In the third week of the course, there was a multiple day conference where many activists and artists came from Egypt among other places to the speak about the 5 year anniversary of the Egyptian revolution. The speakers came from different backgrounds but all shared one common idea about the prosperity of Egypt and how much the country has changed in the last five years. The panel I attended was in the afternoon, and included many ideas about how the spaces in Cairo have changed and how the current state of the city has been altered by the Military leaders in an effort to get rid of the idea of the mass demonstrations and eliminate any traces of the revolution.
After hearing each speaker, I found that the overlying theme of space means that the city is losing its value of tradition, history, and culture. One of the speakers mentioned how there was a park in Cairo near Tahrir Square which used to be a place where people would bring their kids and enjoy picnics. Now, the entire area has been developed into a parking lot and has lost a vital cultural place in the city. Another speaker described the effects of the revolution on Egpyt’s favorite pastime, Soccer and how the clubs in the country have changed and are under the influence of the occupation.
The last speaker who was an artist showed many pictures mainly of street art and how that was expressive of the country’s emotions. I found her ideas about current state of Egypt and the way it was shut down on expression and speech to be the most disheartening.
All the speakers portrayed their love of Egypt and Cairo and were all passionate about their country and how it has changed and how they are trying to contain the unique and historical importance of their country. Their work and research is impressive and they will undoubtedly continue to research and speak about their country and how they can improve it over time.
I attended the R-Shief conference back in the beginning of the quarter where Professor Sakr and the numerous speakers who contributed to the website and its functions, spoke about the tools of the website. The main function of the site is to help analyze global social movements. As an open source media lab, it looks at discussions online mainly through social network channels like facebook, twitter, youtube, and instagram.
What I found revolutionary about the site is the way it can analyze arabic texts, and it remains the only producer for arabic technologies. I thought that the Instagram geo locator was the most interesting things that basically means you can choose any part of the world and it will pull up instagram photos from that region in the world. I think that the concept of R-Shief is unique and very useful, especially when looking at the Middle East and how much of the population is expressing themselves online and that the tools from R-Shief can help us understand what is promoting dialogue or activism. Since there are so many discussions and information online this can be a resourceful tool for trying to comprehend all the information on social media.
I think that this kind of new technology can be beneficial in many future forms of digital activism and having a site to make sense of arabic texts. This is especially useful for the current state of the world with so much happening in the Middle East and ISIL.
Saudi Arabia is unsurprisingly the most conservative and stable monarchy in the Middle East. Not only is there geographical and economic ties to the West of extreme significance but also their stance on the current issues concerning the region. Stephane Lacroix highlights the effect of the Arab Spring nonexistent to the core of Saudi Arabia’s politics and instead made the kingdom highly alerted and initiate stronger law enforcement. This was evident when the population of the Shia minority began to rally for reform after being inspired by the Egyptians and Libyans. This was seen as a very large threat to the Salafi traditions and customs that many in Saudi Arabia are loyal to.
The case in Saudi Arabia is considerably different because many of the important and conservative leaders of Islam feel that any kind of protests and change to the established way of things concerns Islamic principles as well as religious establishment set in the country. Many see Saudi as an special case because it contains Islam’s holiest site, Mecca that hosts millions of pilgrims every year from around the world for a religious pilgrimage. It’s important to note that Saudi Arabia is not the only country that harshly silenced the protests, Bahrain has the largest population of Shia Muslims that received harsh police brutality for protesting the inequality and discrimination received by the Sunni monarchy.
That being said, the Arab Spring did little to no change in the Arab Gulf and in fact created an even highly secure state. Since then, there has been a rise in digital activism with a wave of social media from the “forgotten prisoners” to police brutality and even women to drive in Saudi Arabia. Lacroix also provides the idea that Saudi Arabia was saved by many of the Islamic clerics and imams who would feature on TV to warn people to not protest and instead blame the rise of uprisings on those who were enemies of the Ummah. However, due to the rise of digital activism the youth in particular were adamant to produce change. To compensate and prevent any kind of mass uprising King Abdullah began to appoint some reforms.
I think after reading the article, the major issue that Saudi Arabia wanted to avoid was a whole wide demonstration for human rights which was the main driving point of the Egyptians and Libyans. This poses a threat not only to the politics of the country and the region but also to the Saudi royal family that upholds maintaining power of the country and keeping things the way they are.
This weeks articles were centered on women’s rights particularly in harassment issues. Harassmap was really appealing to me because not only had I not heard of it before, but it is such a formidable platform for women anywhere to share a platform to express their grief and stories. Harassmap’s concept allows women to share their stories without revealing their identities and gives them a chance to express what they feel without feeling shame and fear that they would otherwise fear in regular society.
The objective is “To engage all of Egyptian society to create an environment that does not tolerate sexual harassment.” I think this is such a great resource as well as opportunity for women to push the boundaries of cultural shame and problems that don’t allow them to express the taboo subjects of sexual harassment and rape. It is not only frowned upon to express such an issue but also can literally destroy a girl’s reputation and respect. Many areas in the Middle East view women who have been victims of sexual harassment as damaged goods and it ruins her chances of not only getting justice but also marriage and pursuing a career. To make matters worse, depending on the families the girls are from justice is served not for the girls dignity and honor but for her father as he usually claims to the judicial system that he literally has “damaged goods” and are compensated for it.
Therefore, women usually don’t have a say at all and harassmap is a great way for these women to connect with others and share their feelings and problems. It is not only a kind of therapy for them, but it can allow them to receive the help they need as well as give information for others.
Harassmap’s vision is “To build a society that guarantees the safety of all people from sexual and gender based violence.” Hopefully, they can continue to help and influence women to speak up and share their experiences in order to better help them.
Bassel Safadi a software developer who advanced software for the internet to help people be active online and find new ways to communicate. I found the articles on him very interesting and informative as he quickly posed a threat to the security of the Assad regime. I find it questionable that they’ve detained him for this long because they would be only doing so for some kind of ransom or possibly forcing some kind of job on him. But then again, knowing the brutality and cruelty of the Assad regime, he could also be unfortunately already executed. I think that Bassell’s actions were literally the driving force for people to not only express themselves and start internet campaigns but allowed them the opportunity to do so. Obviously for a totalitarian regime like Assad’s this would be seen as the worst thing to happen because now people can interact and share ideas with each other and in any other part of the world. I also found it amazing that his actions inspired so many digital activists to exist like the many campaigns in Egypt and Tunisia. Or Mohammad Erraji from Morocco who dared to speak out against the King of Morocco on an internet blog. Unfortunately, with such access comes a lot of danger because one person blogging a message can be sent to thousands of people at a time, which for the regimes in these countries poses a huge threat to their sovereignty and legitimacy. I think that the activists online in these countries in the Middle East have admirable courage and guts to risk their lives to change the state of their societies. As for Bassell Saffadi I think that he tried to change the ideas about human rights in his country and it has cost him his life. But I find it even more extraordinary that other bloggers from other countries have continued to express their ideas and activism despite knowing the dangers of being caught. It’s amazing to me that the digital activism has been active and will continue to be as much as the government attempts to control major social networking sites. I do hope that these activists continue to inspire people in their countries to stand up against the injustice, just as they have.
The you stink campaign in Lebanon was very interesting for me to learn about because I heard very little about it during the time of protests last August. The first article went into depth the concept of government sovereignty and in Lebanons case, it seemed that the way to do gain political sovereignty and power in their country was by privatizing land. Not only would it help the government of Lebanon try to control its people but it would also allow them to have more power in the areas they didn’t have before. Another tactic was to utilize state sponsored aggression and violence. While the second article discussed the failures of the housing and rent markets that fostered more centralized state control over private landlords to keep the rent prices stable and the government digging into another private sector to eliminate any problems between landlords and tenants. The final article discussed the events on the days of protests by the Lebanese people when the government tried to enforce restraint by attacking demonstrators and using water hoses to get them to stop. The protests even got more out of hand as there were several fights between protestors and police. The point of the protests are exactly the ideas mentioned above to go against the government privatization and growing powers limiting the private sector.
My overall impression of the privatization of Lebanon becoming less and the government control growing is just another tactic by the government as a security state. It’s no secret that the people in the Middle East will uprise against the regimes therefore governments are taking extreme measures and aggression to shut the people down before they get rallied up to form an opposition. The idea of force and fear is not something new but something borrowed from other countries like Egypt and Bahrain who attack protestors to ignite fear for others to stop and put people in jail without proper representation.
I attended the conference in the afternoon where I heard an amazing panel of speakers. the topic they were discussing was “radical democrats and legacies of combat: strategies and movements”. The first speaker Momen El Husseiny discussed the mobilization of neoliberal spaces and changing scales and how it currently affects Egypt’s cities particularly Cairo. Another speaker who spoke of similar ideas was Omnia Khalil who spoke about the gentrification and militarization. I found their speeches interesting because I never though about spaces in that context before. I never realized how important spaces and changes in the cities have changed the landscape of several cities. They explained through pictures the changes in landscape by the current regime as an effort to sort of reshape peoples idea of Cairo getting rid of cafes and parks and replacing them with parking lots. This is probably a strategy to get people to not gather and meet together as they did in 2011. I think another speaker that was very compelling was Ranwa Yehia and the differences in communities around expression mainly art. I thought it was fascinating that Egyptians were using art forms to express their ideas and feelings. I thought her speech was very heartfelt and emotional as well.
I think it was also interesting to mention in the speech about the position of football in Egypt and how it has changed with the most famous clubs in the country. I just was very impressed by the spaces idea and how it literally formulated the congregation of people in Tahrir Square and organized the protests during the revolution. I also liked one of questions regarding the phenomenon that Egypt created to be strictly an Arab idea but they discussed that it in fact was not only an Arab identity but for anyone in any regime fighting for basic rights and against totalitarianism.
I think overall each speaker demonstrated their love for their country and the people of their country and explained with great passion and respect the ideas they put forth about the country’s current dilemma’s as well as what can be done and how much work needs to be done.