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April 27 2012


Middle East coverage is full of lies

Foreign Policy :: It has not been a banner week for media coverage of the Arab world. Blame it on journalists unfamiliar with their subject matter, the demands of an ever-quicker news cycle, or simply salacious stories that were "too good to check" -- a number of stories that have made it into major media outlets recently are simply not true, or omit essential details of the tale.

HT: Mark Little, Storyful here:

Middle East Coverage is Full of Lies - Foreign Policy blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/04/…

— mark little (@marklittlenews) April 27, 2012

Continue to read DAvid Kenner, blog.foreignpolicy.com

April 15 2012


Latest citizen journalist app: Signal created by Mark Malkoun, Lebanese entrepreneur

The Next Web :: It is only fitting that the latest citizen journalist app, Signal, is coming right out of the Middle East, courtesy of Lebanese entrepreneur, Mark Malkoun. No area in the world has highlighted the effect of citizen journalism more effectively, this past year, than this region. In Syria, Bambuser videos were a source of footage for mainstream media including the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera, leading to the app being blocked in the country, and in Egypt, Twitter was used to disseminate information from the heart of Tahrir Square at the height of the uprising. Events in the region were part of Mark’s drive to create the app.

Continue to read Nancy Messieh, thenextweb.com

April 11 2012


Governments Increasingly Targeting Twitter Users for Expressing Their Opinion

This piece is co-authored by Trevor Timm.

In its six years of existence, Twitter has staked out a position as the most free speech-friendly social network. Its utility in the uprisings that swept the Middle East and North Africa is unmatched, its usage by activists and journalists alike to spread news and galvanize the public unprecedented.

As Twitter CEO Dick Costolo recently boasted at the Guardian Changing Media Summit, Twitter is "the free speech wing of the free speech party."

But at the same time, some governments -- in both not-so-democratic and democratic societies -- have not taken such a positive view of Twitter and freedom of expression. Instead, they've threatened, arrested and prosecuted their citizens for what they express in 140 characters or less.

Not surprisingly, in a number of authoritarian-minded states, journalists are often the first targets. And as bloggers and pundits take to the ephemeral style of Twitter to criticize rules, the government has been -- in a number of cases -- one step ahead. While some countries, such as Bahrain and Tunisia, have chosen to block individual Twitter accounts, others prefer to go straight to the source.

Crackdown in the Middle East

In February, Saudi blogger and journalist Hamza Kashgari fled the country after threats on his life. His crime? Tweeting a mock conversation with the Prophet Mohammed, an action which many called blasphemous. Though Kashgari was on his way to a country that would have granted him asylum, he transferred in Malaysia where, upon his arrival, he was detained, and finally extradited back to his home country, despite pleas from the international community to allow him to continue onward.

Kashgari remains in detention in Saudi Arabia, while outside of prison, members of the public continue to call for his murder. Nearly as chilling is the threat to his livelihood: Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Abdul Aziz Khoja has banned Kashgari, a journalist by profession, from writing in "any Saudi paper or magazine," meaning that even if he walks free, he'll be prohibited from continuing in the only profession he has ever known -- and all for a tweet.

In the United Arab Emirates -- no stranger to Internet censorship -- political activist Mohammed Abdel-Razzaq al-Siddiq was arrested in late March for criticizing one of the country's rulers on his Twitter account. Earlier in the month, blogger and activist Saleh AlDhufair was arrested for criticizing repressive actions by state authorities on Twitter as well.

According to one source, UAE authorities also detained three other people in recent weeks for postings on social media, including one young citizen who faces charges for commenting on uprisings against autocratic rulers in the region on Twitter. All are free on bail for now, but their ultimate fates have yet to be determined.


In Oman, police arrested prominent blogger Muawiya Alrawahi in February after he posted a series of tweets in which he criticized the country's rulers on a variety of issues. Alrawahi's arrest directly followed that of two journalists charged with "insulting" the Minister of Justice. And in nearby Kuwait, writer Mohammad al-Mulaifi has been held for more than a month over accusations of "insulting the Muslim Shi'ite minority," a charge which for another activist, Mubarak Al-Bathali, whose "crime" was also committed on Twitter, resulted in a prison sentence of three years (later commuted to six months). His detention was not the first of its kind in the country either; in the summer of 2011, Nasser Abul spent three months in prison for criticizing the Bahraini and Saudi royal families on Twitter.

Outside the Gulf, Egypt's Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) has taken a similar approach. Last summer, SCAF court-martialed young activist Asmaa Mahfouz and charged her with inciting violence, disturbing public order and spreading false information via her Twitter account. Tunisia and Morocco have also cracked down on social media punditry of late and have arrested Facebook users for expressing themselves politically.

Facebook is as likely a target as Twitter. In the West Bank, Palestinian authorities arrested two Palestinian journalists, which may prove to have a self-silencing effect on other local reporters. Two journalists and a university lecturer were recently detained for comments made on Facebook that offended the Palestinian Authority. The lecturer remains imprisoned.


Arrests and prosecutions based on tweets is not relegated to Middle Eastern countries, however. A string of cases in otherwise robust democracies have raised questions by using the legal system to attempt to jail citizens who many would say are engaging in free speech.

South Korea -- one of a handful of democracies that justifies online censorship on the basis of "national security" -- has used its National Security Law to mete out harsh punishments to those who "praise, encourage disseminate or cooperate with anti-state groups, members or those under their control." The law applies to "affiliation with or support for" North Korea, and allows the government to censor websites related to North Korea or communism.

As reported by the New York Times in February, authorities arrested Park Jung-geun, a 23-year-old photographer, who re-posted content from North Korean government site Uriminzokkiri.com to his Twitter account. Ironically, South Korean media regularly cite the government-run website in news reports. Though Park claimed that his Twitter posts were intended sarcastically, prosecutors disagreed, countering that the Twitter account "served as a tool to spread North Korean propaganda." If convicted, Park could face up to seven years in jail.

In the United Kingdom, where the prime minister already floated the idea of censoring Twitter accounts during the London riots last year, a judge sentenced 21-year-old college student Liam Stacey to 56 days in jail for tweeting racist remarks about a prominent footballer for the Bolton Wanderers. While the tweets were certainly "vile and abhorrent" as the judge concluded, his statement that "there is no alternative to an immediate prison sentence" is misguided. By making an international case out of the tweets, the prison sentence ended up giving them more reach than if had they been ignored.

In the United States, strong free speech protections under the First Amendment have kept Twitter users out of jail for expressing their opinion, but increasingly, the federal and local governments have been going after Twitter users in a different way -- by subpoenaing their Twitter information in criminal investigations. Most notably, this tactic was used against three former WikiLeaks volunteers, who saw their Twitter and email information subpoenaed in a Grand Jury investigation into the publishing of classified information -- a practice normally protected by the First Amendment.


But more recently, a series of subpoenas have been issued by the Boston and New York district attorneys offices in response to Occupy Wall Street protests. At least four accounts have been targeted, and often the subpoenas come with requests for months of information for minor crimes such as disorderly conduct that often don't rise to a felony, require jail time, or even show up on one's permanent criminal record. Critics have seen it as an intimidation tactic against protesters who are engaging in legitimate First Amendment-protected speech.

While social media sites like Twitter will continue to proliferate in the coming years, governments -- whether they are fearful of the power of communication, because of existing strict speech laws, or a combination of both -- will find ways to "fight back" against increasing venues for expression. Journalists -- whose livelihood is increasingly bolstered by social media -- must continue to call attention to them.

Occupy image by asterix611, CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

Jillian C. York is the director of International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She writes regularly about free expression, politics, and the Internet, with particular focus on the Arab world. She is on the Board of Directors of Global Voices Online, and has written for a variety of publications, including Al Jazeera, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Foreign Policy, and Bloomberg.

Trevor Timm is an activist and blogger at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He specializes in free speech and government transparency issues. Previously, he helped the former general counsel of the New York Times write a book on press freedom and the First Amendment. His work has also appeared in The Atlantic and Al Jazeera.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

December 31 2011


In skies over Iran, a battle for control of Satellite TV

Wall Street Journal :: As uprisings rolled across the Middle East this year, Iran stepped up its jamming of the satelitte signlas of BBC, Voice of America and other Western networks with Persian-language news channels. The move "is intended to prevent Iranian audiences from seeing foreign broadcasts the Iranian government finds objectionable," five networks protested in a joint statement this month.

Continue to read Paul Sonne | Farnaz Fassihi, online.wsj.com

November 26 2011


@wblau - The Future of News: What to learn from Fukushima and the Arab Spring?

Check out Wolfgang Blau's Google+ page (link below). Readers are invited to send their questions.

Wolfgang Blau @wblau | Google+ :: Debate coming up: "The Future of News: What to learn from Fukushima and the Arab Spring?". - Wolfgang Blau will be chairing a debate between the Director for New Media at Al Jazeera English, Mohamed Nanabhay and the Japanese internet pioneer and new director of the MIT Media Lab, Joichi Ito. The debate will take place at the News World Summit in Hong Kong.

[Wolfgang Blau:] Which tools and methods would you both recommend for verifying social media sources in crisis reporting?

Continue to read plus.google.com

Visit the site News World Summit, HK, www.news-worldsummit.org

November 19 2011


The Arab Spring and the rise of niche web sites

Beet TV :: In the wake of the Arab Spring and the loosening of the grip of state-controlled media, new content creators are emerging in the Middle East. In Cairo, Yasmine El-Mehairy has launched a portal for new mothers, providing information during pregnancy and through early child rearing years. The site is called SuperMama and is targeting the entire Arab-speaking world, says El-Mehairy in this interview with Beet.TV

Watch the interview/video online - Andy Plesser, www.beet.tv

October 08 2011


No longer private - this year's Arab Bloggers meeting

Guardian :: If you've been following the so-called Arab spring you've also probably read an article asking whether Facebook was behind it all. Many news outlets debated the role of social media in bringing about these momentous events. What you probably haven't read about though is the history of the painstaking online activism that paved the way for the revolutions that toppled dictators. To hear that story, you needed to be in Tunis this week, where a group of leading bloggers from more than 20 countries across the Middle East and beyond were gathering for the first time since the revolutions began.

Continue to read Yazan Badran, www.guardian.co.uk

August 01 2011


Al Jazeera English launches in New York City

Huffington Post :: Six months after New York City news junkies flocked to Al Jazeera English’s (AJEwebsite for up-to-the-second coverage of the Egyptian uprising, they’ll now have a chance to watch the 24-hour news network on its original platform: television. At midnight, Al Jazeera English launched in New York City on Time Warner Cable, a major step in the network’s goal of expanding further into the U.S. cable market and a chance to reach two million households in a world capital of culture and commerce. AJE's website receives more online traffic from New York City than from any other city around the globe.

Continue to read Michael Calderone, www.huffingtonpost.com

July 15 2011


Social Media and Satire Fuel Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt

MediaShift :: In Tunisia, where the Arab Spring in many ways began, a satirical comic book series on Facebook is gathering buzz. Called "Captain Khobza," (spelled 5OBZA) it features a masked, Zorro-like character who goes around with a baguette rather than a weapon in order to promote and highlight the importance of non-violent action.

Its creators see the series as an important tool to prevent a backslide on freedom of expression in post-uprising Tunisia.

Continue to read Susannah Vila, www.pbs.org

July 04 2011


Out of Beirut - Cinemoz, "Hulu" of the Middle East, will launch end of summer

The Next Web | TNW :: Cinemoz is one of the Middle East’s very first on-demand online video service. With an obvious comparison to Hulu, the service is set to officially launch by the end of summer. Founded by 27 year old Lebanese-French Karim Safieddine, Cinemoz started out as a concept jotted down on a post-it-note. The service launched having secured the necessary funding with the help of Seeqnce, a Middle Eastern start-up catalyst based in Beirut.

Continue to read thenextweb.com

June 14 2011


Al-Jazeera English: "revenue is not a driving force right now"

AdAge :: Al-Jazeera English may be one of the only fast-growing networks that doesn't want to tell potential sponsors its growth story. The global news network has seen its profile escalate in recent months due to its leading coverage of major events such as the Japan earthquake and uprisings in the Middle East. Web visits in April 2011 surged past 66 million -- 42% from the U.S. -- and talks to expand its limited distribution in major territories such as the U.S., U.K. and India have accelerated.

Continue to read Andrew Hampp, adage.com

June 11 2011


Middle East - Tracing the Syrian blackout

renesys :: Initial data from Google's transparency report suggest that total traffic was down on Friday this week, even compared to a normally quiet Friday. But looking at the broader picture, a couple things are clear. First, there was no repeat of last week's event, in which two-thirds of all Syrian networks became flatly unreachable from around the world, an Egyptian-style disconnection at a very fundamental level. This week, while traffic levels were reduced (perhaps throttled or rate-limited, as in Iran), the routes themselves remained intact.

If you wanted to reach a Syrian website today, or if a Syrian browser wanted to reach a European website, the paths were known and the lines were open.

renesys had published details of the Internet shutdown in Syria a week ago. At that time approximately two-thirds of all Syrian networks became unreachable from the global Internet. Over the course of roughly half an hour, the routes to 40 of 59 networks were withdrawn from the global routing table. (See screen below, includes link to the original post.)


Continue to read James Cowie, www.renesys.com

June 05 2011


Arab Spring - US writer Matthew VanDyke among journalists missing in Libya

Associated Press | Google :: As the uprisings of the "Arab Spring" began to unfold, writer Matthew VanDyke was at home in Baltimore, editing a book and film about his trips across the Middle East by motorcycle. An email from a friend in Libya convinced VanDyke that dispatches from that country's war would make a perfect epilogue. Now VanDyke has been missing for nearly three months. He's one of 17 journalists — mostly Libyans — detained by dictator Moammar Gadhafi's government or believed to be in custody in Libya.

Continue to read Sarah Brumfield, www.google.com

June 02 2011


The Arab Spring: volatile situations in Yemen and Syria, but media coverage decreased 87pc

Journalism.org :: Last week alone, a government crackdown in Yemen reportedly killed more than 100 demonstrators; the European Union imposed new sanctions on Syria as reports surfaced that as many as 1,000 people have been killed in government crackdowns; Egypt decided to charge ex-president Hosni Mubarak in the deaths of protestors; and NATO announced a 90-day military extension in Libya as violence continued to escalate. But despite of the current situation Mideast unrest coverage decreased 87% from February to May 2011.

Continue to read www.journalism.org

February 24 2011


Matt Wells on The Guardian’s interactive protests Twitter map

Twitter network of Arab protests - interactive map | World news | guardian.co.uk

Twitter network of Arab protests - interactive map | guardian.co.uk

The Guardian have published an impressive map displaying Twitter coverage of protests around the Arab world and the Middle East. I asked Matt Wells, who oversaw the project, to explain how it came about.

The initial idea, which I should credit to deputy editor Ian Katz, was to build something that showcased the tweets of our correspondents, along a broader network of vetted tweeters in different countries. We wanted to connect all of these on a map, so you could click on a country and see relevant live-updating tweets.

I was asked to oversee it. The main thing was to check out the best English-language tweeters in each country – preferably people who appeared reliable, who were involved in first-hand reporting themselves, and who did a lot of retweeting of others.

I started by asking our correspondents who they followed, then broadened it out from there. We asked everyone if they minded being included – we had one refusal from a Tweeter in a particularly authoritartian country who was worried about the exposure. Everyone else thought it was a great idea.

Meanwhile one of our developers, Garry Blight, overseen by Alastair Dant, set about building it. As with anything of this kind, it took a bit longer than orginally anticipated, but we had it ready on the day that Mubarak fell. And brilliantly, it has worked for every country since then.

It’s powered by a Google spreadsheet – so it’s really easy to add new people and to attach them to particular countries or search terms.

And it should be very easily adaptable for other news events around the world.

February 22 2011


One Journalist's Survival Guide to the Egyptian Revolution

During the uprising that eventually ended the 30-year reign of President Hosni Mubarak, I became convinced that the most important journalistic work being done today is in those countries where journalists are not wanted. Mubarak and his agents were determined to silence the protesters and their message.

But, thanks to the valiant efforts of journalists and the resilience of the protesters they were there to cover, the revolution was not only televised, it was also streamed, blogged, and tweeted. During 18 days of sustained resistance by the Egyptian people, the world was able to see what real bravery is -- in real time. This is one reporter's eyewitness recollection of the revolution and the coverage of it.

Dangerous Driving

I flew into Cairo on the night of February 1st. I counted 35 checkpoints from the airport to my hotel on the island of Zamalek, where many journalists and diplomats reside and work.

The drive, which normally takes 30 minutes, took nearly three hours. After dark there was a curfew in Cairo, and every block in the city seemingly had its own distinct checkpoint. Most of them were manned by civilians armed with all manner of improvised weapons: sticks, poles, machetes, and even a samurai sword. These men primarily wanted to prevent looting in their neighborhoods.

The Mukhabarat, Egypt's secret police, had also set up their own checkpoints. These were the most frightening, especially for a foreign journalist. Last year, I was detained by the Mukhabarat. I was in Rafah doing a story on the tunnels into the Gaza Strip. While shooting street scenes in broad daylight, they snatched me off the street. I was held captive for 12 hours and it was not pleasant.

I was luckier this time and made it to the hotel without incident. After checking into my hotel, I tried to check Twitter for the latest information from Tahrir Square, but the Internet was still shut down across the country. Fortunately, cell phones were working so I was still able to communicate with my editors and colleagues.

I watched Mubarak's second speech since the "Day of Rage" from my hotel room. It was broadcast on virtually every channel. CNN and BBC both offered a live English translation. He was defiant, stating that he would stay in power for another six months to oversee Egypt's transition.

A Wave of Thugs

Twenty minutes later I was on the streets of Cairo, producing a video for the New York Times with Nicholas Kristof. We didn't know yet that someone close to the regime was orchestrating a concerted, systematic effort to harass, arrest, and assault journalists.

As Kristof and I crossed the October 6th bridge on our way to Tahrir, we saw a mob of about 150 Mubarak supporters rushing towards us. It was nighttime and they were some 100 feet away, so initially I couldn't tell if they were friendly or not. They had already seen me filming and probably suspected I was a journalist, so I just kept the camera rolling.

Generally in these situations, I like to keep the camera out for two reasons: Evidence and self-defense. If I get beat up (or worse), I want it to be documented. I am also a trained martial artist and know how to use my Canon XHA1 to ward off attacks. (Don't bother looking in the manual for this.) My camera isn't one of those flimsy Flip cameras that are popular these days. It is hard and heavy and fully insured. It can be used for blocking punches, keeping a distance between me and a threat, or as my own kind of improvised weapon.

I stood my ground filming the mob as they swarmed me. They were chanting "Mu-bar-ak! Mu-ba-rak! Mu-bar-ak!" (I must say, the anti-Mubarak protesters had much more creative chants.) I breathed a huge sigh of relief when they went past me.

We filmed some interviews at the square, then left when an Egyptian colleague warned us that some dangerous elements had moved in.

Targeting the Media

I went home, slept, and woke up early the next morning to edit the material. I had to get to the New York Times bureau in order to upload it, since the Internet was still down. The Times and other news organizations used a satellite BGAN communications system to get around the web shutdown. After filing, I met up with Kristof and headed back to the square.

Reports of journalists being targeted by pro-Mubarak thugs had begun coming in. Our driver dropped us off as close as possible to Tahrir Square, but the area on its periphery was where journalists were the most vulnerable. I felt a bit like a seal swimming in Mosselbai, South Africa, a favored feeding ground for great white sharks.

With my camera in a student-like backpack, we walked up to an army checkpoint outside of Tahrir. They didn't let us in. We went to another and were again denied entry. At a third, the soldiers finally allowed us in. Past the army checkpoints, civilians were also stopping people in an effort to prevent armed thugs from entering the square.

The protesters' checkpoint was security with a smile. A man in Levis jeans took my passport, frisked me, opened up my camera bag, and said with the utmost sincerity, "I am so sorry. Welcome to Egypt."

In Tahrir Square

Inside, it was like a parallel universe. I walked past a Hardees restaurant that was being used as a station for processing medical equipment. The travel agency next door was a prison for captured Mukhabarat.

Tahrir Square was the one place in Cairo where I actually felt safe working as a journalist. I knew that every single one of these protesters would take a bullet to defend me and my right to film.

As is the case in many revolutions in history, journalists become part of the story. The protesters knew that we were not affiliated with Egyptian state media, and thus were likely to depict the strength and righteousness of their movement accurately. They did everything in their power to help us (which in turn would help them). They fed us, offered us cigarettes and tea, and then posed for our cameras.

Western journalists knew we were being manipulated. But most of us didn't care because we believed in their cause. I didn't meet a single Western reporter who was not in favor of the revolution. Journalists cherish the same democratic ideals that these protesters were fighting and dying for. We were all touched in a very profound way and this resonated in all the reports coming out of Egypt.

I spotted Nawal Saddawi in Tahrir Square and we quickly darted over to interview her. Saddawi is an acclaimed writer and one of the leading women's rights advocates in the Arab world. In the middle of the interview, the frail, old lady nearly got knocked over by a group of protesters dragging in one of Mubarak's goons for interrogation.

But Saddawi is tough as nails. She recalled how she first protested against Nasser, then was arrested for opposing Sadat. Now here she was protesting against Mubarak with nearly a million Egyptians by her side. She claimed that this was the first time she could speak freely to a reporter in public. My spine still tingles just thinking about it.

I was in one of the many makeshift clinics in the square, filming a guy with deep lacerations all over his head and face from rocks, when I got a phone call from the Times' Cairo bureau. Two of their journalists had been detained by police. Anderson Cooper was beaten up by thugs. Reports of violence against journalists were now coming in by the minute.

The U.S. embassy warned the Times to get all their journalists off the streets. They were planning on evacuating the bureau in Zamalek. The situation seemed to be rapidly deteriorating. I passed on the information to Kristof and we immediately met up with Stephen Farrel, another Times journalist in Tahrir.

The three of us decided that Kristof and I should try and get all the video footage out so he and I could start feeding it to New York from our hotel rooms. The problem was, our Egyptian driver refused to come pick us up from the square, saying that it was too dangerous. We didn't have another exit plan.

Saved by Public Transit

Fortunately, two young Egyptian students overheard our conversation, and offered to help. They said the best way to get past the thugs on the streets was actually to go underground. I was amazed that throughout this revolution -- with the Internet and phones and the entire country basically shut down -- the Cairo subway system never stopped running!

I took my tapes and stuffed them deep inside of my socks. I always wear hiking boots and long socks in these situations. I did the same when leaving North Korea. My precious material always stays on my person, either in my socks or underwear. I put a blank tape in my camera and labeled it "Giza Pyramids 1."

Kristof and I followed these two guardian angels down a staircase and got on the train. We made one transfer at Mubarak Station and then reached our final destination, Opera Station, where our driver was waiting for us.

We went to Kristof's hotel, where we bumped into CNN's Anderson Cooper and Hala Gorani. They both looked visibly shaken from the day's events.

As a precautionary measure, we switched Kristof's hotel room to another one checked in under my name. At this point, he'd already penned three strongly anti-Mubarak op-eds. I could understand why Kristof didn't feel safe staying in a hotel with the president's mug staring down from a golden frame in the lobby.

An employee of the now-evacuated Times bureau in Cairo brought me my laptop so I could edit from the hotel. Unbelievably, after all the difficulties that day, my computer died on me when I tried to compress video. I was so frustrated that when we were told to evacuate, I just stayed in my bed. "If Mubarak's thugs find me here, then it was meant to be," I thought to myself.

Back to the square

Sleep didn't come, but neither did the Mukhabarat. The next day, I edited my footage on a friend's computer and went back to the square alone.

I walked briskly past several pro-Mubarak gangs. When eye contact was unavoidable, I flashed a fake, friendly smile. I find that in these situations smiling is the best way to alleviate anxiety. More importantly, it projects positive vibes to the people who otherwise may want to harm you. Smiling and maintaining positive, relaxed body language is often the best deterrent.

But that doesn't mean you should ever let your guard down. My eyes were always scanning 180 degrees for signs of danger. My ears were sensitive to increases in pitch or noises that would indicate violence. Probably due to the adrenaline, I could actually feel that my brain was processing data at a faster rate than normal.

I tried filming one of the pro-Mubarak groups, but within seconds was being threatened. One guy made a throat-slitting gesture and aggressively came towards me. I immediately assumed an apologetic posture, and said how sorry I was for filming.

He asked me in Arabic if I was from Al Jazeera. Omar Suleman, Mubarak's newly appointed vice president, accused the network of being foreign agents who were sowing the seeds of this revolution.

While I do speak rudimentary Arabic, I replied in English, "I'm American." My goal was to limit the conversation as much as possible.

Mass Bloodshed

As I got closer to the square, I witnessed scenes of horrible violence. Molotov cocktails lit up the night sky. I saw lacerated, bloody faces. The air smelled of smoke; sour, rotten tear gas; burning flesh.

Pro-Mubarak mobs ran into Tahrir making male guttural noises and screaming. Armed with broken glass bottles, poles, and anything that they could find, it felt like a scene from a cheap, Middle Eastern remake of "Braveheart."

I was too afraid to take out my camera, and it was too dark to film with my iPhone, so I just watched.

Feeling insecure, I used another important defense tactic, which I call "meet and greet." I found a group of pro-Mubarak guys around my age and asked them for a cigarette. I don't normally smoke, but I wanted to create a feeling of camaraderie with them in case the situation got much worse. For once, I really enjoyed a cigarette.

Change Over Night

By next day, the violence had waned considerably. It reminded me of how South Florida feels the day after a hurricane. The Internet was back on, the thugs were mostly off the streets, and a sense of tense normalcy returned to Cairo: I once again smelled the stench of Cairo pollution; drivers went back to using loud, obnoxious honking to communicate; street vendors hawked tissue boxes and Egyptian flags.

As days went by without mass violence, more and more people came to Tahrir Square, sensing that the protesters were on the right side of history. I even ran into many employees of the government controlled Al-Ahram newspaper. They told me that a similar mutiny was occurring inside their newsroom.

At this point, I was stringing for Time Magazine and PBS MediaShift. I bumped into some Times reporters I'd previously worked with and they told me that their bureau had reopened. I joked that it had been "a premature evacuation."

The mood had shifted from anxious to festive. Celebrations peaked on Friday night, when Mubarak finally stepped down.

After his resignation, foreign journalists seemed as confused as the Egyptian protesters about what to do next. The common refrain among reporters was, "Where should I fly to now?" Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Iran, Bahrain, Morocco, China, and even the West Bank have felt tremors from the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. Protesters and journalists changed Egypt and have inspired other uprisings across the world.

The Middle East today feels kind of like a seventh grade classroom: It's a rapidly changing place with young countries at various stages of awkward transition. These transformations are happening faster than reporters, politicians, and intelligence services can process them. As Egypt steps into a very uncertain future with the world watching, I get the sense that the Middle East's coming of age story may have just begun.

But wherever the plot leads next, it's likely that journalists, bloggers, and social networkers will be there to share it with the world.

Jaron Gilinsky is a journalist and documentary filmmaker based in Jerusalem. As a freelance video correspondent for Time, the New York Times, and Current TV, he has produced and directed scores of documentaries on a range of international topics. Jaron regularly posts his videos and articles on his personal blog.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

September 29 2010


IHT and Reuters partner for Middle East coverage

The International Herald Tribune and Reuters have joined forces to provide an additional weekly section to the newspaper’s Middle East edition.

‘Middle East with Reuters’ will be launched tomorrow and according to a release from Thomson Reuters will feature four pages of “dedicated regional news, business, opinion and culture coverage from IHT, New York Times and Reuters correspondents”.

The additional section will be printed with the IHT in Kuwait City, Doha, Cairo, Dubai and Istanbul, for distribution throughout the Gulf, Egypt and Turkey.Similar Posts:

February 23 2010


A New Model of Media Research

How to piss off the subjects of your research study

Everyone who had the opportunity to do so pointed out that we were just a few blocks from one of Beirut's Hezbollah-controlled neighborhoods. But we were also just a couple blocks from a Starbucks, snuggled comfortably in a new shopping center with more security guards than window shoppers. Over the next couple weeks such juxtapositions would form the basis of how I viewed most aspects of Beirut. On the second floor of the Hazmieh Rotana Hotel - catering to foreigners, the wealthy, and anyone who enjoys snail-paced internet connections - Razan Ghazzawi was getting a little worked up. Ghazzawi, a highly respected and sometimes hot-tempered Syrian blogger, was criticizing the Berkman Center for Internet and Society for a study they published in July of 2009, a "mapping of the Arabic blogosphere."

It soon became clear that Ghazzawi's frustration and downright anger about the study stemmed less from its findings (which were, by all accounts, rather self-evident for anyone who has paid much attention to blogs from the region over the years), but rather from how they conducted the study and the labels they used to categorize networks of bloggers from throughout the region:

This whole labeling issue is first very simplistic and second it does not really help anyone to understand the Arab blogsphere as it is self-representing itself. Bloggers are not anti- homosexuality merely because they're Muslims, and Islam is certainly not the reason why they're anti-homosexuality. Moreover, if these bloggers were representing themselves as "Muslims against homosexuality", doesn't that mean that they, too, are reformists? Who is a reformist? and who decides so?

No one likes to be placed into a narrow box, especially when that categorization comes from a group of outsiders, and even more so when that group of outsiders comes from an elite research center at the wealthiest university in the world's most powerful country. To truly understand the Arab blogosphere one would need to facilitate a conversation among both Arab bloggers and outsiders who have been observing the space for years. But most researchers don't seek to facilitate conversation so much as produce seemingly authoritative papers that are widely cited at academic conferences. The co-authors of the Arab blogosphere research study would have been well served to have paid a visit to fellow Harvard researcher, Howard Gardner of the GoodWork Project. Part of his research looks at ways to overcome the inevitable problem of individuals who hoard expertise. He distinguishes between social and antisocial expertise, noting that antisocial expertise often benefits the individual while social expertise benefits the entire institution, and even entire networks of individuals and institutions:

Antisocial expertise has a more complicated side. There is an inherent inequality of knowledge and skill between expert and nonexpert. Anti-social expertise emphasizes the sheer fact of invidious comparison. One obvious consequence of emphasizing inequality is the humiliation and resentment this expert can arouse in others; a more subtle consequence is to make the expert himself or herself feel embattled.

I am sure that all four co-authors of the study felt embattled after reading Ghazzawi's harsh critique, just as Ghazzawi felt resentment at their antisocial expertise and at the extensive resources at their hands to conduct this research. Still, it must be pointed out that the Berkman Center is lightyears ahead of most research centers when it comes to sharing information. Their study of the Arab blogosphere after all was written for a pretty specific audience: the United States Department of State. In 2007 the Berkman Center was given a $1.5 million grant by the State Department to "examine how the Internet influences democratic norms and modes, including its impact on civil society, citizen media, government transparency, and the rule of law, with a focus on the Middle East." Hence the politically charged labels applied to Arab bloggers.

This type of highly paid, commissioned research is commonplace. The State Department needed to better understand Middle Eastern cyberspace in order to meet their diplomatic objectives and so they commissioned the Berkman Center to do the research for them. The Berkman Center should be applauded for publishing the resulting research publicly and disseminating it via blog posts, Twitter, and conference presentations. (Though they could have been more transparent about who was funding the study.) But it is time to open up the research process even further and encourage the expertise of individuals across the network. Had they done so, ideally Razan Ghazzawi would have shared her extensive knowledge of the Arab blogosphere with the researchers. And if she didn't, well, then she wouldn't have a right to complain about the final study and its conclusions.

A New Model of Media Research

At Global Voices we were recently commissioned by Open Society Institute's Information Program and the Omidyar Network to help them gain a better understanding of the current state of online technology projects that increase transparency, government accountability, and civic engagement in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, South Asia, China, and Central & Eastern Europe. They could have gone about this the traditional way and contracted two or three well established academics to sit in their offices, pouring over dozens of websites, conducting a few interviews, and eventually publishing a lengthy white paper to be distributed at academic conferences and stuffed away in ivory tower filing cabinets.

Instead we built a network of regional researchers - experts in their field and region - and a platform that enables collaborative participation from anyone with an interest in better understanding the impact, effectiveness, and sustainability of technology projects that aim to improve governance. I don't pretend to know all the best metrics to measure the impact and success of these projects, but I do feel confident that by opening up this research to the larger public we will be able to come up with better parameters to think about the projects' impact online, in government, and in civil society.

I couldn't be happier with our team of researchers, advisors, and with the amazing Drupal-based platform built by Dan Braghis and Gleb Kanunnikau. So far we have published eight case studies - all complete with audio or video podcasts (you can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes here). Over the next ten weeks we will publish thirty more case studies and a number of blog posts looking at the intersection of transparency and technology.

Promoting Research Collaboration and Cross-Platform Data

Back in October of last year, after attending the Salzburg Global Seminar on "Strengthening Independent Media", I stressed the importance of promoting more collaboration between media funders, media researchers, and media development workers. All three groups want to gain a better understanding of media's role in a country's governance and development, and yet all three groups tend to seek that understanding in isolation.

Last month, in the hope of encouraging better coordinated research on media development, Open Society Institute hosted a meeting of major donors, researchers and project implementers to discuss some of the challenges facing media research. Anne Nelson, an advisor for the Technology for Transparency Network, was at the meeting and documented it on Media Shift. There seemed to be consensus around the obvious - that we need more in-country research about the impact of media, especially digital media - but few ideas about next steps forward. CIMA has built up an impressive dumping ground of PDF's, but it's a clunky way to understand the role and impact of media anywhere. IREX's Media Sustainability Index is a more user-friendly overview of the world, but it still leaves much to be desired. Global Integrity, Audience Scapes (still not launched), and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation are all trying to build more interactive and comprehensive frameworks for thinking about the media's impact on governance and transparency, but what we lack is integration of that research in ways that inform funders and project implementers where they should focus their time and money.

Fortunately that conversation is starting to take place. There is understanding that we need to have an inclusive conversation about the metrics used to evaluate media projects and their impact on government and society. Also, most researchers seem to now believe that their research should be published in an open space that is publicly available rather than in exclusive and costly academic journals. In the future we need to focus on sharing content and data across platforms. For example, on the Technology for Transparency Network's website when you click on a country in the map I'd like to see more than just a list of technology projects that we've evaluated; I also want some basic contextual information from Wikipedia, Global Integrity, and Audience Scapes. Similarly, I'd like to see Global Integrity's country reports not just show analysis and indicators, but also list the projects that we've reviewed so that readers have a sense of what is being done to address corruption and where they can lend their support. Their country report for Kenya, for example, should include a section on Kenya-based projects reviewed by the Technology for Transparency Network. We will all need to develop API's for our platforms before such data sharing becomes the norm, but my hope is that soon enough it will in fact become the norm.

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January 05 2010





Here they are:

An ancient clay tablet inscribed with cuneiform script, a type of writing once common in the Middle East, foundeds in southeastern Turkey in October 2009.

And a Roman “curse tablet” from Leicester, England, found near the ruins of a townhouse dating from the second century A.D., with a lead sheet bearing an inscription that asks a god to kill the thief who stole a man’s cloak.

(Photographs by University of Akron and Trustees of the Haverfield Bequest)

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