Syria, time passes…but not youth, beauty, hope

This video came out yesterday from Yarmouk, the Palestinian “camp” in Damascus, which has been bombed and put under siege by the Syrian regime forces.

You just have to watch it and, even if you don`t understand the words (its pretty meaningful title is ( الساعه عم تمشي )”Time goes by”), you will understand what it is about.

 

 

You see these guys playing piano and singing in the middle of the destruction and devastation, alone in the middle of nowhere…yet, there is life in there, plenty of life…

 

Not by chance, I had another powerful life lesson last week when I was in Jordan for the Arab Bloggers meeting #4. There were amazing people, from all across the Arab world; friends that I hadn`t been seeing for an year or more and I have to say that I really, truly enjoyed to spend quality time with them, exchange thoughts, have fun.

But the most striking, powerful thing was to meet Marcell. She came all the way from Aleppo. I guess it was a long, super stressing and difficult trip to get to Jordan. She came with a beautiful smile, tired, wearing masculine clothes. But when I saw her the day after she had her nails done and painted in red, her hair were dark, she was wearing a skirt and a necklace. She was singing and dancing, as if she were going to a party to celebrate her youth.

Marcell doesnt have an easy life in Aleppo. Her neighborhood is controlled by ISIS, she recently lost her mum who was shot “by mistake” at a checkpoint. She is Christian and she is a woman. With a group of friends, all of them activists from the peaceful resistance movement, they managed to rebuild and take care of some schools in the neighborhood.

When I look at Marcell`s eyes I see life. When I look at these guys from Yarmouk, singing with their piano outdoor in the middle of nothing, I see life and hope for Syria. And I wonder why others — international media, diplomats, the people who come at gatherings and conferences saying that “what is happening in Syria is just an international conspiracy” and “Bashar al-Asad is the only one who can guarantee a multicultural and multi-religious Syria”–  cannot or do not want to see people like Marcell or these guys from Yarmouk…

 

*But if you think that it still makes sense to talk about people like Marcell or Yarmouk`s youth, please have a look at Syria Untold, the web portal which tells about creative resistance and civil society in Syria, both in English and Arabic.

 

 

 

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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.

Wrapping up the Third Arab Bloggers meeting

I`ve just returned after a long week  of travels, the most exciting of them being the days spent in Tunis for the third Arab Bloggers meeting (#AB11).

I attended the second one in Beirut, 2009, and thought this was awesome. The atmosphere at the time was that of “something in the making”.

It was two years ago and that feeling has proved right. This crowd has been the protagonist, each of them in his/her own country, of  this phenomenal 2011. Each of these people, together with the Arab youth of each country, had proven to be able to contribute, online and offline, to the shaping of a new future of the Arab region.

Two years ago I felt there was a kind of “cultural panarabism”, a feeling of unity pervading the meeting. This time it was even stronger.

When the Palestinian bloggers and activists were denied the entry visa by the Tunisian Ministry of Interior (without giving any acceptable reason), all the other Arab participants have raised in solidarity. We have made petitions,formal statements, press-releases, got all the mainstream media to talk about this (the evidence: when, few days ago, I walked into my Monaco hotel to join the jury of the Anna Lindht award, all the people there -a totally different crowd from the Arab bloggers- pointed out: it`s a real shame that the new Tunisia prevented the Palestinians to join the #AB11 meeting!). We have had a Skype call with them to let them join the sessions and put all their pictures on empty chairs in a symbolic protest for their unjustified absence.

picture by Ibtihel Zaatouri under CC BY license

I`ve attended so many conferences where officials make statements about Palestine and Palestians, and inter-Arab solidarity. This is the first time I`ve felt people being together, despite not being physically together.

There is something this Arab youth shares, beyond rhetoric. The Arab Springs have strengthened this feeling which has been in the making during the past years thanks to physical meet-ups but of course thanks to the Internet and the social networks.

Now there are best practices shared, together with pictures, videos, links, information.

This Arab youth is truly Pan-Arab. One`s revolution is everybody else`s revolution. One`s freedom is gonna be everybody else`s freedom.

The tools are there. Again, the #AB11 is a great mix of tech training (whether it is about learning cyber security or how to live video stream from the streets) and learning from others` experiences and direct participation. Sami Ben Gharbeia, Malek Khadhraoui and Astrubaal `s reflections on Tunisian revolution and the role played by their portal Nawaat have enlightened and inspired so many people in the #AB11 crowd. Bloggers from Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, have also contributed to the debate by  bringing focusing on each of these countries and on their own direct experience in terms of citizens and activists. Pearls that you will never get on mainstream media.

But the novelty of this edition is how do we move to the next step, i.e. how do we empower people to do a better and citizen-media based cover for the upcoming elections in Tunisia and Egypt, and generally speaking how do we get people actively involved in the democratic process of rebuilding the institutions and the country itself. A very interesting panel, coordinated by Global Voices` Solana Saurus, has been held at the #AB11 on this very issue, with lots of insights coming from Tunisians, Egyptians, and Libyans,too.

For me one of the most interesting panel was the one which featured the Tunisian bloggers who are running for elections debating about their different visions of the constitutional assembly, the alliances among them or with other groups, their ideas towards mobilizing people, etc. Thanks to Jillian c.York we have great notes of the session.

The key question during the upcoming months is exactly this: how do we turn the regime change that was accomplished in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, into political and social change? and how do we turn the blogging and activism that was “in opposition” to dictatorships into a proactive force that reaches out to the ground and helps democracy to emerge?

#AB11 variety of panels and voices has given a great contribution to this debate. In two weeks Tunis will make the first move, by hosting the first democratic elections in the Region since long time. And the Tunisian bloggers and activists will play an important role in these elections which hopefully will later be a key role in the future of the country, too.

 

You can find a great coverage of the meeting on the Arab Bloggers official website, on Global Voices and on some blogs (like Jillian C. York`s).

Arab Bloggers site has also collected many interesting videos from Tunisia Live and hopefully will publish soon the sessions that have been filmed.

Ibtihel Zaatouri has a great Flickr stream of the meeting and there is also a Storify report about it.

Thanks to Sami and the Nawaat team, all the wonderful Global Voices people, Doreen and Hiba from Heinrich Boll for organizing this inspiring meeting.