The 4th Arab Bloggers meeting

I`m very excited to be joining the upcoming 4th edition of the Arab bloggers meeting in Amman (20-23 January). In the past years, I attended two editions of this amazing gathering of techies and activists from the Region (and wrote about it here and here and here, and  in an academic book still to be published): one in Beirut (2009) and the other one in Tunis (2011).

The Beirut meeting was truly special: it was the first time I attended such a gathering with activists from all across the Arab world. It was exciting. There was a momentum. The Region was filled with enthusiasm, wind of change, energy, excitement for new ways in which technology could eventually have helped social movements to raise and become stronger and stronger. I was living in Damascus at the time, and I had convinced my dear friend Bassel Khartabil aka Safadi to come with me to Beirut and join the meeting. It was his first time with that crowd. Before, he would most likely have joined a geeky crowd, people mostly focused on tech stuff. We enjoyed so much being there. That meeting changed our lives.

Today, two weeks ahead of the Amman meeting, I cannot help thinking about the message that Bassel has sent us from Adra prison in Syria where he has been held for almost two years. I re-publish it here below:

“In 2009, I was honored to have my body and soul with you in Beirut. That meeting taught me a lot and charged me for the next years of civic activism and for the now, with more challenges facing activists, bloggers, and countries. I know for sure that your future is in your hands, and it will be bright since you are still meeting!

I’m honored again to have my soul with you in this meeting while my body is still locked in jail. Which doesn’t matter since we will win the future.”

The Amman meeting is gonna be challenging. We`re gonna be there, and so many of us will be missed, like Bassel, like Alaa, held again by Egyptian authorities.

This is not an easy time for activists, bloggers, human rights believers. Especially in the Arab world. Those who have easily – and too quickly – labelled the uprisings as “Arab Springs” are now changing this definition into “Arab winters”.

Yet, it is not a matter of springs and winters. It is perhaps a matter of seeing change in a broader, long-term perspective. And that`s why we`re gonna be in Amman to talk about mistakes, challenges, upcoming fights. Also for those like Bassel, who cannot be with us; yet, they believe it`s still worth trying.

“Ruwwad”, an ongoing dialogue with the community

Thanks to @fadig and @toosketch today I had the opportunity to visit Ruwwad, an NGO which is situated in a poor area of East Amman, mostly populated by Palestinians. I spent hours and hours sitting and talking with Samar, Fares, Tareq, together with Eman and Issa from the Jordan Open Source Association.

The key, simple concept they are working on is: don`t give money or education to people according to what you like and think, rather ask them what they want. And make it sustainable. Not money, but rather a mindset which helps to build up an individual, a free-thinker, maybe a self-entrepreneur. Ruwwad is the first NGO I`ve met in the Middle East who doesn`t work within a sort of “welfare” or “subsidizing” mentality. It rather establishes an ongoing contact with the community of the people living in Jebel Nathif and asks them what they would need to improve their lives. And this way they have built a secondary school, the post office, a library, a children workshop, a ceramics workshop, a computer lab, places where  an ongoing process of continuous education is happening.

I wish all the NGOs who got subsidized by Western countries would do the same. Listen to people and to their needs, instead of jumping there with a top-down approach.