty, Nahkle said: “We know the secret police is above any law in Syria. If nothing changes with secret police, nothing will change in Syria."
Nakhle’s long hours in front of a computer are fueled by a deep sense of injustice, but also by the satisfaction that comes from doing something extraordinary. “When I saw people on the ground, chanting to topple this regime, I thought okay, we are really changing history,” Nakhle excitedly confessed, even while expressing regret that he cannot join street protests. “We are writing the new history of Syria… I am doing my best as a member of this movement.”
The cyber activist said he knows that it’s “a long, long battle to get real democracy,” and that even if the once seemingly invincible government of Al-Bashar is toppled, the work of rebuilding his country will have only started. “I got addicted to fighting for freedom,” Nahkle says, and sees nothing better to do in the foreseeable future.
Pressed to answer what he would like to do with his life if democracy and peace take hold in Syria, he offers a long, silent pause. “In a perfect world I would google ‘RV motor homes’. If I am not an activist, I would get myself an RV and go all over the world,” he finally said.