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… 

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Social media and other tales of ordinary madness in Syria

So this week Syria Deeply and many other news outlets have reported about Eliot Higgins, a 34 years old from England. A very ordinary life, a daily job from 9 to 5, a wife, a small child. But, wait, this is the man behind the famous  Brown Moses` blogwhich, after the beginning of the Syrian uprising has turned into a source for many journalists and activists around the world.

Higgins does not speak Arabic and has never been in the Arab world or  “anywhere in the Middle East”, he says, “other than the Dubai airport”. Yet, he was able to build up a powerful list of resources, mostly YouTube channels, that document what`s happening in Syria. Starting as a “news junkie”, he has so far collected one of the biggest online libraries about the Syrian revolution and has also helped Human Rights Watch to find evidence of the use of cluster bombs in Syria. All of that, using YouTube and social media only.

Higgins says here:

“Sitting in my living room in England, it’s incredible to think that from anywhere in the world it’s possible to see the day-to-day struggles of the Syrian people and the scale of the violence they witness. What makes Syria so unusual is — despite the two years of conflict in the country, from street protests to civil war — the Internet has rarely been cut off. As a result, there has been a constant flow of information from the country through social media — with hundreds of thousands of Syrian YouTube videos, Tweets, and Facebook posts over the last two years. It’s an overwhelming amount of information, a maelstrom of data”.

This makes me think about Andy Carvin, the NPR new media specialist who has become  well known to the international and Arab crowd for having documented the Arab Spring without moving from Washington DC.

Despite I really admire folks like Andy and Eliot, I find really hard to embrace their theory of documenting something without never having been on the ground, without speaking the language, without understanding the culture. I have myself lived in Syria for years, I speak the language and know many things about the culture, but I find so hard to keep track of everything, verify all the accents in local dialects from different places in Syria, the geography, etc.

If we can document and verify things remotely, only using social media, like Andy and Eliot do, well then why spending so many years and hours and hours of hard study to understand a language, a culture?

I admire them, but remain skeptical.

And, the “sitting on your sofa and watching” thing made me think of this very sad cartoon which Syrians are widely sharing on Facebook these days…

Facebook_Syria

 

 

 

 

The Al Jazeera controversy over Syria, and why we should say no to nihilism

The controversy over Al Jazeera`s coverage of the Syrian uprising has been ongoing for quite a while. Actually, I remember Al Jazeera`s coverage to have been quite controversial since the very first days of the uprising, as it was pretty much non-existent.  At the time, pro-revolution activists accused the Qatari based-channel to underestimate the protests that started on March 15th 2011 in the country and to have given them almost zero airtime. The channel was accused to serve the diplomatic interests of Qatar, which at the time was pretty close to Bashar al-Asad and his family.

But soon the situation changed and Al Jazeera started to cover Syria extensively. I remember very well those Fridays during which I would sit with friends in Damascus to watch the  Al Jazeera-exclusive live coverage of the demonstrations from places such as Daraa, Homs, or from the suburbs of the capital. Sometimes they would split the TV screen into four, in order to give space and relevance to each city that was protesting.

This was when the majority of the Syrian activists were still in love with Al Jazeera, and when pro-regimes were actively engaged in a campaign aimed at defaming the channel for its allegedly unbalanced and unprofessional coverage of the crisis in Syria. This campaign even took some “creative” aspects as in these posters designed by pro-regime activists and distributed on Facebook.

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(source: anonymous pro-regime activists on Facebook)

After these episodes, which were mostly concentrated in the first six months of the uprising, many things have happened. Criticism is now coming not only from pro-regime activists, but also from some of Al Jazeera`s employees, such as the head of Beirut office Ghassan Ben Jeddo, who resigned in protest of an alleged lack of professionalism of the channel in reporting the Syria crisis; or Ali Hashem, a journalist from Beirut.

Internal criticism coming from the employees of the channel has matched with an increasing criticism coming from Arab analysts, such as Sultan al Qassemi, who in this article accused Al Jazeera to have failed to portray the Syrian uprising in a professional, balanced way. Many Syrian activists, too,  have lamented the alleged sectarian angle of Al Jazeera`s coverage of Syria, which would give prominence and relevance to the Sunni-led component of the uprising, ignoring the contributions given by Syrian minorities (such as Christians, Ismailis and Alawis) to organizing protests and anti-regime civil disobedience actions.

Despite all the criticism and many mistakes made by Al Jazeera (as much as by other channels, I have to say) in terms, for example, of not always verifying information and videos coming from social media before the actual broadcast, I have t to admit that I was pretty interested by the way they covered the “dhikra” of the second year anniversary of the Syrian uprising, few days ago. It was quite comprehensive, touching various angles, from the military one to the humanitarian, and covering different part of Syria in a simultaneous way.

I was particularly touched by the coverage of Aleppo done by Ghada Oweis, who reported from inside the city, focusing on how life goes on, despite all the difficulties, in areas that are under the control of the Free Syrian Army. Al Jazeera has put a different correspondent in each different areas of Aleppo, and sometimes they do a live broadcast going from one neighbourhood to the other, giving a pretty incredible feeling of simultaneity, hence a feeling of life.

Ghada Oweis, according to this post distributed virally on Facebook, is “wanted” by an Aleppian businessman who is ready to pay 50.000 USD dollars to have the journalist (and “terrorist” as it is written in the post) remitted to the Syrian authorities, “dead or alive”.

I dont know this gentleman and have not enough connections to verify if this post is true or is fabricated by other parties in order to suggest that pro-regime activists are ready to kill journalists. I don`t know.

Ghadaoweis

(source: Facebook)

 

There are so many things we don`t know. I watched another news story done by Ghada in Aleppo few days ago, concerning an historical building being reconverted in a school for children after being bombed by the regime. There was a teacher being interviewed who told the story of the building, of the kids, of the attempts to have life back in that building despite all odds. It was a touching story but I felt something strange when the guy mentioned the fact that the building was bombed “an year  and half ago”. At the time, in fact, bombing of Aleppo had not started yet. But, I thought, the guy might have been just a bit emotional and made a mistake (although the journalist should have corrected him). When I switched Twitter on, however, I found something in Edward Dark`s timeline which was pretty incredible. Edward is a nickname for a well-know activist from Aleppo who stood against the regime since the beginning of the revolution, but eventually turned against the revolution itself when it reached an armed phase, and notably when the FSA gained ground in his own city, Aleppo.

So what was in Edward`s timeline? A message from a Facebook account, allegedly that of lawyer Alaa al Sayed who, according to Edward, is a famous pro-civil society activist (and, I gather, not a regime goon). He said:

الاعلامية غادة عويس على الجزيرة غطت منذ قليل بتقرير صحفي بناء تاريخي حلبي تعرض للقصف :
للتوثيق و التاريخ :
—————————
البناء هو للكنيسة اليسوعية التي بنيت عام 1887 م ثم
تم تأجيرها لمديرية التربية في بداية الخمسينات و صارت مدرسة،
بعدما انتقلت الكنيسة الى ساحة الكرنك ثم الى العزيزية .
تم استخدامها كروضة باسم روضة ازهار تشرين حتى اغلاقها منذ ما يزيد على السنتين
و تم تحويلها بعد ترميمها الى متحف وضعت فيه الوسائل التعليمية الاثرية التي كانت مستخدمة في مدرسة المأمون منذ مائة عام والتي وجدت في أقبية المأمون عند ترميمها .
ملاحظات على التقرير :
—————————-
لم تكن الروضة مفتوحة منذ عام و نصف و اغلقت بسبب القصف، فلم يكن هناك قصف بحلب منذ عام و نصف.
و الروضة مغلقة قبل ذلك بكثير .
و الشاب الذي زعم انه معلم في هذه الروضة و توقف طلابه عن تلقي العلم غبر صادق .
لم تكن هذه الكنيسة يوما مدرسة الشمبانيا و هي معهد الاخوة الفرير في منطقة المحافظة، و صورة التلاميذ و الاساتذة المكتوب عليها مدرسة الشمبانيا التي استندت اليها الاعلامية عبارة عن صورة تاريخية وضعت في المتحف .
و الرجل من اهل الحي الذي قابلته و قال ذلك لا يمكن ان يكون من اهل الحي يوما .
الرجل الذي قال انه من اهل الحي و اولاده كانوا طلابا في روضة المدرسة و انقطعوا عن الدوام بسبب الاحوال الحالية ، غير صادق فلا هو من اهل الحي و لا اولاده كانوا في الروضة المغلقة من سنوات .
غادة العويس : في حلب تحديدا يطلب منك مزيدا من المهنية و التدقيق …ديري بالك معنا ما في لعب …

I won`t translate the message, but just the most important part of it, which is that, according to this gentleman, Ghada has been inaccurate in her story about the old building. First, because as I had also noticed, there was no bombing in Aleppo “half an year ago”. “The building was closed much longer before”. Second, because the guy who pretended in the news items to be a teacher in that school would be lying. Third, because the place itself was not what the report pretends it to be, but an historical Jesuit church which then became an institute run by the “Freres” , etc etc etc. Fourth, because the picture featuring the school pupils which the report shows is, according to Mr Al Sayed, an historical picture coming from the museum.

I could continue but I will stop. What does this lesson teach us? Not to trust Al Jazeera? Not to trust Twitter and Facebook? not to trust images?

I don`t know Aleppo enough to establish the truth on that building, or church, or whatever it is. I don`t know either Ghada Oweis or Alaa al Sayed to have enough elements to decide about who is right and who is wrong. This is yet another example of the complexity we are running through, every day, when it comes to Syria coverage.  But we should not embrace nihilism, as many are doing: “since everything can be fabricated by those folks, by both sides, then everything will be fabricated so I wont believe to anything that comes out from Syria”.

At the end of the day, this is the game the regime wants to play. And this is why at the beginning of the revolution, and for a very long time, it was so careful not to allow professional journalists in the country, which has left the entire Syria coverage in the hands of activists.

What we should do is to continue asking questions, to ourselves and to the others, every time we watch a news item -as much as when we read Facebook posts or  a tweet-, in order to understand where the truth lies. It is a time-consuming operation, I know. I have myself not enough time to do it -as journalism is not my daily job, and this blog posts took at least three days before being written, as I had promised  Ryan Smith on Twitter –.

But we should aim at doing it, always. Asking questions is an healthy exercise.

Nihilism is not.

 

Ciao Vittorio..

Oggi abbiamo perso una voce coraggiosa, una voce rara, nel nostro paese e nel mondo intero. Vittorio Arrigoni  era una persona che aveva sposato una causa, un paese, un popolo, senza mezzi termini. Dal 2008 viveva a Gaza, e dal suo blog raccontava le storie di ordinaria follia nella Striscia. Era diventato “famoso” durante l`assalto israeliano a Gaza del dicembre 2008, quando lui era uno dei pochissimi, gia` li, sul campo, in un vuoto informativo totale. Ma il blog di Vittorio non si era fermato per la “fine” dell`attacco a Gaza, cosi` come il suo impegno, la sua dichiarazione di intenti, la sua scelta di vita a fianco di un popolo e della sua causa. E Vittorio era rimasto li`, a Gaza, anche quando i riflettori dei media si erano spenti.

Putroppo il suo blog l`ha fermato invece la violenza, la violenza sorda e senza ragioni dell`estremismo. Vittorio e`stato rapito e brutalmente assassinato ieri a Gaza, vani i tentativi persino del governo di Hamas di scovarlo e liberarlo.

Il popolo palestinese e` in lutto per la perdita di questo italiano che aveva dato tutto per la Palestina. Era uno di noi, dice la comunita` palestinese su Twitter, dove oggi ribatteva l`hashtag #RIPVittorio.

Nella foga delle notizie di Al Jazeera, BBC Arabic -impegnate su tutti i fronti arabi, dallo Yemen alla Siria alla Libia- c`e stato pero` sempre spazio per ricordare Vittorio, e il lavoro che ha fatto negli anni, attivista e pacifista, blogger e laico, impegnato ma non nel dire, nel fare.

Queste sono la coerenza, la dignita`, l`impegno, a cui mi piacerebbe associare il mio paese.

Ho visto oggi le foto di palestinesi portare il silenzio la sua bara, circondata da bandiere della Palestina e dell`Italia, un colore solo.

(foto di Repubblica.it)

Ciao Vittorio…

Restiamo Umani…

The secret of Al Jazeera`s success: dealing with Arabs as people, not as numbers

picture by Evanchill

Yesterday Wadah Khanfar, general manager of Al Jazeera network, wrote an interesting piece: “At Al Jazeera, we saw the Arab revolutions coming. Why didn`t the West?”.

“Indeed, it should surprise no one that so many Western analysts, researchers, journalists and government experts failed to recognize the obvious signs of Arab youth movements that would soon erupt into revolutions capable of bringing down some of the most pro-Western regimes in the Middle East. That failure has exposed a profound lack of understanding in the West of Arab reality. Quantcast U.S. and European allies, supporters and business partners of the Arab regimes persistently preferred to deal with leaders who were entirely unrepresentative of the new generation. They were detached from the emerging reality and had no way to engage with the social forces that now matter. It is the growing periphery of the Arab world – the masses at its margins, not its feeble and decaying center – that is shaping the future of the region” Khanfar says.

I cannot but agree with him. Few days ago, in my post “Tripoli, una gita di mille anni fa” (in Italian), I was discussing the same issue, the blindness of the West, particularly Europe and my own country, Italy (which enjoyed in the past a great deal of soft power in the Region and a cultural proximity with Arabs that maybe only Spain and Greece have among EU countries). We had a great opportunity which was the Euro-Mediterreanean framework and we wasted it, doing partnerships with the wrong people, “supporters of the Arab regimes” as Wadah cleverly points out. We saw the rising influence of social networks and some of us, mostly academic researchers with no real influence on institutional policies, spent years and years trying to convince EU institutions that those were the right folks to discuss with, the young blood of the new Arab generation. But sine we are ourselves “too young” (at least for EU parameters) nobody paid too much attention to our words, taking us as “kids” playing with the latest technology tool.

The same happened much longer before with TV stations. I remember when I first visited Al Jazeera, back in 2000, and then started to write articles and a book about the channel. It took years and years of work and public talks to have the EU elites starting to take this station “seriously” and not being just scared by it.

Today, 10 years  after 9/11, the situation has completely changed. Al Jazeera has been in touch with “the street” as Wadah points out, and was able to catch up with the changing going on in the Region. Al Jazeera is a young station. Khanfar himself is young and was able to build up a team of youngsters in the New Media Department that is super-professional. People like Mohamed Nanahbay and Mooed Ahmad, with their teams at Al Jazeera Arabic and English, have been working since 2006 to build what Al Jazeera achieves today.

We can criticize the channel`s editorial policy, disagree with some of its programmes, dislike its “incendiary” style, but we cannot deny the professional way the channel has been building relations with the people during the years. That`s it: Al Jazeera has not dealt with Arabs as audiences, but as its “people”. It has empowered them to express their opinions, send their messages, join online forum and chats, post videos, build the new brand identity of the channel all together.

People, mostly in the West, are surprised of the channel popular success during the last Egyptian uprising and now with Libya. There`s nothing to be surprised about pictures like the one Evanchill has published. People feel proximity with Al Jazeera, and new media has played a big role in this. And the way Al Jazeera has been using new media since 2006 is incredibly clever and professional. I wouldt be surprised at all: I would call this “investment”.

Al Jazeera has invested in new media since 2006 and this success is just the result of a professional work done during years and years. As much as 9/11 coverage in Afghanistan was the result of an investment done since the beginning of the channel, in 1996, by building a network of contacts and opening offices in crisis zones.

9/11 coverage didnt come out of the blue. It was just the result of an investment.

The idea of “investing” in something was once very close to Western mentality. It seems that now, mostly in the EU, this is gone. And none of the Arabic language stations that we have in Europe has ever thought of building a relation with its Arab audiences and dealing with them as people, not as numbers.

Al Jazeera did, and that`s the secret of its successful coverage of the Arab uprisings. It did it so well that this was helpful to reach out to Western audiences too.

There was -and there still is- a big campaign in the US, appeared also on Twitter and called #DemandAlJazeera. The channel New media team is organizing meet-ups all over America, and many articles are  being published everywhere in the US to demand the availability of the channel via cable.

And this might be Al Jazeera`s latest success: few days ago it was publicly announced that the channel is in talks with Comcast, the largest US cable distributor.

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..)

19/02/11

Source: kovasboguta.com

Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Kuwait..and Citizen Tube

Unrest continues in the Arab world and more countries are joining the “wave” of protests which started last December in Tunisia, then reached Egypt. Now Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait, Algeria and tomorrow probably Morocco,too, are joining.

It`s very critical to get information from these countries where foreign news  correspondents on the ground are few or none (like Libya), or even Arab news channels as Al Jazeera are banned or do have problems with the local government (like in Bahrain).

But thanks to user-generated media and social networks we are overcoming this problem (at least a bit).

I got this shocking video from Libya first via a Twitter user that I`m following, much before it was published on “official” news outlets.

So watch out for Twitter users from Libya like @ChangeinLibya or @ShababLibya or from Bahrain like famous bloggers @Mahmood and @JustAmira .

Twitter is, I guess, in this moment, the best source on what`s happening if you choose the right network to follow.

There is also an interesting You Tube channel where most of these videos from Libya, Bahrain, Algeria etc are being posted: have a look at Citizen Tube to stay updated.