My farewell to Creative Commons Arab world…

Thank you, Donatella Della Ratta

Jessica Coates, February 18th, 2014

Donatella Della Ratta
Donatella Della Ratta / Joi Ito / CC BY

Creative Commons extends its deepest gratitude to Donatella Della Ratta. For almost six years, she’s been working as a tireless advocate for Creative Commons and open culture in the Arab world, increasing the knowledge and adoption of CC, conducting outreach to creative communities, and connecting activists throughout the region. Dona has done all of this with grace and tenacity in the midst of an oftentimes unpredictable and sometimes unstable political and social environment in much of the Arab world. We thank you, Dona.

Even though Dona is leaving her position as regional coordinator for the Arab world, Creative Commons will continue to support this incredibly important region. We are in the process of bringing on two new part-time regional coordinators, as we’ve done with other geographic areas. Below is a note from Donatella.


On my way back from Amman, where the fourth Arab Bloggers meeting was held this year, I was thinking that it all started here. Back to early 2008, I was lucky enough to breathe an atmosphere of excitement and change that pervaded the Arab region, and encouraged the Arab youth to gather and discuss ideas, projects, new challenges. Technology played a key role in these gatherings: at the time, open communities such as Linux, Wikipedia, Mozilla, and the like, were being formed and getting together. We started the Creative Commons Arab world community during that wave of change, connecting with the other Arab communities which were using technology to create content together, promote social change, defend freedom of choice – and of expression.

We launched the first archive of CC-licensed broadcast footage with Al Jazeera, at a time when the lack of foreign journalists on the ground in Gaza during the Israeli attack had made information a very precious and scarce resource. Since 2008, many things happened in the Arab region. The Creative Commons Arab community has grown exponentially, and many countries have joined: together with Jordan and Egypt, where we had already official affiliates prior to 2008, informal communities started to gather in Lebanon, Syria, Qatar, UAE, Palestine, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, Oman, and Mauritania. The latest addition has been Yemen, where few months ago the first training workshop on CC and open licensing was held in Sana`a.

During these years, we have held CC Salons everywhere in the region, from Doha to Casablanca; we have hosted CC Iftars in a number of Arab capitals, from Damascus to Amman. CC Arab communities have gathered in regional meetings four times (2009 Doha; 2010 Doha; 2011 Tunis: 2012 Cairo). We have hosted CC training sessions, panels and hands-on workshops in many regional, tech and community related events. In 2011, we started the first Pan Arab peer-produced and CC-licensed music project, “It will be wonderful”, which is still traveling around the world and being remixed. We produced the first collaborative, open-licensed comics fanzine between Egyptian and Moroccan artists. And many other exciting projects are in the pipeline: books, videos, music, and training toolkits, in Arabic and free to share.

Meanwhile, the Arab uprisings have happened, and this was probably the biggest change that the region witnessed in decades. Today the Arab world lives in difficult conditions: after the first wave of excitement for the toppling of many authoritarian regimes in the region, the civil movement for change has now to face tough challenges. Activists are being jailed and tortured, and creativity and cooperation are being repressed in an atmosphere of dire restoration. One of the most prominent member of the CC Arab world community, Bassel Khartabil aka Safadi, has been imprisoned by the Syrian government for two years without charges, probably being guilty of having dreamt a more free and open society for himself and his peers. Yet, against all odds, the Creative Commons Arab world, together with many other youth-led movements and communities in the region, is still producing content, sharing and building on other people`s ideas, and working for a better, more open society.

After five years spent as Arab world regional coordinator, I am proud to have helped this community to come together, and humbled by the strength and energy of this youth. While I am leaving my official role at Creative Commons, I will always be involved with the amazing Arab community and work together to push forward new ideas and exciting projects, despite all the problems we have to face in the region. And we will be waiting for our friend Bassel Safadi to join us in new, upcoming challenges.

Back to (online) life

Yes, it has been a while since I last updated this blog, which is really a shame and I do apologize with my readers and with those who kept sending me emails asking questions, demanding advice, references.. However, those who follow my Twitter feed @donatelladr know that I am still pretty active (maybe too active!) in microblogging, especially when it comes to updates on Syria.

It has been a challenging period for me, on a personal and professional level. The Syria situation is so dreadful, and for those like me who still have lots of friends inside, in very difficult conditions, it is not always easy to keep the information flow going. Anyway, there are a number of new, interesting projects coming out of Syria — some of which I have actively contributed to, like Syria Untold, the web aggregator on civil and peaceful resistance movements– . I will blog about it in the next days, inshallah.

On a professional update, it was tough for me but I had to take the sad decision to leave my position as Arab world manager for Creative Commons,  (CC) something that I have been doing for the past five years with passion and enthusiasm. It was one of the most exciting experiences (both professional and human) of my life, and I am very grateful to Joi Ito and Larry Lessig, who gave me their support and a great dose of enthusiasm to start working on building the CC Arab world community back in 2008. Thanks to this incredible opportunity, I had the chance to see a community being born, growing, and developing, with all the challenges, problems and exciting moments that this entails. This coincided with a very interesting phase in the Arab world, especially from 2008 to 2010, when Arab youth, bloggers, activists and tech enthusiasts started  gathering and organizing barcamps, unconferences, geek fests, formal and informal meetings. I feel so blessed to have been part of this very peculiar moment in the history of the Arab world. We toured the region, organized events, peer-produced music and visuals, discussed about technology, life, human rights, planned for a different future of the Region, a future based on openness and sharing.

I still believe that this future is possible, despite the dire circumstances under which the Region lives now. But for me it`s time to move to a different phase, and leave to fresh brains the exciting possibility to continue building open communities in the Arab world. I will surely continue to be an active member of the community. I will never ever leave Creative Commons, which has been my family for so many years; nor give up to the battles for openness and sharing in the Arab world that we have fought and supported. But in the next phase I will be following all this from a little bit of distance, without being involved in the day-to-day operations of organizing and coordinating the community building activities in the Region. In a way, it will be more fun to be just a part of the community and enjoy the meetings and the projects as an active participant rather than an organizer or coordinator. There is an open call now on the Creative Commons` website for a new Arab Regional Coordinator and I hope we`ll soon find somebody to take over this role which requires a lot of responsibilities but it`s also a lot of fun! Please share the call with anyone who might be interested. 

On another note, I have decided to devote more time to my academic research on the Arab world — mostly on Syria, with a focus on media and the grassroots creavitiy in the context of the uprising –. I`ve been offered the great opportunity to join  The Annenberg School for Communication at Penn University as a post doctoral fellow at PARGC (Project for Advanced Research in Global Communication)a new exciting project led by Marwan Kraidy, a Professor of Communication who has authored some of the most important books in the field of Arab media studies (e.g. “Reality Television and Arab Politics. Contention in Public Life“) . It`s great to be joining Marwan and all the other great scholars at Annenberg, and I`m sure I will learn a great deal from this experience..and inshallah also get my book about the politics of Syrian TV drama out..

I want to thank Cathy Casserly, and all my colleagues and friends at Creative Commons for these amazing five years spent together..particularly the CC Arab world community without whom this would have been simply a job, and not a life-enriching  experience as it actually was and, in fact, still is.

And now I promise I will keep this blog much more up-to-date than it was in the past months… 

Qatar`s “new” phase

A follow up to my last post, where I had briefly discussed the move of Sheikh Hamad, former Emir of Qatar, of stepping down in favour of his son, Sheikh Tamim. 

QatarnewoldEmir

Few days ago, the big question was: is Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani (HBJ), former PM and Minister of Foreign Affairs (the brain, together with the former Emir, behind Qatar`s foreign policy and the country`s prominent role in supporting the uprisings in the Arab world, particularly in Libya and Syria) going to maintain his position in the next government?

Now we know the answer: HBJ has been replaced by Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, another member of the royal family seen as very close to the new Emir, who has long served in the interior ministry. Sheikh Abdullah is not only taking over HBJ in his former position as PM, but also as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

So, the HBJ era is over. It is unclear whether the former PM would retain his position as vice chairman of the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), “a sovereign wealth fund with assets believed to be $100-200 billion, although Qatar watchers expect him to keep that job”, according to Reuters` analysis. This is a very strategic position not only for the sake of this tiny state which is one of the wealthiest in the world; but also on a private level, and in fact HBJ`s personal fortune is estimated to be in the billions. 

Going back to Qatar`s foreign policy and its involvement in the geopolitics of the region, analysts like French scholar Nabil Ennasri and Foreign Affairs` David Roberts, have estimated that, despite the fact that HBJ is gone, continuity in the country`s strategy should be expected. Maybe with a different style, marked by less unilateralism and more cooperation with other regional powers, notably Saudi Arabia, especially on the Syria file.

Other relevant changes after the government`s reshuffle include the appointment of Al Jazeera network`s director general Sheikh Ahmed Bin Jassim Al Thani as the new Minister of Economy and Trade. His career within the media network has been indeed quite short; he had took over Wadah Khanfar who resigned in September 2011, with the aim of  restructuring Al Jazeera`s assets in a corporate direction.

The new Emir has also appointed a woman, Dr Hessa al Jabar, former head of  ICT Qatar (the government body which oversees the ICT policy in the country, and which introduced many innovations in the country and founded Creative Commons Qatar) as new Minister of Communication and Information Technology. It has to be noticed, though, that the former Emir had abolished this ministry in 1996, one year after seizing power, with a decree which aimed at “freeing Qatar’s media from any dependence to a ministry constraining it through numerous legislations and laws from going forward to wider horizons, especially at a time witnessing a noticeable spread of satellite channels” (source: Qatar`s Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage).

It is not by chance that, at the time, a reference was made to the “noticeable spread of satellite channels”: 1996 is, in fact, the year when Al Jazeera, Sheikh Hamad`s media masterpiece, was launched with the aim of being the first independent news outlet in the Arab world.

Now the fact that the Minister of Communication has been restored leaves lots of room for speculation about Qatar`s future plans in terms of media policy and, more generally, about the way of managing the country. In the past couple of years after the Arab uprisings broke out, Al Jazeera`s “independence” from Qatar`s foreign policy has already been heavily questioned, and maybe more to come in the next future…

Regali di fine anno

Se ancora state cercando regali di fine anno ci sono tre cose che vorrei portare alla vostra attenzione.

Sono tre cause che mi stanno a cuore, di natura diversa, per motivi diversi.

La prima e` la Siria, il paese che ho nel cuore, che soffre in questi giorni enormemente..molti, troppi, sono al freddo, senza alloggi, senza gas, elettricita`..molti, troppi, sono in campi profughi sparsi nei paesi limitrofi e in alloggiamenti di fortuna nella stessa Siria.

La ONG Un ponte per.., da sempre attiva in Medio oriente, ha lanciato Emergenza Siria, un sostegno ai rifugiati siriani che fuggono al confine con l`Iraq. Per sostenere il progetto potete dare il vostro contributo qui.

 

Il Teatro Valle Occupato e` il progetto di resistenza culturale -e politica- piu` interessante che sia venuto fuori nel nostro paese negli ultimi anni. I lavoratori dello spettacolo hanno occupato lo storico Teatro Valle, un gioiello architettonico, un tesoro storico al centro di Roma che rischiava di finire nel dimenticatoio. Dal giugno del 2011, gli hanno ridato la vita e da quel momento e` un cuore pulsante dell`offerta culturale della citta` e un esempio per quanti di noi credono nella cittadinanza attiva. Gli occupanti del Teatro Valle stanno cercando di trasformarlo in Fondazione e cosi restituirlo pienamente alla citta e alla cittadinanza. Sebbene a buon punto, il traguardo non e` ancora raggiunto, e il Teatro ha bisogno di tutti noi per mantenere questa sua vita cosi speciale e per continuare a dare un segnale che un`altra strada alla cultura, alla politica, e`possibile.  Per diventare socio fondatore e` possibile versare un contributo – e anche regalare quote – qui.

 

Creative Commons, la no-profit per la quale mi occupo della comunita` di lingua araba, ha lanciato la sua campagna annuale di fundraising.

Quest`anno CC ha compiuto 10 anni, 10 anni di attivita` intensa in giro per il mondo per promuovere la flessibilita nel diritto d`autore e lo sharing legale su Internet. Ma, soprattutto, per promuovere la condivisione e lo scambio, i valori fondamentali sui quali si basa l`architettura aperta di Internet.

CC ha un network di affiliati in oltre 70 paesi del mondo, compresa l`Italia.

Per sostenere le attivita` di Creative Commons e` possibile regalare donazioni qui.

 

A tutti, buon inizio di anno nuovo…

Syria Deeply, an open-licensed news aggregator about Syria

For those who think that news reports on Syria lack context and historical background, Syria Deeply might be the solution. It is an amazingly well-done news aggregator, a great combination betwee journalism and technology. And it is also open-licensed., using the most flexible Creative Commons license, CC BY. 

Read my post on Creative Commons blog:

 

Syria Deeply: CC-Licensed News Aggregator

Donatella Della Ratta, December 21st, 2012

In January 2009, Al Jazeera launched a pioneering initiative: the first news repository licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license. At the time, restrictions imposed by the Israeli military in Gaza prevented international news outlets from reaching the Strip and reporting from within. Al Jazeera, which had the advantage of being the only news outlet with a correspondent on the ground, came up with a creative solution by making its exclusive footage available to be used, remixed, translated and re-broadcasted by everybody, including competitors.

Three years later, a similar situation is happening with Syria. Shortage of news is dramatic and reports from within the country are rare and often require that journalists’ lives are put at risk in order to gather information. This is why it is key to have initiatives such as Syria Deeply, a news aggregator launched two weeks ago by a team of journalists and technologists headed by seasoned reporter Lara Setrakian.

Syria Deeply is a news platform that aims to redesign the user experience of the Syria story, for greater understanding and engagement around a complex global issue.‬ The platform is part news aggregator, part interactive backgrounder, part original reporting and feature stories. And the great news is that the content on the site is entirely CC BY–licensed, in order to encourage sharing and viral distribution.

This is a major step in crisis reporting and will allow a wider audience to become more aware of the dramatic situation in Syria, fostering a better understanding of a complex issue by adding context and historical information to the headlines.

“I believe technology is the key to getting more and better news to a broader audience,” says Setrakian. Open licensing can support this process and spread more and better understanding on Syria-related issues.

Creative Commons celebrates CC Iftar 2012 with a special thought for CC Syria`s Bassel Khartabil

This post was out today on Creative Commons` blog. My thoughts, our thoughts as Creative Commons Arab world community, go to Bassel Khartabil aka Safadi, CC lead in Syria. Together, back in 2010, we started the CC Iftar project across the Arab region. Bassel is a passionate person,  always ready to help others. In a number of projects we have done together to support open source and the open web he has always been ready to help the others, share ideas, thoughts, resources. We all miss him a lot and hope he will be released soon.

THE ARAB CC COMMUNITY CELEBRATES WITH CC IFTARS

Last week, Muslims all over the world celebrated Eid al-fitr, a festivity which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, dedicated to fasting and praying. Since 2010, Arab world–based Creative Commons communities have celebrated Ramadan by organizing “Creative Commons Iftars” (CC Iftar) across the region.

A CC Iftar is a social event where people gather to celebrate the breaking of the fast, socialize, and talk about innovation, creativity, and the open web. CC Iftars are built around the spirit of sharing which lies at the basis of Creative Commons’ vision, and which people in Ramadan celebrate by breaking the fast together, partaking food, and giving to others.

This year, Creative Commons Arab communities have organized and celebrated CC Iftars in four Arab countries: Qatar, Tunisia, Morocco, and Iraq. CC Iftar Doha kicked off in the Qatari capital on August 13 at K108, a restaurant that redistributes its proceeds to charities working on issues such as unprivileged children’s education. Guests at the CC Iftar Doha were asked to share their ideas about inspiration and the outcome was crafted into a collaborative art project.

The day after, August 14, it was CC’s Tunisian community’s turn to join the CC Iftar project, with the first CC Iftar hosted in the country. Since the third Arab regional meeting “Sharing the Spring” was held in the Tunisian capital in summer 2011 to celebrate Arab youth’s blossoming innovation and creativity, Creative Commons Tunisia’s community — largely made up of photographers, cartoonists, musicians and techies — has been growing incredibly. Many community-led events, including the first CC Tunis Salon, have been hosted in the country. CC Tunis community gathered in the beautiful location of the Sidi bou Said park with home-cooked food (and lots of cats!) to discuss future projects to be held not only in the Tunisian capital but all across the country.

August 17 was our Moroccan community’s turn to host its first ever CC Iftar, with lots of people attending the gathering in Rabat. Morocco recently joined the broader CC Arab community by organizing Open Taqafa and the first Creative Commons Salon in Casablanca. The country has a vibrant artistic and musical scene, together with an high-skilled tech community, and many of these techies and artists are now joining their Arab peers’ efforts to bring more open and collaborative culture to the Arab world. CC Iftar Morocco was a big step in the direction of getting more regional cooperation over common open-culture-related projects.

On the very same day, CC’s Iraqi community was also organizing its first CC Iftar. Bloggers from the Iraqi network for social media (INSM) coming from different parts of the country gathered in Baghdad to celebrate openness and sharing with a wonderful CC chocolate cake. For those who were not able to attend the event physically, a skype session was held in order to join the celebrations virtually. Our CC team in Iraq has a Facebook page around which the community is gathering. Some of its members are regulars at CC Arab regional meetings and we hope to be able to hold CC events in Iraq more regularly, in order to familiarize the broader Arab community with the beauty and cultural richness of the country.

Despite the instability, violence, and political unrest still happening in many places in the region, the Arab world still has a strong will to move forward, create, and share. The community-driven enthusiasm and self-organization skills showed by the CC groups in Qatar, Tunisia, Morocco and Iraq prove this; hopefully next year new communities will be able to join and old communities will be able to come back to action.

As we conclude Eid al-fitr this year, our thoughts go out once again to Bassel Khartabil aka Safadi, CC Syria public lead. Bassel was one of the promoters of the CC Iftar project back in 2010, when he hosted an iftar in Damascus to celebrate cultural cooperation and sharing in a remix project with CC Lebanon. Bassel has been detained by Syrian authorities since March 15th, 2012. A campaign has launched to ask for his release and the response of Creative Commons’ communities worldwide has been overwhelming. We encourage you to spread the word and follow updates on the campaign’s site freebassel.org and on Twitter @freebassel.

picture courtesy of Creative Commons Iraq — CC Iftar cake

First Creative Commons Salon Tunis: a celebration of openness, creativity, freedom of expression

Yesterday`s first Tunis Creative Commons Salon was one of the most coherent I`ve ever seen. After assisting to a 2 hours and half performance of different artists and activists working in different fields (from music to comics to cyber activism and blogging) one could feel like having met with Tunisia`s freedom of expression “hard core”movement. Each artist and activist, in his/her own field – whether visual art or blogging,etc- was fighting for two very simple things: expressing thoughts freely and have the right to access  information and knowledge in an open, transparent way.

Tunisian rap group Armada Bizerta -who is now a regular in Creative Commons` meetings, having performed at the “Sharing the Spring” concert in Tunis last July and at the CC global meeting in Warsaw in September 2011- opened the Salon with an unplugged set accompanied by the multi-talented Kerim Bouzoita (who is a blogger, a scholar, a film maker, a musician). Armada Bizerta`s rap shows how much politics matter for this new generation of Tunisians, and how the revolution is an ongoing process which did not stop on January 14th, when Ben Ali left. “I say NO!”, one of the group`s latest song, takes inspiration from recent protests against Qatar`s intervention in Tunisia`s domestic affairs and the Gulf country`s support to religious parties in a country that, as Armada shouts in its rap, “has not made the revolution to find itself ruled by a foreigner”. “La wizara qatarya fel aradi at-tunsya” (no to Qatari presence on Tunisian lands), shouted Armada in a very powerful unplugged rap that rocked the crowd at the CC Salon.

Then Nadia Willis (who also hosted the Salon in the beautiful boutique and art gallery Arty Show), from Yaka comics collective, explained how the comics-makers, illustrators, visual artists in Tunis have organized themselves in different collectives after the revolution to boost freedom of expression and protect it.  She smiled when recalled that, after Ben Ali`s departure, the artists enjoyed themselves a great deal by doing graffiti and illustrations in apartments that were former property of Leila Trabelsi`s, a symbolic act where the citizens  have finally taken back what was stolen by dictatorship.

Nawaat`s Sami Ben Gharbeia`showed how the web platform worked before, during and after the revolution. He showed stuff from the first online demonstration against Ben Ali, “yezzi fock”, to the collection of pictures that have spotted the presidential airplane landing in different European airports to take Leila Ben Ali go shopping without any excuse of being on an official visit. Nawaat`s strategy before the revolution has been to show the average Tunisian citizen -with a simple language and tangible examples- that he was not living in the Tunisian “postcard” that Ben Ali was selling out to the West. Once the revolution erupted, Nawaat`s role was focused on curating news and videos, translating, tagging and archiving them, in order to give the Pan-Arab and international media professional news material to work on, in order to produce news items and updates on what was happening in Tunisia between December 2010 and January 2011. And now that Ben Ali is gone, Nawaat finally has a legal status: it became an association, opened an awesome office near the Casbah in Tunis and is doing plenty of activities, including hosting the hackspace curated by Chamseddine Ben Jomaa and Ali Hentati.

Chamseddine, alias Kangolya, another symbol of Tunisian activism, presented the hackspace to the CC Salon crowd and beautifully explained the meaning of the opengov movement tracking it back to ancient Greece.

The newly born association of Tunisian bloggers illustrated how they are now getting together,  organizing themselves and trying to give themselves editorial rules, too. Blogging has been for years the only counter-voice to an official press which was totally submitted to the regime, therefore bloggers have developed incredibly professional skills and a “grassroot” ethics of cross-checking sources, quoting and linking them, etc. They probably can teach the official press and “professional” journalists how to re-organize themselves, now that the former dictator is gone.

CC Salon Tunis was able to offer an overview of all these experiences that are related one to another by the will of these folks to advocate for transparency, openness, freedom of expression, creativity. These light talks were punctuated by the music –Armada, Saloua ben Salah, Undergaa, Kerim Bouzoita-. A film on the former Tunisian cyber police, “Memory at risk”, directed by Kerim Bouzoita and licensed under CC, was also shown.

The energy flowing at Arty show gallery yesterday was a tangible sign that a new Tunisia is coming out, and will rock the world.