On Khaled Said and his effects on Egyptian bloggers and activists..

Those days my Twitter feed is only two things: the World Cup and Khaled Said.

I prefer to focus on the latter, which is an outrageous episode in Egyptian modern state history, while its consequences on social web and human rights activism are becoming huge among Egyptian online users. Huge mobilisations happened all across the country in the past days, some of them being organised and coordinated online. I liked Mona Elthawy`s piece on Huffington Post which I would like to re-post here below.

I have to say that we recently had a similar case to Khaled in Italy. Stefano Cucchi was arrested by Italian police on 16th October 2009 because he illegally carried 20 grams on marijuana. He died in prison 6 days later, his body bearing evidence of heavy torture. Trial is still open and his family still asking for justice. Torture is something that unfortunately happening everywhere, including the alleged “First world” (Italy still supposed to fall in this category?!).

At least, as I can read from my Twitter feed and from Mona`s article,  Egyptian are very actively reacting on this even using social networks and protests are moving from electronic weblogs to the streets on the country.

Posted: June 25, 2010 10:02 AM on Huffington Post

by Mona Eltahawy

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for (i = 0; i Generation Mubarak/Generation Facebook

NEW YORK – When a young Egyptian died from what his family, activists and witnesses say was a savage police beating, many of his peers – the generation of Egyptians who have known no other leader than President Hosni Mubarak – protested and mourned in the way they know best: by going online.

Generation Mubarak is also Generation Facebook.

Two young Egyptian Facebook friends alerted me to Said’s death with a link to the page”I am Khaled Said” which was set up on June 11, five days after he died. It now has more than 225,000 fans.

Many Egyptians on Facebook changed their profile picture to one of Said alive – bright eyed, clean cut, looking barely old enough to shave despite his 28 years. Others switched to a picture of his corpse – teeth missing, lip torn, jaw broken and blood pouring from his head. His family has confirmed it is indeed his shattered body.

But Generation Facebook doesn’t just vent online. Facebook, Twitter andYouTube aren’t just for party pictures or flirting but have become slingshots aimed at a regime Generation Mubarak never imagined they could take on.

Social networking sites connect activists with ordinary people who are joining demonstrations in numbers unheard of in Egypt: a protest outside the Interior Ministry in Cairo was the largest jn living memory against police brutality.

In Alexandria, Said’s hometown, up to 8,000 Egyptians wearing black protested along the corniche; some recited verses of the Koran and Bible.

Generation Facebook moves to fill in the holes of mainstream media. Blogger and citizen journalist Mohamed Abdelfattah, recorded an on-camera interview with witnesses to Said’s death (it was picked up by an independent Egyptian daily) and filmed that Alexandria silent protest (it has gone viral).

Generation Facebook’s embrace of the social networking site has made Egypt its number one user in the Arab world and 23rd globally. Egypt has the highest number of blogs in the Arabic-speaking Middle East.

The Interior Ministry claims Said died after swallowing a pack of drugs. Activists say undercover police beat him to death after he posted an Internet video, which his family said showed police sharing the profits of a drug bust.

After the public outrage, including at his funeral in Alexandria which at least 1,000 people attended, a new autopsy was ordered but it just confirmed the ministry’s initial claim. Generation Facebook went into action: the Khaled Said Facebook page urged Egyptians to dress in black and to hold silent protests across the country.

Many Egyptians replaced their profile pictures with banners announcing the place and time of the protest they would be attending.

At anti-police brutality protests on June 12, activists held banners with a picture of Mubarak next to one of Said before and after his death. In power 29 years, Mubarak is the longest serving ruler in Egypt’s modern history. For every one of those years Egypt has been under a state of emergency that has turned it into a police state where torture is systematic and where there are an estimated 12,000 to 14,000 detained persons.

That juxtaposition of pictures of Said alive and dead chillingly brought home for Generation Mubarak what living under Emergency Law their entire lives has meant. If any thought arbitrary arrests and detention happened to others – political activists or the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood – they learned that Said was involved with neither.

If they imagined police brutality was confined to criminals or the poor, such as 13-year old Mohamed Abdel-Aziz whose battered body brought prosecutors to tears in 2007 as they examined his family’s allegations that he was beaten and electrocuted by police who arrested him for allegedly stealing four packs of tea, then Said’s shattered face was their wakeup call.

Occasionally a few officers are convicted of torture but they usually return to their jobs after cosmetic sentences. That won’t change as long as Emergency Law is in effect. A month before Khaled Said’s death it was extended for two more years.

Blogs and social networking didn’t invent courage – activists have been protesting against Mubarak for years – but have connected Egyptians and amplified their voices.

In 2007, two police officers were sentenced to three years in jail for sodomizing a bus driver with a stick. Evidence used against them included video the officers shot of the assault that blogger Wael Abbas posted to his site.

Dozens more videos exposing police brutality have gone online. There’s an anti-torture website with a hotline to report incidents. There’s another with advice on what to do if you’re tortured or beaten up by police.

Egyptians make another link – between Mubarak and successive U.S. administrations which for years have been his biggest ally and whose support has been vital for his 29-year political survival.

It’s not just U.S. administrations that have ignored Mubarak’s oppressive rule. U.S. media focus on Iranian demonstrators and online activists who deservedly garner headlines for their courage but those same media outlets largely ignore Egyptians because Mubarak is “our friend” and stands stalwartly against the kind of Muslim fundamentalists who run Iran.

“Khaled is our Neda,” Generation Facebook says, citing the young Iranian woman whose death in a post-election Tehran demonstration last year was captured by mobile phone.

If she was the everywoman whose on-camera demise shook our eyes open to the Iranian regime’s brutality, then Khaled Said’s shattered face could belong to any one of Generation Mubarak.

Follow Mona Eltahawy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/monaeltahawy

Guest blog post on Yalla Start up: “we need to produce not only to consume”

Last month my friend Habib Haddad co-founder of Yamli asked me to write a blog post on his Yalla Start up which I did with a lot of pleasure – I love the work Habib and his friends are doing and I think their way of thinking will impact a lot on Arab new generation of entrepreneurs-. For some reasons, I totally forgot to re-publish the post which I will do right now.

I think what I wrote few months ago is still very much valid, and the more I go in depth in researching issues in the Middle East, the more I find that fostering original creation is the only way for making the Arab world switching to a pro-active culture(s) that speak(s) for itself instead of being spoken by Others.

In the age of digital media, where the actual cost of content production (whether audio, video, texts, etc) has dramatically (and luckily) fallen, we cannot just complain that somebody else is “monopolizing” our image and telling our Story and stories, we have to switch to a proactive attitude.

I believe this is the right time for ideas like “Orientalism” to stop. We control the knowledge tools much better than in the past, so we have to use them in a the proper way. And when I say “we” I  mean also the Arab world, and I mean also in a way myself as a part of the Arab world, as somebody living here, speaking the language and sharing the culture(s). Few days ago a friend of mine who wanted to introduce me somebody  for my phd research told him on the phone “I want to introduce you a friend of mine, an Orientalist who`s studying Syrian drama”. His expression did struck me, since for me “orientalist” is a negative word, whereas he said that for him “had it not been for the Orientalists, much of our recent Arab history would never have been written“.

This situation can be changed and I strongly believe that digital media is the chance for Arabs to change it.

“We need to produce, not only to consume!”

Few weeks ago, I was running like a crazy from an interview to another in order to finish the first part of my field work for my PHD research about Syrian musalsalat.

An (Arab) friend of mine just looked at me as if I was totally weird and told me: “why are you doing all these crazy efforts?! You read Arabic, just translate those (pointing at few articles and couple of books dealing with drama) into English and khalas, it’s done!”.

While trying to explain him that a PHD research –generally speaking- is something quite serious in terms of getting a critical mass of sources, comparing them, quoting, elaborating, etc I just realised there was an “abyss” between us.

Few days later, I went to interview a smart guy who’s trying to collect different historical sources concerning drama and doing an “encyclopedia” type of project. When asking questions, I saw him being quite reluctant in answering.. he suddenly said: “sorry but you should pay for this”. “Pay?!” . I have to admit it was the first time in more than 10 years of research that I was hearing such an answer. “There is a value in what I do. And, if you are going to take it without giving anything back, at least you should pay”. My efforts in explaining that there is something called “quotation” in academia, something that acknowledges the original creator of a thought, were vain.

He simply concluded that, while the Western world has got “quotation”, the Arab world has only  “copy and paste”.

That “abyss” of few days before finally had a name: “copy and paste” culture, thaqafat al nskh wal lsq.  It seems that Arabs are so used to copy and paste others’ works that original creation is quickly dying in this part of the world. Creativity just disappears when there is no value attributed to cultural creation, no intention to acknowledge, no wishes to build upon somebody else’s work in order to create your own work.

The copy and paste culture is not a revenge against Western imperialism – the West which exploited and deprived the Arab world -, as somebody is nostalgically putting it.

The copy and paste culture is actually something the Arab world itself is paying a price for, by preventing original Arab thoughts to be exposed and debated, original Arab ideas to be investigated, original Arab research works to be published, etc. Cause if nobody attributes a value to a scientific article, a to a piece of information, to interviews and investigations that go into a PHD thesis, how do we expect to have an original Arab thought to be formed?

We always hear debates about the “XXI century Arab thought” etc, but where does its essence lay if not in original creation? And where this original creation can be expressed and exposed the most, if not on the Internet?

It’s precisely there, with all the digital easy access tools that new technology has provided us with, that a new Arab thought has to displayed, debated, re-elaborated, re-innovated.

When we celebrate the boom of the Internet in the Arab world, the increasing usage of social networks, etc, lots of this stuff is actually still about consumption and not creation.

  • We need to write, not only to read.
  • We need to film, not only to watch.
  • We need to produce, not only to consume.
  • We need to innovate, not only to preserve.

But, in order to create, we need to give a value to our creation. Then we need to respect this value. We need to trust. I personally see the challenge of Creative Commons organisation in the Arab world to be in this very challenge of creation, of giving a value, of facilitating trust.

Creative Commons was born in a Western world were copyright protection had become a chain, an obstacle to innovation. In the Arab world, copyright is almost unknown or disrespected, and original creation is disrespected, too, to the extent that it is totally neglected. In this context Creative Commons should be understood as a way of giving value to this neglected creation, of building trust and respect around it.

Would be this possible, the Arab world’s past and its history (like the history of its TV drama, just as an example) will finally have a value for Arabs too … the future won’t be made up of only Westerners investigating and writing this story, while Arabs just reading it.

Arab 2.0 to be featured in Rome next 13th October

Thanks to Salvo Mizzi from Telecom Italia project “Capitale digitale” we will have the pleasure to host a very special conference in Rome next 13th October 6-8pm at the nice location of Opificio Telecom, Fondazione RomaEuropa Via dei Magazzini Generali 20/A.

This meeting -the second one of the cycle “Città digitale”- is named “Oriente.com” and will feature 3 very interesting names of the emerging vibrant scene of Arab web 2.0. Have a look at their bios:

Laith Zraikat, the co-founder and chief product officer of the Arabic web portal Jeeran .

Laith started Jeeran with his friends during their college years to make it the largest online community for user-generated-content in the Arab world.

Now, with more than 10 years of experience in the online space, Laith serves as Director of Innovation, overseeing the design and development of innovative web services which propel Jeeran’s community of around 1.5 million registered users and 7 million unique visitors a month. Jeeran is now a growing family of 50 smart and dedicated individuals who thrive on the challenges they face. The Jeeran network has grown over the years and spans millions of pages of purely user-generated-content.Jeeran has also successfully launched two sister sites and is an early investor in the number one Arab comedy portal. A self taught technologist and entrepreneur, Laith has never had a job but enjoys creating jobs while pursuing his dream of building Jeeran into a major player in the global web space. Laith holds a Bachelor of Dental Surgery from the University of Jordan. Enjoys coding, design, hiking, cycling, and reading. Plans to one day fly a commercial jet and own an island.

Nadine Toukan, co-founder of Creative Jordan (Urdun Mubdi3)

Nadine produced on the multi-award winning feature film, Captain Abu Raed, and developed the capacity building division for the Royal Film Commission where she curated programs for emerging Arab filmmakers with Sundance Institute, USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, and the AM Qattan Foundation.  She curated the first corporate social responsibility forum for the mayor of Amman, and piloted the mobile film experience for the Arab Children Congress. She is currently working on the launch of a slew of Jordanian content channels for the International Emmy Award winning company Arab Telemedia Group. She is also the co-founder and tribe leader at UrdunMubdi3, and along with her partner, economist Yusuf Mansur, they are producing a multiplatform show on entrepreneurship and creative industry companies in Jordan.  She mantains a blog http://www.arabianmonkeytales.com and a very active Twitter profile @nadinetoukan.

Habib Haddad  – co-founder Yamli.com

Habib is an entrepreneur and recently co-founder of Yamli.com, a startup focused on empowering the Arabic language on the web. Today, he drives Yamli’s vision and product strategy. The World Economic Forum recognized him as a Young Global Leader in 2009, he is also part of the 2009 “Thirty under 30” list by Arabian Business. Prior to Yamli he co-founded INLET (International Network of Lebanese Entrepreneurs and Technologists), to promote entrepreneurship in the Arab world. During the July of 2006 war he founded Relief Lebanon to support relief operations. His past work experiences also include AMD and Mok3 a Boston startup out of the MIT. Habib advises several young entrepreneurs and startups from the MENA region and often speaks about early stage development and entrepreneurship. He holds a Bachelor of Computer and Communication Engineering from the American University in Beirut and a Masters in Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California.

I’m very proud to be the coordinator and the host of such a meeting and I’m looking forward to welcoming Laith, Nadine and Habib in my home town. A big thanks to Salvo and Gilda from Telecom Italia to have made this possible. It was a lot of hard work, even in terms of logistics and particularly the visa issue. I hope this meeting will help our local community to understand the Arab world better and to start thinking about it as a vibrant place, plenty of young talented people, creativity and business opportunities.

See you in Rome on 13th, inshallah🙂