Our occasional contributor Paul Mutter has a piece on the Mobily hacking scandal with tons of links and analysis over at Tech President. We rarely get so much detail about Middle Eastern net censorship.
I have a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Ed about the abrupt cancellation of an academic conference on the Arab Spring.
The London School of Economics and Political Science abruptly canceled an academic conference on the Arab Spring it planned to hold over the weekend at the American University of Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates, citing "restrictions imposed on the intellectual content of the event that threatened academic freedom."
The last-minute cancellation took place after Emirati authorities requested that a presentation on the neighboring kingdom of Bahrain—where a protest movement was harshly repressed with the support of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates—be dropped from the program.
The paper was to be given by a professor who the Emirati authorities say has "consistenly propagated views deligitimizing the Bahraini monarchy" (and who has written critically about political repression in the UAE).
Here's London School of Economics professor Kristian Coates Ulrichsen's own account.
It took me almost a year to collect this rare footage from Arab films between the 20's and the 60's. With the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism after the Arab Spring in 2011, extremists have been calling for a rupture with the past and censorship of our heritage. This is a reminder of who we used to be, and that one day we were capable of showing love rather than condemning it...
Inspired by Giuseppe Tornatore's "Nuovo Cinema Paradiso" scene finale.
Music by Ennio Morricone
A wonderful video in the context of calls for strict censorship in state television and cinema in Egypt. More generally speaking, some of these kissing scenes from the 1940s-60s are more passionate than many scenes of the last 20 years.
On the one hand, it's deeply worrying that the government is seeking to create a surveillance culture that encompasses spying on all digital media.
On the other, that same government would struggle to arrange a children's party if provided with a clown, a bouncy castle, some children and an unlimited supply of jelly.
The satirist Daily Mash on new British online surveillance laws
On the one hand, a Wahhabi fatwa against Twitter. On the other, a princely stake from an Al Saud in the platform.
And on the other other hand, a growing campaign across the region to censor - and censure - dissent from social media users that is no laughing matter.
Social media is certainty shaking up the Kingdom. Hamza Kashgari was arrested for "blasphemous" tweets - his supporters now assert that so desperate were the Saudi authorities to make an example of him to score points, they pressured Malaysian officials into arresting and extraditing him while he was traveling around Malaysia, and then lying about this by claiming they had detained him at an airport.
In addition to the aforementioned fatwa, at least three Saudi journalists have been arrested and detained for their role in participating in or covering Shia demonstrations in the eastern part of the country. As Toby C. Jones noted, the Shia demonizing campaign of spring 2011 had as much to do with fear of losing influence in Bahrain - and perhaps more so - as it did with fear of having to make concessions to the country's Shia citizens and rein in the Wahhabi establishment:
In Saudi Arabia, in dozens of places, hundreds of protesters routinely assembled, calling for relatively minor concessions, including greater religious tolerance and the release of Shiite political prisoners. But confronted by the sweeping changes underway across the region, ofﬁcials claimed that the protests at home and especially in Bahrain, if they were allowed to succeed, would lead to a catastrophe - a democratic state next door controlled by a Shiite majority, one they insisted would take marching orders from Tehran.
Given the heavy-handedness of the Saudi authorities, online anonymity is a safer way to organize than congregating in a town square. But the net is heavily monitored nonetheless, and stepping out into the sun rarely ends well. "March 11—the intended Day of Rage—came and went without mass protest," Madawi Al-Rasheed wrote last month, and in the process of turnout and crackdown, at least one Saudi YouTuber was disappeared by the authorities.
This press release from the Palestine Campaign beggars belief...
for immediate release: 31st January 2012 *
*BBC Trust rules in favour of censoring ‘Palestine’
The BBC has admitted it was ‘overcautious’ in editing the word ‘Palestine’ from an artist’s performance on Radio 1Xtra and has said it is ‘looking to learn’ from the way it handled the situation.
However, in a ruling released today (31/01/12), the BBC Trust said the final content that was broadcast on the Charlie Sloth Hip Hop M1X – a music programme – was not biased and therefore did not breach its editorial guidelines.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) has spent eight months trying to find out why the decision was made to censor the lyrics of a freestyle performance by the rapper, Mic Righteous. Appearing on the Charlie Sloth show in February 2011, he sang: ‘I can scream Free Palestine for my beliefs’.
BBC producers replaced the word ‘Palestine’ with the sound of breaking glass, and the censored performance was repeated in April on the same show.
Amena Saleem, of PSC, said: ‘In its correspondence with us, the BBC said the word Palestine isn’t offensive, but ‘implying that it is not free is the contentious issue’, and this is why the edit was made.
Khaled Dawoud reports on artists' concerns in Egypt:
The main conference hall at the Press Syndicate was packed with nearly all the big names in the Egyptian art and culture industry. Actors and actresses, poets, painters, musicians, novelists and writers all gathered on Saturday to announce the creation of the "Egyptian Creativity Front" to face what they see is growing pressure to limit freedom of expression and creativity in Egypt following the landslide victory political Islamic groups scored in parliamentary elections that concluded last week.
Where have these people been all this time? The Mubarak regime practised censorship – political, cultural, and other – widely. Often the reasons were Egypt's terrible legislation and bureaucracy of censorship, which is very politically malleable. No doubt an Islamist government may enforce some forms of censorship more (and others less).
I'm very glad people are organizing to protect freedom of expression and the wave of creativity of the last few years (culminating in the 18 days of Tahrir). But taking the position that the Islamists are the problem is the wrong approach, it's the legislation and the mentality of a ministry of culture that seeks to micro-manage cultural life that's the real problem.
One more thing: I am willing to bet any taker that, within a year, even if the situation for political or human rights really improves, we'll see some people writing of an Islamist winter in Egypt because they've banned a movie or something, and we'll have no mention that under the Mubarak regime courts for instance banned the reprinting of the Arabian Nights because it was considered too lewd.
There is a good piece by Muhammad Khawly on film censorship up at al-Akhbar:
Cairo – “Early in the game, the Muslim Brotherhood has shown their true colors,” wrote art and cinema supporters on social networking sites in Egypt.
This statement and others like it were made in response to the authorities’ decision to withdraw the movie Wahed Sahih (A whole one) from Egyptian theaters.
“The Egyptian Board of Censors has said they intend to reevaluate the movie in order to delete some scenes and remove language that “deviates from public morality,” according to Sayed Khattab, the head of the board.
Khattab said that he plans to “form a committee to watch the movie a second time, a week after its release...because I received angry feedback on the expressions uttered by actress Basma [Hassan] in the movie.”
Of course the fact that Islamists are on the rise makes many worried about moral censorship. But that is only part of the picture. First of all, under Mubarak, censorship was widespread and often religiously-motivated. At least there will be (once military censorship is removed from the media) much less political censorship, hopefully, in the future of Egypt. That moral censorship — against irreverent treatment of religious matters, sexuality or foul language — will remain is actually largely more of the same, even if you had occasional waves of relative tolerance (often followed by a hardline to outflank conservatives) on this issue.
To me, censorship is only a small part of the problem, and one that has a relatively obvious solution: better distribution. Lack of good distribution channels seems to me a bigger problem than censorship. It's virtually impossible to buy many movies — new or old — in Egypt because they do not exist on DVD and there are few online sources of digital media (particularly legal ones that could remunerate the film's creators). Movies are screened in theaters and then can often disappear forever.
Digital distribution in particular could be one way to circumvent censorship, by creating a censored version and an "uncut" one available online (and thus circumventing national-level censorship). Even if it will then be accessible to a sub-section of the population initially, at least it will be out there. I cannot count the number of times I was frustrated by wanting to obtain (and pay for) a copy of a film I missed in the theaters. At least, it would be a good insurance policy against the ongoing battle with state censors.
Automatically posted links for January 29th through February 3rd:
- Qatar reports new damage to Gulf undersea cables - Fourth time in a week - I think there's a conspiracy afoot
- Libya Sovereign Wealth Fund to Shun U.S., Ghanem Says - Qadhafi puts his country's money elsewhere
- Ezzedine Choukri: "?? ???? ????? ?? ????? ???? ??? ?" - Rafah episode shows current situation is losing one for all
- The path of centrist political Islam by Khalil Al-Anani - Al-Anani says MB hopeless, Wasat way forward
- Robert Fisk: The curious case of the forged biography - Fisk, hagiographer of Saddam Hussein
- Making a Great Arab City - I like this Rami Khouri piece on Dubai even though I am skeptical, because it praises the tradition of Arab cosmopolitan urbanism
- Arab Media Watch Arab Media Watch > Home - UK outfit combats anti-Arab bias in press
- Hamas explodes a giant hole in Egypt's political cover - Op-ed takes Egypt's hypocrisy on Palestine to task
- It's time to herald the Arabic science that prefigured Darwin and Newton - Faraday prize winner defends historic Arab scholarship
- For sale: West?s deadly nuclear secrets - Whistleblower says top US officials sold nuke secrets to Pakistan (the person is not named in the article, but others say it's Marc Grossman)
- Al-Jazeera Journalist Arrested in Egypt - Howeida Taha arrested, again
- AFP: Egypt censors book fair - Mohammed Choukri, Milan Kundera, Elias Khoury, Hanan al-Sheikh censored from Cairo Book Fair.
Automatically posted links for January 20th through January 21st:
- al-Qaida Solicits Questions Online - Questions include "why haven't you opened a new front in Egypt" and more depressing idiocy
- Measuring liberty | When freedom stumbles | Economist.com - Look at the charts: in 1982 Egypt was "partly free," now it is "not free"
- Economics focus | Selling sex | Economist.com - Interesting article on the economics of prostitution
- HAMAS ASKS EGYPT TO REOPEN RAFAH BORDER - Hamas puts Cairo on the spot
- Translating the Party of God into English - Quilty reviews Hizbullah in translation
- Review: Loaded Dice by Neill Lochery - Debunking of idea that UK Foreign Office is pro-Arab or anti-Israel
- The rise and decline of London as a pan-Arab media hub - Media critic Najm Jarrah
- An Israeli Law for Censorship of Web Comments - Elijah points to a bill in the Knesset that would enable libel laws for web comments
- Why does Johnny come marching homeless? - How Iraq veterans with psychological problems end up homeless
- Those troublesome engineers « Kafr al-Hanadwa - SP has a good post on why engineers are over-represented in Islamist groups