By Houda Mzioudet | Oct 5 2011Arab Bloggers Meeting , Arab Revolutions , Blogger , democracy , Egypt ,
Arab Bloggers chose la Cite desÂ Sciences, Ariana, north of Tunis, to host their third annual Arab Bloggers Meeting in the presence of Tunisian and foreign media. The opening ceremony was open to the public. Malek Khadraoui andÂ Sami Ben Gharbia, the organizers of the meeting,Â greeted the audience, and Ben Gharbia opened the meeting with an overview. Tunisia, he explained, was chosen as the meeting’s location because it was the first country of the Arab Spring.
Georgia Poppelwell, managing director of Global Voices, highlighted the role of citizen media in giving a voice to young Arabs in the Arab uprisings and praised Arab bloggers for their courageous activism. Rebecca McKinnon, co-founder of Global Voices opened a discussion entitled Fitting of Our Digital Rights: Threats and Opportunities. She presented Riadh Guerfeli, alias Astrubal, the founder of Nawaat.org website, and his promotional video by Apple Computers on how technology brings down dictators. In the Tunisian context, McKinnon stressed the relationship between citizens and the government mediated by the internet. SheÂ also gave a historical overview of the use of internet to democratize Â societies during democratic transitions in countries likeÂ South Korea and Russia. She emphasized engaging in activism with no fear of online policing. Governments’ inability to control the controversial effects of online platforms such as Facebook and Wikileaks are features of the challenges of democracy in the Internet age.
A discussion circle on the use of Twitter in the Arab revolutions and how activists used this new media to convey young Arab revolutionaries’ message to counter blackouts on Western media in Tunisia and Egypt. By translating tweets inÂ several languages, the revolution was Twitterized. With Mauritanian blogger and activist Nasser Wedady as a moderator of the discussion , panelists included Sultan Al Qassemi from the UAE, Egyptian Manal Hassan,Â Saudi Ahmed Al Omran, Moroccan Hisham Al Miraat, and Libyan Ghazi Gheblawi and Razan Al Ghazzawi. The group emphasized that they authenticated their tweets to ensure their news was accurate. These tweets became a valuableÂ source of information in their home countries, eventually used by mainstream media. Bloggers agreed that net activism united Arab people, discredited regimes and destroyed language barriers between Arabs.
Moez Chakchouk, CEO of Tunisia’s Internet Agency (ATI), said blogging was essential for the Internet to survive. ATI was connected to the infamous “Ammar 404,” the symbol of censorship during Ben Ali regime. Chakchouk complained that ATIÂ still controls Internet practices and the censorship of certain websites. He revealed technological equipment that was used and testedÂ by ATI for censorship when certain western companiesÂ sold censorshipÂ software to dictatorial regimes in Arab countriesÂ afterwards. Chakchouk declined to name the companies.
The TurkishÂ speakerÂ Zeynep Tufekci of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill gave a talk entitled “Beyond Tahrir: Networked Activism in post-Revolutionary Transitions,” asking why regimes remain for decades in “pluralistic ignorance.” Dr. Kufekci argued that the challenges of a post-revolutionÂ situation can be daunting, as history has shown. New media technologies played an important role in this period to counter dictatorship and state censorship. Arguing that rich nations lack the participatory impulse, the global challenge of the 21st century is to take inspiration from the Arab revolutions and create a bottom-up process.
After lunch, a documentary movie entitled “ZeroÂ Silence, a Documentary About the Free Wor(l)d”Â screened for theÂ second time (premiered in Sweden), featuring players of the Arab revolutions from Tunis to Beirut who used new media to vent their anger at authoritarian regimes. The film received a positive review from the audience, and actors WaelÂ Said and RebeccaÂ Saada discussed the movie with the audience afterwards.
Spanish-Syrian blogger Laila Nachawati presented aÂ snapshot of the impact of the ArabÂ Spring on Europe with a slide show on theÂ Spanish 15M Â movement. Drawing on inspiration from the Arab revolution, Spanish youth gathered in the main squares of many Spanish cities, using new media to mob mobilize people against government corruption.
An important highlight of the meeting was the relationship between TunisianÂ bloggers and politics. Several bloggers who have now become candidates for the Constituent Assembly on independent lists were in attendance, including Amira Yahyaoui, Riadh Guerfali, Mehdi Lamloum,Â and Tarek Kahlaoui, Â as well as Slim Amamou, a member of an organization which gives campaign training to independent candidates. Together they discussed their experience as bloggers turning to politics and the challenges they faced. They argue that an electorate which has becomeÂ skeptical of parties may look at independent candidates as political alternatives to party politics.