Social media and other tales of ordinary madness in Syria

So this week Syria Deeply and many other news outlets have reported about Eliot Higgins, a 34 years old from England. A very ordinary life, a daily job from 9 to 5, a wife, a small child. But, wait, this is the man behind the famous  Brown Moses` blogwhich, after the beginning of the Syrian uprising has turned into a source for many journalists and activists around the world.

Higgins does not speak Arabic and has never been in the Arab world or  “anywhere in the Middle East”, he says, “other than the Dubai airport”. Yet, he was able to build up a powerful list of resources, mostly YouTube channels, that document what`s happening in Syria. Starting as a “news junkie”, he has so far collected one of the biggest online libraries about the Syrian revolution and has also helped Human Rights Watch to find evidence of the use of cluster bombs in Syria. All of that, using YouTube and social media only.

Higgins says here:

“Sitting in my living room in England, it’s incredible to think that from anywhere in the world it’s possible to see the day-to-day struggles of the Syrian people and the scale of the violence they witness. What makes Syria so unusual is — despite the two years of conflict in the country, from street protests to civil war — the Internet has rarely been cut off. As a result, there has been a constant flow of information from the country through social media — with hundreds of thousands of Syrian YouTube videos, Tweets, and Facebook posts over the last two years. It’s an overwhelming amount of information, a maelstrom of data”.

This makes me think about Andy Carvin, the NPR new media specialist who has become  well known to the international and Arab crowd for having documented the Arab Spring without moving from Washington DC.

Despite I really admire folks like Andy and Eliot, I find really hard to embrace their theory of documenting something without never having been on the ground, without speaking the language, without understanding the culture. I have myself lived in Syria for years, I speak the language and know many things about the culture, but I find so hard to keep track of everything, verify all the accents in local dialects from different places in Syria, the geography, etc.

If we can document and verify things remotely, only using social media, like Andy and Eliot do, well then why spending so many years and hours and hours of hard study to understand a language, a culture?

I admire them, but remain skeptical.

And, the “sitting on your sofa and watching” thing made me think of this very sad cartoon which Syrians are widely sharing on Facebook these days…






From Syria to Boston..


On April 19th the little village of Kafranbel (also translitterated Kafr Nbel or Kafr Nbal), in Northen Syria, released this picture in solidarity with Boston hit by the marathon bombing. Since the beginning of the Syrian uprsing, Kafranbel has always been a creative hub for producing slogans, pictures and drawings strictly related to Syria and global events. Many of their colored protest posters can be found here and here.


(video from Kafranbel, 19-04-2013)


Today, this picture was widely shared on social networks. It`s a thank you message from Boston to Syria...


Bassem Youssef on Qatar

“El Bernameg” is an hilarious talk show authored by Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef, a jewel of irony and satire in the Arab media landscape.

Recently, Youssef has made headlines worldwide for being accused of “insulting the president” (Morsi) in his show, but two days ago the case was dismissed by a Cairo court.

This episode n 20 of “El Bernameg” not only documents the solidarity that Youssef has received from journalists and activists worldwide.

Actually, the most interesting part is when the comedian mocks Qatar and its intervention in Egypt`s internal affairs — well, he also mentions how the tiny Gulf state is buying France, UK, Italy, etc–.

There is also a sketch featuring Youssef and two Qatari men who are supposed to be the correspondents for a new version of  “El Bernameg”, a version that should give more prominence to the Gulf state. But eventually Youssef discovers that the two Qataris have bought the entire TV show. When Youssef asks them “what about our audience?”, the two Qataris promptly answer “How much is it?”. “How much are your eyes, Bassem?”, they add.

The most hilarious part is probably the choir mocking Qatar and its “qawmiyya al-arabiyya” (Arab nationalism).

I dont usually like to refer to Memri which is a very questionable organization but, for those who don`t understand Arabic and are curious to learn what this choir is about, here is the English translation provided by the US based research center.

Bassem Youssef`s words towards the end of the show should be kept in mind. He reminds the audience that the real problem does not lie in the one who buys, but in the one who sells. It`s Egypt who is selling everything to Qatar, Qatar only buys what is on sale. A clear accusation to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood who are currently ruling the country.