The internet helped to speed up things. But the revolution would have taken place without it.
Hossam al-Hamalawy, an Egyptian blogger at 3arabawy.
Memeburn reports that 200 bloggers from the Middle East and North Africa are gathering in Tunis to discuss the role online activism and social media has in political change.
According to event organiser and administrator of Tunisian site Nawaat, Malek Khadroui, the bloggers will focus on the role of cyberactivists in a period of political transition.
“It is an exceptional meeting. There have been three Arab revolutions and the majority of the invited bloggers have been involved in these revolutions, which will allow them to meet and develop solidarity networks,” he said.
We will reflect together on new challenges facing movements in countries like Syria, Bahrain, Yemen,” Khadraoui added, underlining the symbolism of holding the meeting in Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring.
One topic which the bloggers will focus on is their continuing role in political life. This is particularly relevant to seven of the Tunisian bloggers who are candidates in the upcoming constituent assembly elections.
The focus on technology in the international media may also misrepresent the character of liberation movements — hiding, for example, the important role played by women in the Arab Spring…
…While social media undoubtedly shaped the unfolding of liberation struggles in the Middle East and North Africa, to say that these were Facebook or Twitter revolutions is misleading. The focus on technical aspects of the Arab Spring marginalizes and minimizes the role of traditional organizing and downplays the risks and commitments made by ordinary people who put themselves, embodied and in real time, on the line for freedom.
The most troubling aspect of the myopic focus on “Liberation Technology” is the suggestion that if you add internet, you can produce instant revolution.
While the prominence of women in the revolutions has been moving, there is a psychology behind celebrating and glorifying women’s political activity when it is part of a popular push. In these times women are almost tokenised by men as the ultimate downtrodden victims, the sign that things are desperate, that even members of the fairer sex are leaving their hearths and taking to the streets. The perception isn’t that women are fighting for their own rights, but merely that they are underwriting the revolution by bringing their matronly dignity to the crowd like some mascot.
But Facebook, which celebrates its seventh birthday Friday and has more than a half-billion users worldwide, is not eagerly embracing its role as the insurrectionists’ instrument of choice. Its strategy contrasts with rivals Google and Twitter, which actively helped opposition leaders communicate after the Egyptian government shut down Internet access.
The Silicon Valley giant, whether it likes it or not, has been thrust like never before into a sensitive global political moment that pits the company’s need for an open Internet against concerns that autocratic regimes could limit use of the site or shut it down altogether.
The news that the Egypt has revoked Al Jazeera’s license to broadcast has rippled across the world, further demonstrating the desperation of a government under siege.
The Doha, Qatar-based network, which operates semi-autonomously from its funders, the Qatari royal family, has emerged as perhaps the strongest voice in the uprising, save that ofthe Egyptian people. The government’s move today to censor Al Jazeera is nothing if not a recognition of their position of strength, and the government’s inability outflank or outmaneuver journalists.
The story of how a satellite cable network became a feared opponent of an oppressive regime says a lot about our times, but it was by no means an accident.
[P]art of the puzzle is obviously that Al-Jazeera has its base of operation in the region. But the fact that so many people seek out Al-Jazeera’s English-language online feed also has to do with the unique history of the network. Al Jazeera intended to make significant inroads in the U.S. news market when it launched in late 2006. It hired a number of high-profile reporters and anchors, including David Frost and the former U.S. Marine Josh Rushing.
However, the news network couldn’t gain a foothold in the U.S. cable market. Comcast, Time Warner and Cablevision all declined to carry the channel.
Hurt feelings and pressure from the Bush administration may have been to blame, writes GigaOm’s Janko Roettgers. However, an organization as scrappy, and well-funded as Al Jazeera would not be held back.
Without access to the majority of TV households, Al-Jazeera turned to the next best thing: the Internet. I did an interview with Russell Merryman in 2007, when he was working as the editor-in-chief of web and new media at Al-Jazeera English. Merryman told me a big part of embracing new media was an attempt to win over the hearts and minds of Americans, and he quoted from a review that called Al-Jazeera “the best cable news channel Americans can’t watch” as an early proof of success for that strategy.
Al-Jazeera embraced YouTube early on for daily news clips, and soon after, opened a 24/7 live feed on Livestation. The network also more recently embraced Creative Commons licenses for some of its raw footage, and Nanabhay said it will make some of Friday’s footage from Cairo available under a Creative Commons license.
In addition to a prevalent anti-American, anti-Israel bias in the network’s news reports—which may not come as a surprise to many—Robert Worth and David Kirkpatrick of The New York Times recently wrote that Al Jazeera has seen its role transform from broadcaster to instigator during the winter of discontent.
Yet Al Jazeera’s opaque loyalties and motives are as closely scrutinized as its reporting. It is accused of tailoring its coverage to support Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza against their Lebanese and Palestinian rivals. Its reporter in Tunisia became a leading partisan in the uprising there. And critics speculate that the network bowed to the diplomatic interests of the Qatari emir, its patron, by initially playing down the protests in Egypt.
Al Jazeera was at first thought to be dragging its feet to cover the swelling tide of anger that flooded the streets of Egypt’s cities beginning on January 25. However, when it did again train its cameras on the Egyptian protesters, it did so with the typical aplomb.
Setting aside political leanings, Al Jazeera’s coverage of the contagious rebellion that has swept through the Maghreb, has been aggressive, courageous and compelling, setting a high bar for other media outlets. Furthermore, the decision to release some of its Egypt footage with a Creative Commons license is almost certain to make Al Jazeera the outlet of record for this seminal event.
How important is it that Egypt has censored Al Jazeera and restricted Internet and SMS access to to stanch the flow of information? It has been variously noted that people who are bored or restless will naturally congregate in the streets, adding bodies to the jittery mass of protestors.
Maybe keeping the lines open is a better option, since what is happening on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and elsewhere in Egypt is no secret.
With streets empty of law enforcement in many Egyptian cities, and with the Army playing the role of passive observers, it seems that the day belongs to Al Jazeera, as much as the Egyptian people, even as a last effort is made to silence both.