The film Cairo Drive by director Sherief Elkatsha was very special for multiple reasons. It showed a side to me of Egypt and of Cairo that I had never before seen or thought about, specifically about the spirit of the area and of the people. The film showed the historic events that were the Egyptian insurgencies and illustrated the area from the perspective of the people as a whole rather than simply the activists or protestors like we have seen in other films and read about in other texts for this class leading up to this event. This helped me to be able to relate to the situation on a much more personal level than I was ever able to before, and I think it was a great choice to make for the sake of the film.
Another aspect of the film that I found to be unique was the characteristics of the taxi drivers that were portrayed. The film did a great job of showing how urban the city is as opposed to what some may think initially when picturing it, an also how lively and chaotic it can be. It almost reminded me of urban cities like Los Angeles or New York, where there always seems to be something happening and life seems to be going on at a fast-pace. Never have I put so much thought into the way people drive, and the implications that may have on their city as a whole, let alone their government. The commuter culture was really eye opening for me to be able to witness for myself on screen, and I think that having listened to the director speak to our class beforehand was also an element of this film experience that made it special for me, as well as for my classmates I’m sure.
The Lacroix reading touched on many different ways of thinking about the social activism and protesting that has happened and is still happening in Saudi Arabia. She touches on the idea that it may seem that these protests and movements for change in regime and in human rights have not had a large impact on making a real difference in the country. This may be the case, but she also goes into detail explaining the impacts these movements have had on the citizens in the country in different areas and how it has sparked debate in many places. It is interesting that even though she explained that many of the people in Saudi Arabia agreed that change needed to be made, some disagreed on the extent to which change should take place and also how to go about making this change. This caused issues between activists who actually had the same fundamental ideas but instead of joining together as comrades as Lacroix puts it, they have become pulled apart. This has worked against the cause that many of these activists and citizens have tried to work towards, as Liberals and Islamists are seeing each other as different rather than the same. The government is able to take advantage of this situation and push their own agenda on the public, causing more political dissent. There are many different sects of activists within Saudi Arabia, and I think that although after reading about it I understand why these groups view their fundamental values as different, they should ally themselves with each other if they expect to make lasting and visible changes in their country. Overall, everybody seems to be seeking change so instead of focusing on the different way in which they choose to go about making this change they should join forces and tackle the regime as a whole.
I think that even though I am not entirely surprised, it is interesting that the direction this class seems to have taken with regard to online and digital activism everywhere in the Middle East and North Africa, everything seems to come back to issues of the public not being satisfied with their government or ruling regime. Every country has had issues relating to those who hold positions of authority and they take to the web anonymously in order to form communities where others can help them spread awareness of a certain issue or movement they are promoting.
These articles were about Arab bloggers, who used their blogs in order to speak about issues they face with others, however they are continuously seen as threats to government officials and are often imprisoned for their digital voices. This seems to be a human rights issue, as people are unable to voice their opinions without fear of retaliation from whomever is in a position of authority that may view their activism as detrimental to their power and take action against it.
The readings specifically talked about a man named Bassel, who was a social media developer that is credited with bringing open internet to the Arab world. He is highly respected among other digital activists for his work, however he was imprisoned because his work was seen as threatening to the government.
It is clear that if a ruling power is threatened by the ability for their people to exercise their freedom of speech, they have larger issues within the country that need to be addressed. This is why those who use their digital voices in order to make a conscious effort for change are continuously mistreated and wrongfully imprisoned, and I personally am not sure how this can be stopped, but it is clear that it must be or else more and more innocent activists will face unjust punishments for speaking their minds.
The first article for this week’s homework assignment was about the changing of ownership and use of spaces in Beirut. Tenants are gradually being evicted from their homes due to changes in people in positions of authority, leading many to believe in the concept that it is a “weak state”. The article stressed this concept and described the nature of these real estate issues, and that they are in fact politically charged even though due to the “weak state” they are not being approached from that lens. The state is in the process of establishing authority over it’s people and the land, which is discussed in the article in terms of the affect it is having on the community. The people in these communities are very displeased with their government and this reminded me of many of the stories I heard during the Egyptian panel on Monday, about changing spaces and authority over those spaces.
The second article about the #YouStink movement also described the people of Beirut being unsatisfied and frustrated by the way that their authority figures and government are handling the current situations there. There are currently environmental crises occurring, and the people see the problems with the uncollected garbage as a symbol for their dissatisfaction with their government. Activists have faced brutal treatment from law enforcement, and the garbage is creating concern for major health issues. Riot policemen are facing the protestors with hostility and activists are getting badly injured during their protesting. Both of these articles show that the public in Beirut, Lebanon are not content with those who are in positions of authority and power, i.e. police officers and the government. People are trying to spread word of these issues and progress towards change but it clearly has been difficult to do so and maintain one’s health and safety.
While attending the After Tahrir conference yesterday I was left with much to think about, both in terms of the lives and experiences of those who spoke on the panel I had the privilege of viewing, and in terms of my own life and the vast differences between the two. The panel I sat in on was called “Radical Democrats and Legacies of Combat: Strategies and Movements”, and there were four speakers who talked about their experiences with changes that they have witnessed in Egypt, and about losses they have had to live with relating to those changes. The first speaker, Momen El Husseiny, spoke about spaces in which people organize themselves in order to move away from the areas in which they are not encouraged to congregate. Although he had already been speaking for half an hour when I walked in to the conference, I understood that there are areas where authority figures are preventing groups from organizing, and as a response, groups are organizing themselves in a gated community Momen spoke about called Rehaby.net. I found this all very captivating to listen to because it made me think about the readings we have done thus far in class about the Egyptian revolution, and how people have turned to online communities in order to reach out to each other to promote a cause or get information about something. This seems to be the most easily accessible outlet for group activism in many places in Egypt, and it has been for years.
The second speaker also talked about spaces in Egypt, but through the lens of the gentrification that is taking place and that militants are forcing people to evict from areas around Cairo through false accusations.
The third speaker talked about two groups of football fans called ultras, who have suffered massacres and misrepresentation in the public. She seemed to be in favor of these groups, and described them as simply being clubs devoted to pleasure and fun, that are being mis-categorized and mistreated. I found it interesting when she stated that the public image of these fan groups seems to either paint them as heroes or as demons, because that reminded me of the story of Khaled Said. The public seems to be likely to dramatize subjects rather than view their stories objectively.
Finally, I found the last speaker who spoke about Egypt pre and post 2011 to be very touching. She was brave and pushed through both her emotions and some technical difficulties experienced towards the end of her presentation. She talked about camps that she works with and the community of peace and love that she lives in. I found this to be so positive and that the idea of a changing Arab identity being formed by these camps that are empowering youths is wonderful. It made me think about a Jewish summer camp that I grew up attending as a child, and then went on to work at as an adult. I grew up at this camp, and being surrounded by others who were similar in background and experience to myself, of all ages, really did help me form my own personal identity. Although I cannot relate to the experiences that these Arab youths have had in their lives, I think that the idea of a place for them to grow as individuals and as a community is very relatable and something I feel very fondly about.
The Herrera article for this week’s class reading focused on the now familiar subject of youth in the Middle East using technology to get information, however this article also focused attention on the rising power of youth culture, specifically Arab youth, and how they are challenging the status quo. Herrera conducted research on the changing dynamics in culture between generations of Arab youth, and came to the conclusion that youth in Egypt have been learning and developing ideals that are different from those of their predecessors within figures of authority and age. They are able to learn and develop their culture through the use of technology and social media that is accessible to them but was not for the older generations when they were young. Herrera explains how this has impacted the culture as a whole and the image of youth as a group.
The Feminist Insurrections article posed two sides to female protesters of Tahrir Square; one where the women were portrayed as the minority in terms of the group protesting, and where the women were caught up in a hypermasculine movement, and another image where the women made up the majority of the protesting group and used their powerful voices to define themselves as activists and make their intentions clear. The article went on to describe the sexual assault women face in this area and the different movements that have come about in order to foster reform.
For my project, I was thinking of possibly doing something that incorporates trending hashtags in different areas of the Middle East and North Africa, and then showing that visually through the use of either memes, comic strips, or even possibly a series of vines. I am not entirely sure what specific social movement or human rights issue I want to try and address with this assignment, but I liked the idea of seeing what information is currently trending in these areas of the world, and then perhaps even comparing that to the trending topics in the U.S.
Aside from that I am interested in a couple of issues currently going on in the Middle East, for example the disparity of wealth in certain middle eastern countries, and also the toxic burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan is a very pressing topic that I believe people should know more about.
The advancements of social media technologies has very distinctly impacted and fostered the growth and change of the spread of information accessible to the people of Egypt. Prior to digital activism, social movements in Egypt may have gained merely hundreds of supporters, as opposed to the thousands or more that are able to spread word of various causes through the use of social media like Facebook and Twitter. This newfound use of technology to spread awareness of various issues in Egypt helped directly to lead to the Egyptian revolution, “which would have greatly affected the participatory thresholds of other Egyptians and led to the quashing of the revolt before it could gather the momentum it eventually did,” (Faris- Social Media)
Ahmed Ghanim defines social media as platforms for user-generated ideas, and shared his account of how he experienced it’s contribution to the Egyptian revolution. I found it interesting that he stated that there were only two main forms of media for most of his life, and that they were so drastically different. He explained that the soft-spoken “other” type of media is what has been transformed by technology and social media, and this has helped it to become more mainstream in opposition to the media messages put out by the government. An aspect of this article and of the other that I found very interesting however, is what was stated about who the users are of these social media platforms. The majority of the users are regular people and citizens, but there is a percentage of users who belong to an “elite” group of activists who use the mediums to further a specific agenda, which usually is some form of response to the ruling regimes in Egypt.
Much of the articles were about Khaled Said, and about the contrast between his image as a martyr in the public and on Facebook which started the movements around his death, and about his personal life and the differences between the two images. Although he may have just been a flawed youth and some may argue that he wasn’t deserving of his saint-like status, his death and the movements that came about afterwards was crucial to the spread of information and outcries from other youth and citizens in the country who faced similar undeserving and brutal treatment from authority and police. I couldn’t help but make comparisons between the story of Khaled Said and the We Are Khaled Said movement, and the several movements rallying against the brutal treatment of black youth by police in America. Whether the face of a movement is necessarily an activist or saint themselves doesn’t seem to me to be very important, as long as the message being spread is one of importance and one that can help to benefit people who are being mistreated.