Tunisia`s 7hell!

Many things have changed in Tunisia since one year ago. For me, the most relevant -and the most charming- is that the fall of Ben Ali`s dictatorship has opened a Pandora vase which, in this case, was full of good things that have been repressed and hidden. The vibrant creativity of the Tunisian youth is one of them. The few times I visited Tunisia during Ben Ali`s regime I had the impression it was a suffocating country. They were trying to sell us foreigners the idea of the carte postale (postcard), of the safe beautiful country not touched by any problem, and no political or security issue. They use to pass us boring (according to me) Tunisian films that were the exact projection of what the former colonial powers (especially France) wanted to see coming out from this country. And I could see no youth`s  activities, except from the one I witnessed online, done by the brave Tunisian activists, like Nhar 3ala Ammar, the flash mobs, the protests, daring videos like the ones posted by Astrubaal.

But the post-14 Janvi Tunisia is an explosion of creativity. And the vibrant Tunisian youth is driving the change, organizing youth generated media activities, grassroot events, communities meet-ups. I`ve recently visited the amazing office space opened by the Nawaat folks near Tunis` Casba -a beautiful, historic place which in 2011 witnessed huge mass protests that have brought down two governments after the fall of Ben Ali-.   It`s a traditional Arabic house, which reminds me of the Damascene houses I`ve lived in, where Nawaat has set up its offices and the awesome hackspace, the first one in Tunis, whose activities are coordinated by open source advocates Kangoulya and Ali Hentati. They are carrying out a number of projects dedicated to openness, freedom of expression, free and open software together with the many open communities that are present in Tunisia (Ubuntu, Mozilla, etc).

This upcoming Friday 27th Jan at 7pm they`ll be hosting a community talk regrouping these communities, Creative Commons Tunisia, Wikimedia (who`s trying to set roots in Tunisia), and Nawaat of course. The same day, at 2pm, Wikimedia will present Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and try to get more Tunisians helping creating original online content in Arabic.

And on the 28th at 6 pm, Arty Show Galery in La Marsa, Tunis, will be hosting the first Creative Commons Salon in Tunisia, celebrating openness and creativity. A CC-licensed film about Tunisian cyber police by Kerim Bouzoita will be shown, and many “open” artists will be featured as CC-friendly rap group Armada Bizerta and the comics collective Yaka. The Tunisian bloggers` association will join and give a talk, as well as Nawaat and Kangoulya who will present the OpenData and OpenGov projects.

Tunisian activists have in fact started campaigning for 7hell (ouvre-open), a movement which regroups bloggers, techies, artists, politicians and who ever is interested in pushing openness and transparency. The OpenGov and OpenData campaign promoted by 7hell activists is the sign that Tunisia is moving in a very interesting direction, towards building a direct link between citizenship and institutions. It is the sign that Tunisian revolution was not an “anti”movement only; it is indeed an ongoing revolution and a pro-active movement trying to achieve a real change in civil society and institutions, not only a regime change.


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.


Third Arab Bloggers Meeting, 3-6 October Tunis

I`ve been looking forward to this third edition of the Arab Bloggers meeting, the coolest Internet-social media related event I`ve ever attended. The last one in Beirut, 2009, was pretty amazing.

Sami Ben Gharbeia from Global Voices and Tunisian webplatform Nawaat, has just published the program of the first day.

For updates and Arabic version, please visit http://www.arabloggers.com

Day One: October 3rd, 2011

Doors open: 8:30
Start Program: 9:00
End Program: 5:45

Program Overview:

9:00 – 9:15 Opening

9:15 – 9:45 Rebecca MacKinnon: Fighting for Our Digital Rights: Threats and Opportunities.

Internet activism played an important role in the revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt, and in uprisings around the region. Meanwhile, a global struggle for control of the Internet is raging. It is time to stop debating whether the Internet empowers individuals and societies, and address the more fundamental and urgent question of how technology should be structured and governed to support the rights and liberties of the world’s Internet users. Even though the United States and European governments talk about “Internet freedom,” the truth is that the world’s democratic nations do not have clear answers for how best to balance law enforcement, national security, child protection, and economic interests with human rights and free expression on the Internet. All concerned citizens of the Internet around the world – global “netizens” – have an important role to play.

9:45 – 10:30 Panel Discussion: The Revolution Shall be Twitterised .

Moderator: Amira Al Husseini
Panelists: Sultan Al Qassemi, Manal Hassan, Ahmed Al Omran, Hisham Al Miraat, Ghazi Gheblawi and Razan Ghazzawi.

Twitter has played an instrumental role in the Arab revolutions. Many tweeps have worked around the clock, serving as relay stations, amplifying the voices of netizens across the Arab world. We held the megaphone for each revolution starting with Tunisia and then moving to Egypt. Following Egypt, the entire region seemed to explode. How did we manage to continue to cover the news, informing a growing audience of developments on the ground, tweet by tweet, minute by minute? On this panel, where we have tweeps with an overall following of more than 110,000 followers, we will examine different types of Twitter users, the measures they follow to verify their information and the journalism standards and ethics they bring to the table.

Sultan Al Qassemi (@SultanAlQassemi), from the UAE, commands a following of more than 78,000 on Twitter, providing up to the minute commentary on developments across the region; Egyptian Manal Hassan (@Manal) spent her days and nights at Tahrir Square witnessing and tweeting Egypt’s revolution to her 16,000 followers. With 17,000 followers, Saudi Ahmed Al Omran (@ahmed) continues to be a loud voice commenting on the Arab revolutions, surfing through heart-breaking videos from Syria and curating their content for us; Moroccan Hisham Al Miraat (@__Hisham), with almost 6,000 followers, reports on protests at home and the rest of the region from France; Libyan Ghazi Gheblawi (@Gheblawi) amplified news from Libya all the way from London and Syrian Razan Ghazzawi (@RedRazan) continues to use Twitter to tell us about the atrocities being committed by the Syrian regime.

Who are those tweeps? How do they work? Where do they get their information from? How credible is their news? What do they do to ensure that their news is accurate?

10:30 – 10:45 – Coffee Break

10:45 – 11:15 Moez Chakchouk: Towards the Development of internet in Tunisia: New challenges

The Chairman and CEO of the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI), Moez Chakchouk, will highlight the importance of acting according to a clear strategy that needs to be adopted in the future for the development of Internet and broadband in Tunisia. This strategy should be implemented according to international best practices in the field and by taking into account the current situation of the country in terms of Tunisia’s achievements. We focus on constraints that have hindered more than a decade for any initiative or action from Internet stakeholders including civil society, private sector, public sector, multinational companies and foreign investors, etc. What is noteworthy is to tell the community of bloggers to participate in the dialogue on Internet governance by adopting the principles of neutrality, freedom and openness of Internet as well as considering privacy issues.

11:15 – 11:45 Zeynep Tufekci: Beyond Tahrir: Networked Activism in Post-Revolutionary Transitions

2011 is turning out to be a remarkable year in the Middle East and North Africa region–and beyond. In some countries, citizen movements have already ousted long-standing autocrats (Tunisia, Egypt) while in others we have witnessed an eruption of anti-dictatorship civil strife (Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and elsewhere). Networked activism played a role in most of these uprisings through multiple means ranging from countering state censorship of news to the supporting of an anti-dictatorship public sphere. However, there are significant differences in the structure of post-revolutionary transitions compared with the anti-dictatorship struggle. In this talk, I will discuss some of these differences and attempt to start a conversation about the role of new technologies in post-revolutionary politics in the 21st century in terms of both opportunities and limitations for networked activism.

11:45 – 12:15 Marek Tuszynski: Get the picture! Images, evidence and activism in times of transition

We all know certain images associated with revolutions, do they have any meaning beyond pure symbolism? What role and function do they play? How do visual communications change when we move away from mass political mobilisation into a context of advocacy and the creation of democratic processes? what can be the role of visualisation and data in these situations?

This talk will present recent examples from the region and ask many questions about the function, role and importance of images and the role of data in times of political and social transition.

12:15 – 12:45 Arturo Buzzolan & Jacob Appelboom: Crash course of Mobile (SS7) privacy and security

The SS7 protocol and network is what allows mobile phone operators to communicate with one another. When the SS7 network was designed and deployed well defined boundaries existed. With the liberalization of the market, these boundaries have been extended beyond a point that was not imagined. In a sense, the walls of the so called “”walled garden”” have been opened.

We will analyze SS7 in relation to GSM networks and in particular how anyone (even a “”non-telco””) is able to locate mobile phones. Some reference to real world examples will be given. People will be educated and made aware of issues related to privacy and security.

12:45 – 2:15 Lunch Break

2:15 – 3:15 Screening of Zero Silence, a documentary about the Free Wor(l)d

Presented by Alexandra Sandels

Zero Silence is a documentary about young people in the Middle East who have grown angry over the authoritarian regimes they live in. These young people are using the Web to bring about change in their societies where free speech is controlled or censored.
Among other topics, the production will explore the impact of the Internet and non-traditional media such as social media and whistle-blowing sites on the Arab world and beyond through a new generation that uses the Web to get the free word out to organize, mobilize, collaborate and fight injustice.

3:15 – 3:45 Leila Nachawati: Citizen mobilizations and citizen communications: The Spanish 15 M movement and the Arab inspiration

How the Spanish 15 M movement emerged, inspired in the mobilizations South of the Mediterranean. Although the contexts are quite different and the Spanish population does not suffer the repression characteristic of Arab regimes, the way citizens all over Spain broke the wall of apathy taking public spaces back and organizing both online and offline shows a strong influence of the Arab uprisings. Institutional reaction to the movement and the tension between official narratives and decentralized citizen communications is also paralell to this tension during the Arab Spring and a global issue that affects governments and civil societies as a whole.

3:45 – 4:30 Panel Discussion: Tunisian Bloggers & Politics:

Moderator: Malek Khadhraoui
Panelists: Amira Yahyaoui, Riadh Guerfali (Astrubal), Tarek Kahlaoui, Mokhtar Yahyaoui, Mehdi Lamloum

On October 23, 2011, Tunisians will elect a national constituent assembly which will be writing the country’s new constitution. Seven Tunisian bloggers decided to join the election race. With more than 1700 electoral lists inside and outside the country, what will be the chance of the 7 Tunisian bloggers to be elected and what do they want to achieve?

4:30 – 4:45 – Coffee Break

4:45 – 5:30 Panel Discussion: Wikileaks and the Arab Spring: What is the Impact of Information on Social Change?

Moderator: Jillian York
Panelists: Mansour Aziz & Sami Ben Gharbia

On November 28th, only two weeks before the Tunisian revolution was sparked on December 17th, and just half an hour after the whistle-blowing site Wikileaks unleashed the cables, the Tunisian collective blog Nawaat launched theTunileaks site and published 17 US embassy cables in which President Ben Ali’s extended family was “often cited as the nexus of Tunisian corruption“. Following Nawaat, the website of Beirut-based al-Akhbar newspaper published dozens of cables from several Arab countries, and the site was forced to shut down following a hack and sophisticated DDoS attack. What was the impact of the release of these diplomatic cables, as well as other subsequent document leaks, on the Arab Spring? Was Wikileaks an ignitor of protest movements regionally and elsewhere as claimed by its video “What Does it Cost to Change the World?

With two panelists from Wikileaks partners, Tunileaks and al-Akhbar, the panel will discuss the impact of the cables on the Arab spring and shed some light on the events and momentum prior to the spark of the Arab revolution.

5:30 – 5:45 – Closing Discussion

Wadah Khanfar`s Al Jazeera at TED: “The future has arrived in the Arab world..and it is now”

Few days ago Wadah Khanfar, general manager of Al Jazeera network, flew to TED conference and give this talk which I would like to share here.

The enthusiasm he delivers in the talk is the enthusiasm of all of us that have been witnessing, particularly after 9/11, an escalation of violence, war, foreign invasions in the Arab region and now can finally welcome -for the first time-a  change which is not coming from outside.

He speaks about a “a new generation, educated, well-connected.. that has taught us new ways to express our feelings”.He points out at he failure of the old generation (and the old regimes, and the West that has been supporting them for decades) in understanding what this generation wants and dreams about. He wisely invites the West not to think about the Arab world “as oil only”.

Rather, it should think at this youth as a new resource, as “an opportunity to see stability, security and democracy”  coming from within the Region.

When he talks about  the fact that Al Jazeera has been banned from operating in Tunisia for a while (and Egypt also has been trying many times either to shut the Cairo office down or to jam the channel TV signal) he says something very important. Prevented from working there, (Al Jazeera)

” we found that these people in the street were our reporters”. People that are armed with light cameras, mobiles, Facebook and Twitter accounts, You Tube uploads.

I remember very clearly many years Mohamed Nanahbay, now head of Online at Al jazeera English, talking at a panel where somebody asked why Al Jazeera was investing so much in new media, by giving people light cameras and mobiles to film. Nanahbay smiled and said: “we are training our future reporters! This youth at some point will go down in the streets filmming and writing and they will remember of us. They will remember that we have opened a channel for them”.

Well, I think that now this long-term strategy has finally paid back. And Khanfar,  himself young (he`s 43 and already director general of the whole Al Jazeera network), has won over  the prestigious TED conference`s audience and Chris Anderson and maybe many US viewers..

Later today Hillary Clinton declared that” Al Jazeera is gaining more prominence in the U.S. because it offers “real news”–something she said American media were falling far short of doing”.

Definitely a different scenario from the 10 years ago “terrorist station”..

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La rete da sola non fa le rivoluzioni

Pubblico qui sotto il mio pezzo uscito ieri su Alias, supplemento de Il Manifesto, con qualche riflessione sulla “rivoluzione” in rete e in strada in Egitto..

La rete da sola non fa le rivoluzioni

L`intifada egiziana – “rivolta”, cosi come l`ha immediatamente battezzata Al Jazeera– si e` conclusa vittoriosa venerdi scorso con la cacciata del trentennale dittatore Hosni Mubarak. ..E gia` il cinguettio di Twitter si sposta su un altro hashtag # (la “marca” che permette di raggruppare gli argomenti discussi sul social network in un unico flusso), quello dell`Algeria, poi del Bahrain, prossimi obiettivi della nuova “onda” araba di proteste. Come Tunisi ha girato il testimone all`Egitto, adesso questo prova a passare la palla (messi da parte i dissapori calcistici) all`Algeria, in una corsa tumultuosa che ha coinvolto tutto il mondo arabo in questo inizio di nuovo decennio.

Di questa febbre “rivoluzionaria” scoppiata in Medio Oriente -e del ruolo che avrebbero avuto i social network, in particolare Twitter, nel fomentarla- si e` detto ormai tutto.

L`Occidente e` innamorato dell`idea che le sue infrastrutture tecnologiche, ormai diventate infrastrutture della vita grazie alla capacita di regalare comunicazione im-mediata, abbiano acceso la miccia rivoluzionaria nel mondo arabo in tempi lampo. In realta`, ne` la Tunisia ne ` l`Egitto sono state “Twitter revolutions”.

In Tunisia l`accesso ad Internet non e` mai stato cosa facile, e il paese ha sofferto blocchi e censure anche riguardo a basilari servizi di posta elettronica come hotmail. La blogosfera tunisina, come quella nordafricana in generale, e` francofona, percio` spesso poco in contatto con l`Egitto, il Levante e il Golfo dove e` l`arabo – se non l`inglese- a predominare.

In Egitto i movimenti di protesta guidati dai blogger (come quello cosidetto del “6 Aprile”) e le prime manifestazioni organizzate grazie alla capacita` aggregative dei social network -in particolare Facebook- erano attivi e agguerriti gia` dalla prima meta` del nuovo millennio. Sono anni in cui i blogger egiziani entrano ed escono dalle galere e dai tribunali, denunciano torture, mostrano i primi video di violenze della polizia contro gli attivisti, postati su YouTube da Wael Abbas e da Noha Atef sul sito tortureinegypt.net.

Le rivolte della fine 2010-inizio 2011 sono percio cosa maturata negli anni: non certo scoppiate grazie a Twitter e non certo in un battibaleno. I social network hanno pero negli anni lavorato indirettamente a far emergere una cultura che il giurista Larry Lessig, fondatore di Creative Commons, definisce “read and write culture” , cioe una cultura attiva, propositiva, che non si basa soltanto sul consumo (read) di contenuti altrove prodotti bensi sulla scrittura (write) e ri-scrittura (re-mix) di nuove storie. Twitter e gli altri social network sono gli “attrezzi” per riprendersi questa creativita ormai sparita negli ultimi decenni del secolo scorso, l`epoca del dominio dei media di massa come la TV e dell`inasprimento delle leggi sulla protezione intellettuale (nemica giurata del remix).

Produrre e non soltanto consumare: che si tratti di un video, di un blog post. Anche solo di un “cinguettio” di 140 caratteri, che intanto e` comunque allenamento costante, un esercizio che indirettamente combatte l`autorita suprema del “read only” (leggere solo) con l`ironia del “ri-scrivere”, “ri-twittare”, _ri-linkare”, “ri-postare”, “ri-mixare”.

Per molti anni osservo in Medio Oriente questi giovani, Alaa Abd el Fattah e Manal Hassan, Wael Abbas, Nora Younis, Noha Atef, Hossam el Hamalawy,Slim Amamou, Sami Ben Gharbia e tanti altri come loro, giovani fra i 20 e 30 anni, di tutto il mondo arabo, incontrarsi periodicamente nei barcamp, nei geekfest, nei pecha kucha, in tutti gli eventi “techie” nati principalmente in USA e diventati parte integrante delle culture autoctone mediorientali. C`e qualcosa, nella “garage culture” made in Silicon Valley-California, che e` passata oltreoceano e ha trovato un nuovo senso in mezzo ai deserti, agli slum, ai grattacieli delle metropoli arabe. Cosa mai avranno in comune, mi chiedo, una cultura per eccellenza votata all`iniziativa privata, al rischio, con questa tradizione mediterranea di accettazione–assorbimento all`interno dei gangli del potere, che si tratti di famiglia, lavoro o societa… Beh, qualcosa, a pensarci bene, ce l`hanno: quell`essere giovani sempre che, se negli USA e` una condizione quasi esistenziale, in Medio oriente e` una inconfutabile verita` anagrafica. Oltre il 65% della popolazione araba ha meno di 25 anni. Non tutti, certo, hanno accesso ad Internet, non tutti parlano inglese, non tutti twittano o hanno un blog. Ma quest`elite a un certo punto ha cominciato a incontrarsi con quella libanese e yemenita, in meeting e workshop tecnologici dove involontariamente si faceva un nuovo panarabismo, giovane, tecnologico e non ideologico.

Ricordo l`ultimo di una lunga serie di questi incontri: l`Arab bloggers meeting, nel dicembre 2009 a Beirut. Sapientemente orchestrato da Sami Ben Gharbia, attivista di Global Voices e cyber dissidente tunisino adottato dall`Olanda, il workshop aveva riunito tutte le facce che abbiamo visto in queste due intifade, dal blogger tunisino ora sottosegretario alla gioventu e allo sport Slim Amamou all`attivista egiziano del movimento open software Alaa Abd el Fattah, a sua moglie Manal Hassan, fondatrice dell`Arab techies women, un gruppo di donne arabe programmatrici di computer e appassionate di tecnologia. In quel dicembre 2009 a Beirut c`erano tutti i volti giovani di queste rivoluzioni, insieme a tanti altri giovani techies e attivisti di tutto il mondo arabo, forse protagonisti delle rivoluzioni che verranno. Ci si parlava, ognuno nel suo dialetto, si condividevano trucchi per bypassare censura e sorveglianza dei regimi, si studiavano progetti comuni.

I social network non fanno le rivoluzioni ma lavorano, lentamente ma inesorabilmente, sul cambiamento sociale. Lo fanno anche sviluppando la “read and write” culture, dando una possibilita vera alla creazione, oltre che al consumo. Poi mettono tutto in circolo in rete, cosi che ognuno guarda l`altro, ognuno e` costantemente in contatto con l`altro, e quando uno di questi nodi della rete viene a mancare e` tutta la rete che insorge e si mobilita (come e` successo a Wael Ghonim di Google, rilasciato dalle autorita egiziane dopo 12 giorni di martellante campagna mediatica seguita alla sua scomparsa) .

Questi nodi collegati fra loro -eppure senza un centro, senza una testa o un leader- sono “i piccoli pezzi liberamente connessi”, la metafora del web coniata anni fa da David Weinberger. Nessuno avrebbe mai immaginato di ritrovarli un giorno, attivi e pronti a far collassare il sistema proprio in Medio Oriente. Ma sul mondo “virtuale” di Twitter e Facebook si e` innestato quello, realissimo, della strada, della fame, della disoccupazione, dei sogni infranti di Sidibouzid.

La rete da sola non fa le rivoluzioni, ma il cambiamento sociale, a poco a poco, quello si. Le capitali arabe gremite di Internet cafe, connesse attraverso cavi di fortuna, piratati e riuniti in network “informali” , i wi-fi dispensati gratuitamente per aumentare il consumo nei ristoranti hanno construito negli anni una mappa geografica del cambiamento.

La tecnologia e` come un giocattolo: il padre che lo regala a suo figlio non sa mai come lo usera`, e sicuramente lo fara` in modo diverso rispetto a quanto lui si sarebbe augurato.

Non dimentichero mai la frase comparsa sui muri di Amman qualche anno fa. Diceva: “Internet e` vita”

(mentre scrivo questo pezzo, su Twitter mi arriva la segnalazione di un utente di San Francisco che ha elaborato una mappa grafica che visualizza il grado di influenza esercitao da alcuni utenti su altri durante la rivolta egiziana http://www.kovasboguta.com/. Vedo il mio nome comparire fra quei puntini blu e mi chiedo: sara` mai vero che anch`io, con i miei tweet, ho giocato un ruolo in questa cosa? Poi guardo i piccoli pezzi liberamente connessi visualizzati in questa mappa. Solo di pochi e` possibile leggere il nome, e quello che veramente conta e` soltanto la rete di connessioni. Wael Ghoneim, l`unico che abbia una “faccia” -grazie pero` alle TV che ne hanno mandato in onda lunghe interviste dopo il rilascio- fa sapere, nello stesso instante, sempre su Twitter, che fara` un libro dal titolo “rivoluzione 2.0”. Che importa quanto il marketing si sia gia buttato a far fruttare questo glamour tecnologico di ultima generazione, mi dico..Quella e` la vecchia logica del consumo da televisione. L`unica cosa che invece veramente conta qui e` che tutti gli altri del nostro Twitter network, quelli senza “faccia”, abbiano gia` spostato l`attenzione della rete su altro, l`Algeria, il Bahrain.. sul prossimo hashtag.. forse sulla prossima rivoluzione..)


Source: kovasboguta.com

Cairo Downtown

Cairo Downtown is a documentary shot by Carolina Popolani, an Italian filmmaker who has got a huge experience  working in the Arab world.

Cairo Dowtown features some prominent Egyptian bloggers as Wael Abbas and Noha Atef and tells about their daily struggles trying to denounce the oppression and corruption of the Egyptian regime.

Carolina is going to show her documentary on 26 Feb at Circolo degli Artisti in Rome.

If you are not there, you can watch it  online on Vimeo.



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.

YL Social Media Cafe tomorrow at Zico House, Beirut

“Switching from the culture of consumption to the culture of creation. Can Arabs do it?”.

This is the question I’ll try to address in my talk at the YL Social Media Cafe tomorrow 6th of March in Beirut.

And this is one of the gorgeous pics that my  Lebanese friend artist Maya Zankoul has been so kind to design for my presentation (I’m really flattered!). Maya is one of the most promising young Lebanese artists and she also publishes under Creative Commons. People like her make me thinking that yes, of course, that “switching from the culture of consmption to the culture of creation” is possible.

For those of you who are in beautiful Beirut tomorrow, please join us at Zico House in Hamra starting from 4pm.

The YL Social Media Cafe programme is here:  http://ylsmc.wordpress.com/ and on Facebook.

Thanks to Hiba and her team for inviting me to such an interesting event I’m looking forward to it!

ps. Maya’s illustration is under CC BY license. Pls read the terms of use and don’t trick!!!

Second Arab Bloggers meeting over

The Second Arab Bloggers meeting is just over here in Beirut. It has been an incredible opportunity to meet up and discuss with a bunch of very interesting folks coming from Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Egypt,Qatar, Sudan, etc.
We have run into a full week of presentations, workshops, talks and even games and I’ve learned so much from countries that I’ve never expected to be so active on the web 2.0 field.
Bloggers, activists, techno-enthusiasts, hackers, creative people: an incredible variety of mix in terms of backgrounds, skills and contexts but at the same time each of them with more than one interesting project/story to tell.
I’m grateful to Sami Ben Gharbia and the Global Voices team to have put together such a worndeful group people, and to Doreen, Alia, Heba, Corinne and the Heinrich Boll Foundation for having made this thing possible – it was not easy to organise such a meeting, and not only in terms of fundraising-.
It was the first time for me to attend a truly Panarab grassroot meeting and to be able to listen to it in its original language. I realised the power of this language, Arabic, that -even if spoken in so many different accents and local varieties- can link together people coming from 22 countries and let them share ideas and projects.
It’s true that Classical Arabic -or “fus7ha”- is still quite a “cold” language, that is perceived to be distant from people daylife and certainly not suitable for a tech meeting. But I’ve a little hope after this meeting, that a certain kind of “medium or standard dialect” (“3ammieh”) can be developed by each Arab country in order to be understood by the others.
Egyptian is widely understood by everybody not because it is easy (!) but because it has been “the” language of mass communication in the Arab world for many years. And now Syrian and Lebanese are widely understood because of TV.
I think that, despite they are harder to understand, even Tunisian and other North-African dialects could be more popular thru media in the future. They just have to be used, instead of using French (!). I believe that the beautiful Arabic language should be enhanced thru new digital media, but in its local lively versions -together with the Classical “official” one-. I hope that meetings like this could push people to speak more Arabic, learn more Arabic and produce more content in Arabic. Definitely it was like that for me!
And, again, a special thanks to Sami for having put such a network of people together.
I do believe “Panarabism” can happen only this way, thru this grassroots, bottom-up movements.
Shukran kteer wa ila liqa’, inshallah..

more pics are available thanks to Jillian C. York here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jilliancyork/sets/72157622874966605/?page=3

Beirut Media Forum 2009

I’d like to republish this article from the Daily Star which reports about the Beirut Media Forum , a conference I just attended in Beirut.



Copyright (c) 2009 The Daily Star
Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Beirut forum explores impact of media on activism in the Middle East
By Farah-Silvana Kanaan
Special to The Daily Star


BEIRUT: Media experts gathered Friday to discuss the interaction between media, web use and social, political and religious mobilization in the Middle East. The fifth Beirut Media Forum brought together the media-savvy for 10 lectures addressing obstacles facing socio-political documentary filmmakers and the rise of online social activism and citizen journalism in the Arab region. The forum, this year entitled, “Mobilizations on stage: The Image of the Real and the Verity of the Image,” is organized annually by the Institut Francais du Proche Orient, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Orient-Institute Beirut.
Patrick Hazard, anthropologist and director of the London International Documentary Festival was skeptical about documentary filmmaking being  a tool to jump-start social change.
“Documentary filmmakers are usually surrounded by this mystique of being independent thinkers and actors. They often have this romanticized idea that they are merely bearing witness and giving voice to the voiceless when, in reality, they are quite a conservative bunch vis a vis the political status quo,” Hazard said, adding funders often exert considerable influence over film content, which “automatically creates a tension between ethical concerns and economic interests.”
“In my experience, those economic interests are usually the key concern for most parties involved,” he added.
Naomi Sakr, director of the Communication and Media Research Institute Arab Media Center at the University of Westminster in London, meanwhile spoke about ongoing structural changes in the Arab media industry and advances in digital technology on documentary films. According to Sakr, the expansion of television channels has sparked a demand for content that attracts young and elite viewers. At the same time, more young directors are filming more cheaply and discreetly and are using alternative means to distribute their products. “A result of this phenomenon has been a rise in films exploring socio-political issues that were previously rarely acknowledged in the agenda of conventional Arab news media,” she said.
Sakr said one of the biggest issues in the Middle East was that many documentaries often did not end up being screened. One such example is “Jihad on Horseback,” a highly critical 2003 documentary about the conflict in Darfur, produced by Al-Arabiyya television. The film was never aired by Al-Arabiyya because of a private campaign against it by Sudanese politicians, although it was later bought and distributed by the International Crisis Group.
“Cooperation between political powers is crucial to a documentary film being made and screened,” Sakr said. A filmmaker’s personal connections with local political leaders or other influential personalities, known in the Mideast as wasta (nepotism) also plays a key role.
Italian political scientist Do­natella Della Ratta spoke about the Arab social web by discuss­ing her findings on how online networks were re-shaping off­line action in the Arab world. The social web, she explained, is viewed as the second generation of the web and relies heavily on user-generated content, communities, networking and social interaction. It “offers two key elements ingrained in the Western political system of democracy, namely representation and mediation.” The social Arab web is empowering citizen journalism and civic participation by giving voice to “ordinary people,” Della Ratta said.
This form of citizen journalism was used during Lebanon’s June parliamentary elections by the Sharek961 website. The site enabled Lebanese citizens to promote transparency by sending in eyewitness reports on all election-related incidents or issues through text messages and the website. However, as Della Ratta admitted, the percentage of people in the Arab world who engage in such forms of social activism, or even have Internet access, is relatively low. “I would argue that in the Arab world you will find a qualitative rather than a quantitative audience, small in size but young and educated,” she said.
Christophe Varin, director of the Center for the Study of the Modern Arab World at Universite Saint-Joseph, expressed doubt that new media was leading to political mobilization in Lebanon. Varin has analyzed YouTube videos in relation to political mobilization since the so-called Cedar Revolution protests in 2005. He argued that YouTube, rather than providing a platform for civic participation and activism, was mostly another outlet for violence.
“The comments posted under YouTube videos are often used as a platform for linguistic violence,” he said, noting that many web users similarly post videos to solely express their opinions rather than in the hope of inspiring real debate or consensus. But Varin did agree with Della Ratta that a new form of citizen journalism has been catapulted into society, filling the gaps created by traditional media. “The Lebanese new media are going through a de-politicization process,” he said.

Copyright (c) 2009 The Daily Star