This week, the articles centered on themes on women’s social movements in the Arab world. The article on Harassmap and the effect that it proved that crowdsourcing can have on a social issue was really compelling. I think that the process of Harassmap was particularly interesting because although it was an application that began as a response to a particular problem in Egypt, it’s something that could be implemented and have use in countless other parts of the world. Harass map’s success really highlighted the value of anonymity when it comes to digital activism. Counts of reporting harassment among Egyptian women before Harassmap were underreported due to the social constraints and implications that many of these women faced in their personal lives. Harass map provides an outlet to report these issues and build a crowdsourced, almost grassroots-type community of women who are experiencing similar injustice. Not only does this method maintain visibility among a typically invisible group, but it maintains an undeniability among the culture that these things are in fact happening. I think these types of applications and methods for tracking social injustice and social change is something that we should be seeing more of in the future.
I thought Jessica Dheere’s article on activist bloggers made a really interesting point about the difference between journalists and bloggers. At first, I thought it was strange to think that some of these bloggers don’t want to be considered journalists, because I thought that might give them some more credibility amongst their readers. But Dheere’s point that, as bloggers, these people have a closer connection to the citizens on a more personal level makes a lot of sense through the lens of digital activism and inciting change in thee countries.
I also think that perhaps if bloggers were categorized more as journalists in some of these oppressive governments, their words wouldn’t be taken as seriously or as passionately among the collective people as they are as bloggers. As bloggers, their readers may view them more are ‘one of us’ instead of fearing that their words may be controlled and edited by a more powerful authority.
It seems that blogging, however dangerous it may be in some of these countries, may be the closest way for people to achieve free speech. The internet creates a platform to protect some of these activists, and it becomes easier for them to share their ideas and grievances on a wider space.
The social movement in Beirut, mobilizing behind the hashtag #YouStink, began in the Summer of 2015, and calls for reform of Lebanon’s state infrastructure and an ousting of their current political leaders whom protestors argue are more concerned with capitalist corruption than the well-being of their own people. Following the privatization of Lebanon’s garbage collection services and the shut down of the country’s largest waste landfill, trash quickly began to collect on the streets of Beirut, leading protestors to organize in a call for government reform and the rights to a cleaner living environment.
The main source of government corruption in relation to #YouStink is the relationship between the Lebanese government and the waste management company Sukleen. Sukleen has been dumping garbage in public spaces, and the Lebanese government’s completely apathetic response to this crisis has left the citizens of Beirut open to the exposure of disease caused by the multitude of waste being left to decompose in the open. It has been suggested that Sukleen has been allocated state funds in order to act as the country’s leading waste management system, yet they have been apathetic and willing to exploit the garbage crisis in order to obtain a contract extension with the government.
Although the protests in support of #YouStink have aimed to be peaceful, violence has broken out as the government has sent out riot police with water cannons and rubber bullets as a response. Although #YouStink seems to resemble the activism and beginnings that we saw with the rise of the Arab Spring, its supporters seem adamant to distance themselves from being called revolutionaries.
I attended the final panel of the After Tahrir conference entitled “Bodies and Spaces: Moral Panics, Revolution, and Counterrevolution“. I found this panel, overall, to be very interesting and insightful, as each speaker represented a point of view that we don’t generally hear from when we think of the middle east and issues of representation. My favorite speaker was Yahia Saleh who talked about his personal struggle between being queer and being black, both in Egypt and when he was living in Sweden. He really pressed the point that there is a struggle between identifying with a particular community and becoming consumed and pressured to personally identify as the issues and values of the community. Being both queer and black, I think Saleh articulated this issue really well. I enjoyed hearing his point of view after we heard from Ahmad Awadallah who discussed the ways that queer groups have been able to develop a voice in Egypt. The two speakers were certainly in conversation, as Awadallah spoke about the queer community in Egypt being able to gain visibility by looking to and working with other like-minded groups, such as feminist and women’s groups. Saleh then made his point about identifying on an individual level between two different groups. They presented their experiences in a way that I had never really thought of before. I thought it was crazy how interrelated these groups potentially have to be and how effectively they must operate in order to support each other.
I was most interested in reading these articles because they shed a lot of light on the far more underlying stories of gender inequality in Egypt leading up to and during the revolution. The relationship between what was happening on the ground and what was being portrayed in widely read Western media is an extremely important topic to take a closer look at. The article notes that news outlets were quick to vilify Arab men as dangerous, violent protestors while ignoring the true facts behind the events that were happening. For example, the article suggests that perhaps those who were involved in attacking American journalists were acting under the authority or persuasion of the conservative regime. The stories of the women protesting at this time were also completely ignored in Western media.
Reading this made me think a lot about comparing this to the articles we read last week on Khaled Said. The case for Said also suggested that there was information being led out and that the majority of people supporting the cause were ignorantly ignoring many underlying social issues. Connecting this to making the case for Egyptian women during the revolution, their entire presence was being missed, and I think that it had a lot to do with the Western media outlets completely misunderstanding the social makeup and standing of the revolution as it was happening on the ground. Being quick to pass generalized judgements leads to serious discrepancies in our understanding of events. I think that this comparison really underlines the fact that this revolution and process for social change is extremely multi-layered and does not have one answer or lens for looking at these issues.
Throughout both Faris and Ali & El-Sharnouby’s articles, it’s clear that the internet, and specifically social media sites, provide a platform for repressed people to quickly, cheaply, and efficiently organize under a specific issue rather than resorting to traditional activist efforts of organizing in a physical space. Faris talks about the formation of Kefaya in Egypt and the struggles they originally faced in opposition to an authoritarian regime. Attendance rates were low, and due to gender-based violence, many women activists refrained from protesting.
Social media sites are widely accessible and provide a platform for anonymity, but it is also important to note that although social media activism in these environments can be extremely effective, campaigns can be easily skewed. Faris accentuates the point that in these online campaigns, there are many leaders. Perhaps with many leaders comes a wider chance for a movement’s main focus to shift in order to fit the group’s agenda. In the case of We Are All Khaled Said, Ali & El-Sharnouby comment that WAAKS struggles between the true testimony of Said’s beating and the mythic portrayal of a martyr of police brutality that had been associated with Said both on Facebook and in conversation surrounding the campaign.
Ali & El-Sharnouby appear very concerned with this disconnect and make the point that regardless of whether Said was or was not the martyr that WAAKS claims him to be, digital campaigns such as WAAKS are simply unable to fully grasp the social and cultural context of these events. They suggest that Egyptian youth culture and activism does not tackle the uncomfortable, underlying social issues of alienation, substance abuse, religious extremism, unemployment, poor education, etc. and are instead idealizing social change through “heroic stories of martyrdom and sacrifice” (Ali & El-Sharnouby, 90).