The Egyptian Twittersphere, 18 Months Into the Revolution

The Egyptian Twittersphere, 18 Months Into the Revolution

Lisa Goldman, for TechPresident, on where Egyptian Twitter is at:

But over the last eight months things have changed. Once prominent voices have become subdued, or gone mute. New personalities have risen to prominence. Once unified in their opposition to the Mubarak regime, the January 25 activists are now divided by public ideological spats. Nearly all the Egyptians who tweeted exclusively in English before and during the initial months of the uprising are now communicating at least part of the time in Arabic — and not the formal written language that is understood by all literate Arabic speakers, but colloquial Egyptian dialect.

In many cases, the early participants in the discourse are burnt out, turning inward and becoming absorbed in their own careers. But there are other significant causative factors at play.

For politically engaged Egyptians online, the Twitter discourse has shifted, several well-known commentators told techPresident. Once it was about reporting and participating in the revolution; now it is about discussing the revolution and debating political issues. Twitter is now hosting a vigorous debate about Egypt's future. After months of fighting the entrenched remains of a decades-old regime, on the streets and in public opinion, revolution fatigue has set in for the January 25 activists. Rather than demonstrating on the streets, they are exchanging ideas online. But the discussion does not include the majority of Egyptians who lack Internet access. This fact has not escaped those who are most intensely engaged in the discourse, even as they wonder whether their digital debates are an echo chamber or a means of effecting change.

Conclusion: the real action is on the street. 

A couple of months ago, I gave a talk at SciencesPo Paris on my experience running this site and my perception of the role of social media in the Arab uprisings. My take then, and now, is that Twitter was far more important in shaping a narrative for the outside world then shaping a narrative for the Arab world (where Facebook was much more important for the connected and al-Jazeera the major influence for most of the others). Twitter is a emotive communication medium, what many Arab tweeps did — as well as relay information — was communicate an emotional state (excitement, fear, courage, etc.) that enabled a global audience to feel like it had a front seat to events and that allowed it to bypass or supplement traditional information sources (television, newspapers, websites). It was a mobilizer of international public opinion with many tweeps acting as propagandists and cheerleaders (this was particularly evident in the more calculated efforts to use Twitter in Libya, Bahrain and now Syria) for their cause. That's why so much of it is in English.

In my talk, since I was in Paris, I echoed Jean Baudrillard's theory that "The Gulf War did not happen" — i.e. the "Arab Spring" did not happen. I mean this in the sense that the global/Western experience of the Arab Spring, often fed by Twitter soundbites that were largely recuperated by traditional media (remember how common quotes of tweets were at the time) because Twitter is, in this sense, the ultimate infotainment, because it provides so much emotional punch. It was a spectacle. Much of what was out there was a mise-en-scene of the events, with the tweep as hero. I think a lot of the "disappointment" one reads in Western commentary about the "Arab Spring" turning into an "Arab Winter" (because of violence, Islamists, etc.) is because they believed in that narrative of January-March 2011. It's their own stupid fault for believing in it, the reality was always a lot more complex — their problem was to allow themselves to be caught in the enthusiasm of those experiencing the events and casting themselves as characters in them.

In Translation: The Revolutionary Youth Coalition's final report

We're really fortunate to bring to you a long translation of an important document today — one made possible by the upstanding chaps at Industry Arabic, who provide great Arabic translation services and more. If you or your business have need of top-notch translation from Arabic into another language, please give them a try and help them keep on helping us.

The Revolutionary Youth Coalition was the most important umbrella group to emerge out of the protest movement of January 25. It continued to be the main reference and contact point for "youth" for several interlocutors in the months that followed Mubarak's overthrow, holding meetings with state representatives and often representing protestors at national conferences and elsewhere. On July 8, the Coalition announced its dissolution and published the document below —  an examination of its actions, mistakes and successes in the last sixteen months. As the writers note, such self-examination is rare in Egyptian politics, particularly as it has descended into a circus in the last few months. It makes for poignant reading, and I've added a few notes for clarification.

An Account of the Actions of the Coalition of Revolutionary Youth

From the Coalition of Revolutionary Youth Facebook page, July 8, 2012.

We believe that every experience should either continue or end according to facts on the ground and logical reasoning. And — even though it is not standard operating procedure in Egypt — we believe it is necessary that every group and/or political entity submit a transparent and clear account that outlines what the organization has done over time, be it good or bad.

Under exceptional circumstances, like that of the great Egyptian people’s Revolution, we contend that it is our duty to publish this account for the Egyptian public, for they placed their trust in the Coalition of Revolutionary Youth, as well as for those who criticized the organization. This account is also dedicated to the best of Egypt’s youth – the activists and believers in the goals and values of this revolution and similar revolutionary movements – as well as for that sector of the Egyptian elite who did what they could in service to this nation. This is for the admirable victims of this revolution who paid the greatest price and who continue to do so for the sake of this revolution; and this is also for the souls of the revolutionary martyrs who continue to fall – up to today – in anticipation of the day when this nation will achieve freedom and dignity, the day when each Egyptian will receive his demands for “Bread, Freedom, and Social Justice.”

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Culture and activism

I have a new piece up at the Middle East Research and Information Project about cultural production and cultural activism in Egypt. There is so much different kinds of cultural activity going on these days that it's hard to categorize, and there are many more artists and projects I could have referenced.  I've tried to make some general observations:

It is not easy to combine aesthetic and political ambitions in order to creatively address the revolutionary moment. For one thing, many artists and writers have continued to be active in the protest movement itself -- they have little detachment from the events of the last year, and their energies are depleted by their participation in protests, organizing meetings and advocacy campaigns. In their political work, they can face significant personal risk, like their fellow citizen-activists. In late December, at a press conference convened to deny army responsibility for the horrific violence visited by soldiers upon protesters near the cabinet, a blustering member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces suddenly denounced Muhammad Hashim -- head of the independent and widely esteemed publishing house Merit -- as one of several conspirators being investigated for instigating attacks upon the army. (His crime, it appears, consisted of supplying protesters with blankets and helmets.)

For another, it is too early for artists or anyone else to map the contours of the current juncture with any clarity. In late January 2011, there was a rupture in the reality Egyptians had known for so long. Many artists and novelists, returning home elated if exhausted from weeks of protesting, simply scrapped whatever work they were doing. Since then, the rapid pace of events -- or, many would say, of reversals -- has rendered it nearly impossible to fix a vantage point from which to consider developments. The Egyptian revolution is not yet a subject of art; it is an ongoing experience.

And I only just saw the trailer for this cool-looking documentary, "The Noise of Cairo," -- on artists and their relationship to the revolution. 

The Noise of Cairo (Trailer) from scenesfrom on Vimeo.

Amer Group and the threat to Fayoum

Fayoum seen from the desert

Environmentalists currently represent a small subsection of activists in Egypt, but like everybody else they've received a boost from the revolution, as well as more problems to deal with. The former comes in the sense that people are generally more willing to pay attention to the kind of political, economic, ecological and community problems environmentalism attempt to deal with — everyone is more empowered and has a great sense of community belonging. Yet, at the same time, the partial collapse of the state has led to many abuses (most notably illegal construction) and many people prioritize security or party politics ahead of environmentalism. Many are trying to bring attention to this issue oin political gatherings, on Twitter and blogs, and elsewhere.

Hopefully they'll be able to achieve more than they ever could have under Mubarak. This could be the case of Nature Conservation Egypt, a NGO that is currently focusing on plans for the Amer Group, a major developer, to build a resort on Lake Fayoum, an area of outstanding natural beauty that is a major waypoint for bird migration between Africa and Europe. It's also geologically very rich, with the desert plateau behind the lake full of fossils. The Amer Group has been in the news lately as part of the investigation into corrupt land deals under Mubarak — it has already returned some of the land it has acquired. But what it threatens to do to Fayoum's desert shore may be worse than what it has already done to the North Coast with its gaudy resorts:

The Amer Group, the Egyptian real estate developer responsible for Porto Marina and Porto Sokhna, massive tourism developments along Egypt’s North and Ain Sokhna coasts, plans to build “Porto Fayoum” on 650 acres in the Lake Qarun Protected area near Fayoum Oasis.

Former President Hosni Mubarak’s government sold the Amer Group this land for only $28,000 ($.05 per square meter), according to Egypt’s American Chamber of Commerce. This is the first development of such huge proportions to be allowed in an Egyptian protected area.

This and other tourism developments planned for a 10-kilometer stretch of coastal land along the northern part of Lake Qarun will undoubtedly wreak untold damage to this pristine, scenic desert area, known as Gebel Qatrani. This area contains one of the world’s most complete fossil records of terrestrial primates and marshland mammals and remains critical to our understanding of mammalian–and human–evolution.

Read more about it here, where you can listen to a podcast featuring NCE activists.

Facebook's role in Egypt's #jan25 uprising

Facebook was more involved in ensuring protection for the Facebook groups organizing the January 25 and subsequent protests than is known, NewsBeast says:

Email records obtained by Newsweek, conversations with NGO executives who work with Facebook to protect activist pages, and interviews with administrators of the We Are All Khaled Said page reveal the social media juggernaut’s awkward balancing act. They show a company struggling to address the revolutionary responsibilities thrust upon it—and playing a more involved role than it might like to admit.

On the night of January 25, Richard Allan, Facebook’s director of policy for Europe, responded to the worried administrator. “We have put all the key pages into special protection,” he wrote in an email. A team, he said, “is monitoring activity from Egypt now on a 24/7 basis.”

It's an interesting story involving coordination by Facebook executives, Egyptian activists, and Washington-based democracy advocates who push pressing issues onto the executives.

More on what Tunisia means for Egypt

Reader Amjad asked (several times) in a comment:

Please allow for a slight detraction from the ongoing events in Tunisia, this still is very relevant but with an eye out to the future, near or far.

As most people here have observed the news coverage on all news channels very quickly turned to Egypt, and for reasons I'm sure we are all well aware of. I'd like to ask Arabist permission to open up some debate on how to manage such an event, should it occur in Egypt and in particular Cairo.

Change will one day happen, and laying out strategies to cope/manage the consequences are as attested in Tunisia pretty important.

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Links for Jan.05.10

akhbare-rooz (iranian political Bulletin) | List of organizations considered "subversive" by Iranian ministry of inteligence [in Farsi]. ✪ The Daily Star - The Gaza scorecard, one year later | Rami Khouri. ✪ Israel approves east Jerusalem building project | Yet another new settlement. ✪ Library of Congress on Islam in Early America « Anonymous Arabist وين الناس | Fascinating. ✪ Tweet freedom | On Twitter activism in Egypt, unfortunately confuses arabawy.org for arabist.net. ✪ Cairo's US Embassy is Worse by Far | Mamoun Fandy: "The embassy has become an embodiment of the meaning of disgracefulness in Cairo, in terms of people's behavior, rudeness, and impoliteness." ✪ gary's choices - The Decade's First Revolution? | Gary Sick on Iran. ✪ لا لحجب الإنترنت بالجزائر - Non à la censure de l'Internet en Algérie - No to Internet Censorship in Algeria Petition | Petition. ✪ Egyptian minister slams Al-Jazeera for 'instigating civil war' - Ynetnews | Over Gaza wall. ✪ Video: Gaza war: One year on, Palestinians struggle to rebuild life from the rubble | guardian.co.uk | ✪ CIA Bomber a Jihadi Blogger? — jihadica | Interesting background on Abu Dujana, as the bomber was allegedly known. ✪ Dear Metallica | Letter asking the metal band not to perform in Israel. ✪ Free Barghouti Now - Haaretz | OK. ✪ The Daily Nuisance | News From The Frontier | New online site from Israel/Palestine ✪ Three days in Iran - The Big Picture - Boston.com | Great pics of Iranian protests.
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Links for 10.26.09 to 10.27.09

LRB · Nicolas Pelham: Diary | Nic Pelham's diary about Gaza. ✪ Almasry Alyoum | NDP Talks Youth | Second in a series on youth and the NDP in Egypt: “We have to use the Internet, especially with so many people trying to turn our achievements into failures and to tarnish the reputation of public symbols. We have to be present online to correct those misconceptions.” Now who could they be talking about? ✪ Almasry Alyoum| Gamal Mubarak: Nepotism "Unknown To Private Sector" | In this story, Gamal says nepotism "is part of Egyptian culture." You don't say. ✪ Chomsky Receives Highest Pentagon Honor | Chomsky book "Interventions" banned in Gitmo. ✪ YouTube - Slackistan Trailer | This is a good and funny idea - you could do it in the Arab world, too. ✪ Inanities: The Gamal Show | About Gamal's Sharek event: "The Gamal Show is Gamal Mubarak’s attempt to convince us that he’s Barack Obama." ✪ Bakchich: Interroger des… interrogatoires | Accounts of police interrogations of non-fasters in Morocco, interrogates them about Abou Bakr Jamai (prominent editor forced into exile), and more. Thoroughly depressing. ✪ Arab Media & Society | The end of the beginning: The failure of April 6th and the future of electronic activism in Egypt | About online activism, its failure so far, and how to move beyond cynicism. ✪ Almasry Alyoum | Gamal Mubarak And The Power Of Web 2.0 | First in a series of articles about the NDP's efforts to attract young Egyptians to politics. This one focuses on Gamal Mubarak's "Sharek" (Participate) online Q&A event. ✪ J Street's Ben-Ami On Zionism and Military Aid to Israel - Jeffrey Goldberg | A very revealing interview of J Street's Jeremy Ben-Ami which conirms my doubts about the whole project. ✪ Morocco press freedom on the decline, RSF study shows (Magharebia.com) | A marked increase in fines, imprisonement and intimidation of the press. ✪ Dar Al Hayat - A Presidential Battle without Candidates | Muhammad Salah on the Egyptian presidency.
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Links for 10.21.09

'Just World News' with Helena Cobban: Nozette: Pollard, 2.0? | On the latest Israeli spy scandal in the US. ✪ "friday-lunch-club": Netanyahu refuses Kouchner's request to see Gaza's destruction ... | Gaza? What Gaza? ✪ To Earn HIs Nobel Prize, Obama Will Need a "Plan B" | Stephen M. Walt | "If I were President Obama (now there's a scary thought!), I'd ask some smart people on my foreign policy team to start thinking hard about "Plan B." What's Plan B? It's the strategy that he's going to need when it becomes clear that his initial foreign policy initiatives didn't work." ✪ ذاكرة مصر المعاصرة - الصحافة | Alexandria Library's online collection of historical Egyptian newspapers, including the first issue of al-Ahram (which was founded, it must be reluctantly noted, by Lebanese.) ✪ News Analysis - Painful Mideast Truth - Force Trumps Diplomacy - NYTimes.com | Painful Media Truth: For NYT, bias always trumps journalism. Look at the language used in this piece: Palestinian violence is "very bloody" and Israel carries out "military action." Israel's plans to attack Iran are considered as legitimate. And there is a mixing of terrorism and the attacks on Israel's "legitimacy" -- i.e. the legitimacy of its landgrabs, occupations and militarism. Pure hasbara. ✪ Israel, US start major joint air defence drill - Yahoo! News |
The exercise will test the Arrow (Hetz) system, the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence), the ship-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defence System, as well as Patriot and Hawk anti-aircraft systems, media said. It will simulate the firing of long-range missiles from Israel's foes Iran, Syria and Lebanon, and towards the end it will include a "live" missile interception, reports said.
Matthew Yglesias » Bernstein on Human Rights Watch | A good retort to the latest silly attack on HRW (by one of its former chairman) "or having the temerity to hold Israel to the same standards of international humanitarian law to which it holds every other country." But this just points to the problem of bias in the higher echelons of HRW - among former and current staffers. ✪ Almasry Alyoum | No Fly Zone | Nice story looking at the recent airport detentions of various kinds of activists. ✪ Almasry Alyoum | Pope Shenouda: "I Support Gamal Mubarak" | What a nasty little man, and what disservice he does to his flock. I hope Copts flee the Orthodox Church en masse over this. ✪ Arab states consider joint counter-terror police unit | "Arabpol." Oh Lord Have Mercy. ✪ Egyptcarpoolers | A carpooling connecting website for Cairo. ✪ Saddam Interview | Transcripts of interviews with Saddam Hussein during his captivity in 2004.
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Links for 10.14.09 to 10.18.09

Is Obama giving up on democracy in Iran? | Because Haaretz really, really cares. ✪ 'Delegitimization of Israel must be delegitimized' | Great pic on this FLC post. ✪ Al Jazeera English - Focus - Leadership 'let down' Palestinians | As`ad AbuKhalil. ✪ ANALYSIS / U.S. using Goldstone report to punish Netanyahu - Haaretz - Israel News | Ridiculous argument. ✪ Egypt: 29 years between a president and his heir | Bikya Masr | Ayman Nour on Mubarak's Egypt. ✪ Nationalism in the Gulf State | A LSE paper on GCC nationalism by Neil Partrick. ✪ In Morocco, editor imprisoned, court shutters paper - Committee to Protect Journalists | al-Michaal newspaper closed over articles on king's health. Also rumors of closing down of Le Journal, TBC. ✪ ei: EI exclusive video: Protesters shout down Ehud Olmert in Chicago | "The demonstration was mobilized last week after organizers learned of the lecture, paid for by a grant provided by Jordan's King Abdullah II." ✪ FT.com / UK - Storm over Egypt's Israeli links | On the Hala Mustafa / normalization debate. ✪ Citing Work Of Right-Wing Intern Spy, GOP Accuses Muslim Group Of Infiltrating Hill With Intern 'Spies' | TPMMuckraker | "Four House Republicans are charging that the Council on American Islamic Relations is infiltrating Capitol Hill with undercover interns, and they're basing the charge on a WND-published book that itself is based on the work of a man who posed as a Muslim to infiltrate CAIR as ... an intern!" ✪ Confessions of an AIPAC Veteran | Helena Cobban profiles Israel operative Tom Dine. ✪ Brian Whitaker's blog | The son also rises | Seif Qadhafi gets put in charge of, well, almost everything. ✪ First Egyptian School Closes For Swine Flu - Daily News | Mere de Dieu girls' school -- a stone's throw from Arabist HQ -- closed. ✪ U.S. Iran plan is a bunker-busting bomb - thestar.com | That's not very nice.
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Oxford students occupy Bodleian Library in solidarity with Palestinians

A group of around 80 Oxford students occupied the historic Bodleian Library at Oxford University today in support of Palestinians and to protest the university's policies towards Israel, notably calling for divestment from Oxford's stake in the British arms manufacturer BAE Systems, a statement of support from the university in reaction to Israel's bombing of the Islamic University in Gaza, and the cancellation of a series of lectures inaugurated by Israeli President Shimon Peres (which the students had earlier staged a protest against). They are also asking for scholarships to be created for Palestinian students and support for Palestinian academia. Their full statement is after the jump. The students have a blog, Occupied Oxford, a Twitter feed and a YouTube page with videos of the occupation of the library. The question of an academic boycott of Israel and universities' divestment from companies that sell weapons to Israel has a long history in Britain, and this kind of smart initiative is good news. Eight other universities are staging similar protests and occupations: Birmingham, Essex, King's College London, London School of Economics, School of Oriental and African Studies, Sussex and Warwick. OXFORD UNIVERSITY STUDENTS OCCUPY BUILDING IN SOLIDARITY WITH GAZA In the first week of term, over 80 Oxford University students have occupied the historic Bodleian building to demand that the university releases a statement condemning the attack on Gaza and cancel the lecture series at Balliol College inaugurated by Shimon Peres. Students organised the sit in after attending an emergency meeting in Oxford organised to discuss the war on Gaza and the precarious ceasefire. Members of the University entered the Clarendon building and sat down at 1200, British time, on Thursday 22nd January. Their demands were presented to University officials. The group represents a broad spectrum of concerned students and has the support of peace campaigners here in Oxford. They want the University Proctor to express solidarity with Palestinian academic community and condemning the attack on the educational infrastructure. “Palestinians have the same rights as we do, including the right to education as enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights. We are proud to be students at Oxford University and do not want the University to contribute in any way to the undermining of the right to education. It is not a matter of politics, it is a matter of humanity,” a spokesperson said. Students demand that the Master of Balliol College cancel the lecture series inaugurated by Shimon Peres. The group are also demanding that Oxford University divests from arms firm BAE Systems, an arms company who supply the Israeli military. “The fact that Oxford University invests in BAE Systems means that it is directly profiting from the collective punishment of the Palestinian people. Our University cannot be funded by unlawful military aggression. Oxford University must divest from BAE and other arms companies immediately. Students have also issued several demands related to providing material support for Palestinian students including providing 5 fully paid scholarships for Palestinian students and resources for education in Gaza. Numerous Oxford academics as well as the Oxford University Islamic Society, the Oxford Palestine Society, the Oxford Indian and the Oxford Pakistan societies have already signed petitions condemning the Israeli attack on Gaza. DEMANDS IN FULL 1) Statement Oxford University should release a statement in support of the right of Palestinians to education and its support to the Palestinian Academic community. The University should condemn in particular the attack on the Islamic University in Gaza. 2) Divestment Oxford University currently holds investments in BAE Systems, a firm that the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (caat.org.uk) states provides weapons and ammunition for the Israeli military. This means that our university is being directly funded by the Israeli war on Gaza. Oxford University must divest from BAE and other companies which supply arms to Israel. 3) 5 fully paid scholarships for Palestinian students. Particularly after the attack on Gaza and the ongoing hardships suffered by Palestinians, Oxford University should offer 5 fully-funded scholarships to Palestinian students as a way to contribute to greater access to education for those affected by the conflict. 4) A cancellation lecture series inaugurated by Shimon Peres The group demands that the Master of Balliol College cancel the lecture series that was inaugurated by the Israeli President Shimon Peres. It is not appropriate to have such a lecture series in light of the attack on Gaza and the ongoing siege. 5) Resources for Education. The Oxford University should donate resources to, and support, the University and educational infrastructure that have been bombed in Gaza. 6) Right to Peaceful Protest Oxford University has a proud history of student activism. Students united to campaign against apartheid, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. All students have a democratic right to peaceful protest and students should not be prevented from expressing their opinions by fear of reprisals. MEDIA CONTACTS FOR THE STUDENT GROUP Juliette Harkin 07740818376 Omar al-Shehabi 07966570155 (for Arabic media) NOTES TO EDITORS: 1) Oxford University is the 8th University to go into occupation and joins SOAS, LSE, Warwick, Essex, Kings College London, Birmingham and Sussex universities. 2) The Oxford University occupation follows on from emergency meetings about Gaza and a well orchestrated protest in October 2007 against the decision of Balliol College, Oxford University, to inaugurate a lecture series in the name of Shimon Peres, president of Israel and responsible for atrocities against the Palestinian people.
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Developments in Mahalla

Hossam has been following the latest repressive measures being taken against labor activists in Mahalla, one of the center of labor protests in Egypt. He says:

There is a ongoing crackdown on labor activists in Mahalla, since they staged a demonstration last October against the management's corruption:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/sarahcarr/sets/72157608515197459/
/arabawy/2008/11/26/renewed-crackdown-on-ghazl-el-mahalla-workers/
http://delicious.com/elhamalawy/MahallaOctoberProtest

Following the demo, the management decreed the transfer of four activists from their positions:
1- Blogger Kareem el-Beheiri was moved to the Cairo office
2-Mohamed el-Attar was moved to the Alexandria office
3-Amal Said was moved to the company's nursery
4-Wedad el-Demerdash was also transferred to the nursery
http://arabist.net/arabawy/2008/11/09/crackdown-on-mahalla-labor-activists-continue/

More alarmingly, the two women (Amal and Wedad) were sexually assaulted by thugs at the behest of the management, when they tried to enter the company compound.
http://arabist.net/arabawy/2008/11/04/mahalla_sex_asaults/

The victimized workers' colleagues are planning a demo on Saturday in solidarity. However yesterday another activist was victimized (named Wael Habib) as he was distributing leaflets in the company calling for the demo:
http://arabist.net/arabawy/2008/11/26/renewed-crackdown-on-ghazl-el-mahalla-workers/
Wael has been one of the central figures in the December 2006 and September 2007 strikes...

It appears security is trying to block some of the labor activists who've done the most to get information out in the last few years from having access to the main factory.
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Mahalla detainees appeal to civil society

Letter to head of the Judges' Club Zakariya Abdel Aziz from the three Mahalla detainees, Kamal El-Fayyoumy, Tareq Amin, and Karim El-Beheiry:

We would like in the beginning to correct certain information which has reached the press about our (the three of us) having been transferred to the prison hospital as a result of our hunger strike. The truth is that we are still in prison after the administration refused to call an ambulance to take us to hospital, and as a result of the inability of Karim el-Beheiry and Tareq Amin to stand on their feet - as a result of their extreme weakness. Instead, a “nurse” was summoned to examine Karim, whose condition has seriously deteriorated. We would like to know the reason why we remain in detention. We will continue the hunger strike until we either die or receive this information. We were tortured in the state security headquarters in Mahalla on the 6th, 7th and 8th April. Officers tortured Karim using electricity while Tareq Amin and Kamal el-Fayyoumy were insulted verbally and physically assaulted. We then spent eleven days in Borg el-Arab prison in a cell with individuals with criminal convictions. When the Tanta court ordered that we be released we were held for four days in the El-Salam police station [noqtat shorta] situated between Mahalla and Tanta before we were taken to Borg el-Arab prison were we began our hunger strike.
[From Fustat: Letter from Burg al Arab prison]
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Ammar Abdulhamid on Syria: "It's the economy, stupid"

Syrian Blogger and opposition activist Ammar Abdulhamid has a very different take on prospects for change in Syria, which he says will be driven by economic factors. I would not be so optimistic (I see the same kind of thinking over Egypt's current economic crisis) because just like you can't control a country entirely through security measures, you can't make change happen entirely through economic disgruntlement, for which temporary fixes can always be found. Here's the text of his address to the US Congress:

Change in Syria is not a matter of “if� anymore, but of when, how and who. Facts and factors influencing and dictating change are already in progress and are, for the most part, the product of internal dynamics rather than external influences. Although this assertion seems to fly in the face of traditional wisdom regarding the stability of the ruling regime in Syria, the facts are clear and plainly visible for all willing to see.
 
The problem has been that most experts and policymakers have always been more concerned with high-end politics to pay any real attention to what is actually taking place on the ground. Issues such as the International Tribunal established to look into the assassination of former PM Rafic al-Hariri, Iran’s growing regional influence, the Assads’ sponsorship of Hamas, Hizbullah and certain elements in the Iraqi insurgency, escalating international pressures against the regime, and the ongoing cat-and-mouse game between the regime and opposition forces continue to dominate the ongoing international debate over Syria’s present and future.
 
The dynamics of daily life, however, shaped more by inflation, unemployment, poverty, imploding infrastructure, and official corruption and mismanagement might actually be rewriting the usual scenarios in this regard. For as that old adage goes: “it’s the economy stupid!�

And Syria’s economy is indeed imploding. The lack of government response in this regard, or, to be more specific, the fact that government policies seem to be making matters worse for most Syrians, is forcing people to organize around issues of local concern, and to begin to agitate. Albeit this agitation is not yet anti-regime per se, that is, no one is yet demanding the ouster of the current president, it is indeed anti-establishment in nature, that is, it is clearly aimed against official policies, corruption, mismanagement, neglect, lies, arrogance and impunity. As such, it marks an important departure from the usual docile attitude and an important milestone on the road towards the rise of a popular grassroots movement against the Assad dictatorship, if the situation is properly managed by opposition groups.   
 
This phenomenon is still admittedly in its embryonic phase at this stage, and might take years before it produces a real challenge to the regime’s authority on the grounds; it should also be borne in mind here that this phenomenon may not automatically translate into grassroots support for any of the existing opposition movements or coalitions and might just lead, in the absence of active outreach efforts by the opposition, to the emergence of new more popular forms and figures of opposition, albeit the Damascus Declaration seems to be the one movement with the greatest popular appeal. Still, what is clear here is that the phenomenon is real and does merit observation. And, for those interested in ensuring the emergence of a “positive� democratic outcome eventually, it does merit support as well.
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Talking back

Yesterday several of the opposition-minded papers in Egypt ran with front-page stories about Bilal Diab, a Cairo University student who heckled Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif as the latter was delivering a speech to students about how great things were going in Egypt. I love this story, as does the Egyptian media, because it is reminiscent of other similar incidents well-known in political and activist circles, such as Muslim Brother Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and Nasserist Hamdeen Sabahi's famous harangue to Sadat in the 1970s (they were student union politicians then) or more recently (a few years ago) leftist political commentator Muhammad Said Sayyed's osé questions about democracy to President Mubarak at the Cairo Book Fair.

Here's more about Bilal Diab:

CAIRO: “Mr. President, Mr. President, Egypt’s youth are behind bars.�
With those words Belal Diab, a 20-year-old literature student at Cairo University, interrupted Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif as he addressed the student body on campus Monday, kicking up a media storm.

“We want you to release those detained on April 6. Mr. President those are the people you were talking about who use the internet, those are the people who stood up and defended you when you were criticized at the World Economic Forum for saying Egypt is globalizing. Mr. President I want to tell you one thing, Education is zay el fol [perfect] the university is zay el fol, there is bread, there is democracy and freedom, release Egypt Mr. President, release Egypt Mr. President!� he said as students clapped passionately.

“I was provoked [by Nazif’s speech],� Diab told Daily News Egypt. “How can he talk about information technology, the internet and how the youth has to use it to express their opinions and get their voices out there when those who did exactly that are now all behind bars,� he said, referring to students who created the Facebook group promoting the April 6 strike.

“I admit that I was out of order but I had to get my voice out there, officials have to start listening to us instead of detaining us,� he said.

When Diab had completed his outburst, Nazif had turned to him and said, “I feel sarcasm and pain in your words, but I’m telling you Egypt is alright and you have to look at everything with objectivity because there are many challenges facing this country.�

“There objective reason for detaining these people is the acts of destruction they committed and there is a thin line between expressing your opinion and encouraging destruction, striking and rioting. Many want such chaos in this country but we won’t let this happen. Egypt is not a chaotic country,� continued the Prime Minister.

Diab, however, insists that he wasn’t wasn’t being sarcastic. “I was speaking passionately and my tone was serious. As for the sarcasm he was talking about who is really being sarcastic in this country, is his cabinet … those telling people that everything is fine and were are progressing,� he said.

The incident led to an abrupt halt of the lecture. Neither the Minister of Higher Education, Hany Helal, nor the President of Cairo University, Ali Abdel Rahman, gave their scheduled speeches.

As soon as Diab had ended his impassioned speech, two security guards sat behind him, but when the lecture was over and they tried to grab him they were prevented from doing so by the crowd, which saluted him for having “the guts� to speak openly.

But soon enough, the same security guards, accompanied this time by a police officer and a university professor, caught up with him. The professor asked for Diab's university ID. It was then that the guards took hold of him in front of the crowd and escourted him to the office of the head of the university’s security.

What's neat about this story, and some of the more recent similar episodes, is that you have people who are not really political activists standing up for themselves and their country. The same could be said of Esraa Abdel Fattah, the woman who is said to have started the Facebook campaign for a general strike on April 6, and who was arrested and charged with inciting unrest. Interestingly, both Diab and Abdel Fattah are young members of the al-Ghad party, the vehicle for Ayman Nour's brief but spectacular entry into national politics in 2005. Nour, you will remember, is still in jail on trumped up forgery charges as punishment for his temerity. But obviously the spirit of dissent and contestation that Nour and many others (notably Kifaya) pioneered in 2005 is still alive and well, even if those movements and parties aren't. On a completely different note: this week the pro-government magazine Rose al-Youssef had a 32-page special on Facebook, including everything from its use for activism to the different groups Egyptians have formed there (such as, apparently, "Egyptians who love Israel" and "Egyptians who love George W. Bush" as well as, of course, the many sexual opportunities a Facebook account provides. Much of this "special" is complete bullshit, but I do like the cartoons. roza.JPG
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CAMERA's war on Wikipedia and Palestinian history

From Electronic Intifada:

A pro-Israel pressure group is orchestrating a secret, long-term campaign to infiltrate the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia to rewrite Palestinian history, pass off crude propaganda as fact, and take over Wikipedia administrative structures to ensure these changes go either undetected or unchallenged.

A series of emails by members and associates of the pro-Israel group CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), provided to The Electronic Intifada (EI), indicate the group is engaged in what one activist termed a "war" on Wikipedia.

A 13 March action alert signed by Gilead Ini, a "Senior Research Analyst" at CAMERA, calls for "volunteers who can work as 'editors' to ensure" that Israel-related articles on Wikipedia are "free of bias and error, and include necessary facts and context." However, subsequent communications indicate that the group not only wanted to keep the effort secret from the media, the public, and Wikipedia administrators, but that the material they intended to introduce included discredited claims that could smear Palestinians and Muslims and conceal Israel's true history.

... A veteran Wikipedia editor, known as "Zeq," who according to the emails is colluding with CAMERA, also provided advice to CAMERA volunteers on how they could disguise their agenda. In a 20 March email often in misspelled English, Zeq writes, "You don't want to be precived [sic] as a 'CAMERA' defender' on wikipedia [sic] that is for sure." One strategy to avoid that is to "edit articles at random, make friends not enemies -- we will need them later on. This is a marathon not a sprint." Zeq also identifies, in a 25 March email, another Wikipedia editor, "Jayjg," whom he views as an effective and independent pro-Israel advocate. Zeq instructs CAMERA operatives to work with and learn from Jayjg, but not to reveal the existence of their group even to him fearing "it would place him in a bind" since "[h]e is very loyal to the wikipedia [sic] system" and might object to CAMERA's underhanded tactics
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