Sudan Shut Down the Internet for a Day. What Was That All About?

How It Works
Sept. 26 2013 11:28 AM

Dictatorship 101: Don’t Shut Off the Internet for a Day

A picture taken on September 26, 2013 shows burnt vehicles in a street of the Sudanese capital Khartoum after rioting erupted following a decision of the government to scrap fuel subsidies.

Photo by -/AFP/Getty Images

The Internet monitoring firm Renesys reports that Sudan’s Internet is back up after a 24-hour complete blackout:


According to the firm’s analysis, the fact that different service providers in the country came down at different times “implies that this event was not caused by a single catastrophic technical failure, but strongly suggests a coordinated action to remove Sudan from the Internet.” Add to that, the fact that the outage occurred during the country’s worst protests in about two years, in which at least 24 have been killed.


This move by the Sudanese government doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The track record of dictators shutting down the Internet completely in response to mass protests—Hosni Mubarak in January, 2011, Muammar al-Qaddafi in March, 2011—doesn’t suggest it’s all that effective a way to crush protests. And it’s hard to see what shutting it down for just one day, amid protests that don't seem to be abating, accomplishes other than attracting more international attention to the protests. Sudan political news doesn’t generally garner much attention abroad. Internet stories do.

This is also surprising given that Omar al-Bashir’s government has actually been pretty savvy in its handling of online dissent in the past. The government has reportedly used fake Facebook pages to spread misinformation and collect information on activists as well as encouraging supporters to counter opposition groups online. This week’s approach seems comparatively crude.

Add this to Bashir’s predictably futile and ultimately abandoned attempt to obtain a visa to visit the U.N. General Assembly in defiance of an International Criminal Court indictment, and this doesn’t really look like a regime in full control of the situation. 

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 



Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.


Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
Sept. 29 2014 11:45 PM The Self-Made Man The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
Dear Prudence
Sept. 30 2014 6:00 AM Drive-By Bounty Prudie advises a woman whose boyfriend demands she flash truckers on the highway.
  Double X
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath The Methane Lakes of Titan?
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.