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<nettime> Third Arab Bloggers Meeting: Highlights and Challenges in the
nettime's avid reader on Fri, 7 Oct 2011 14:05:51 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Third Arab Bloggers Meeting: Highlights and Challenges in the Digital Age

Third Arab Bloggers Meeting: Highlights and Challenges in the Digital Age
Houda Mzioudet | 05 October 2011 | 0 Comments


Arab Bloggers chose la Cite des 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 
and Sami Ben Gharbia, the organizers of the meeting,  greeted the audience, 
and Ben Gharbia opened the meeting with an overview. Tunisia, he explained, 
was chosen as the meetingâs 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. She also gave 
a historical overview of the use of internet to democratize  societies 
during democratic transitions in countries like South Korea and Russia. She 
emphasized engaging in activism with no fear of online policing. 
Governmentsâ 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 revolutionariesâ message 
to counter blackouts on Western media in Tunisia and Egypt. By translating 
tweets in 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, 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 valuable 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 Tunisiaâs Internet Agency (ATI), said blogging was 
essential for the Internet to survive. ATI was connected to the infamous 
âAmmar 404,â the symbol of censorship during Ben Ali regime. Chakchouk 
complained that ATI still controls Internet practices and the censorship of 
certain websites. He revealed technological equipment that was used and 
tested by ATI for censorship when certain western companies sold censorship 
software to dictatorial regimes in Arab countries afterwards. Chakchouk 
declined to name the companies.

The Turkish speaker Zeynep Tufekci of the University of North Carolina in 
Chapel Hill gave a talk entitled âBeyond Tahrir: Networked Activism in 
post-Revolutionary Transitions,â asking why regimes remain for decades in 
âpluralistic ignorance.â Dr. Kufekci argued that the challenges of a post-
revolution 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.
Egyptian and Lebanese bloggers discussing Wikileaks and its impact on Arab 

After lunch, a documentary movie entitled âZero Silence, a Documentary 
About the Free Wor(l)dâ screened for the 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 Wael Said and Rebecca Saada 
discussed the movie with the audience afterwards.

Spanish-Syrian blogger Laila Nachawati presented a snapshot of the impact 
of the Arab Spring on Europe with a slide show on the Spanish 15M  
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 Tunisian 
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, and Tarek Kahlaoui,  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 become skeptical of parties may look at independent 
candidates as political alternatives to party politics.

Wrapping up the first day of the meeting, organizer Sami Ben Gharbia and 
moderator Jillian York of Global Voices re-traced the Wikileaks saga: the 
release of the first cables in November 2010, their publication on 
Nawaat.org under the title âTunileaks,â and their later publication by 
Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper. Altogether, the revelations of the leaks had 
a great impact on speeding up Ben Ali and Mubarakâs eventual fall, even 
though many were skeptical that it was possible. Gharbia said that he 
himself was skeptical, but when people take huge risks, courage becomes 
contagious. Ben Gharbia gave the example of former Tunisian Minister of 
Interior Farhat Rajdi and whistle-blower police officer Samir Feriani. Both 
men leaked secrets of the ministry.

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