Updates from December, 2010 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • sami ben gharbia 12:59 pm on December 17, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    Une carte pour remplir les trous noirs de la carte Facebook des amitiés 

    Facebook a cartographié les amitiés tissées sur son site entre les 500 millions de personnes à travers le monde qui utilisent son réseau social. Paul Butler, le stagiaire à l’origine du projet explique son concept :

    Je voulais voir comment la géographie et les frontières politiques correspondent à l’endroit où vivent les gens par rapport à leurs amis. Je voulais visualiser les villes entretenant beaucoup de liens d’amitié […] Ce n’est pas seulement une jolie image, c’est la réaffirmation que nous connectons les gens, même au travers des océans et des frontières.

    Cliquer sur l'image pour voir la carte en haute définition

    Les liens d’amitié sont représentés par des filaments lumineux bleu redessinant les continents et les pays en illuminant les régions de denses amitiés facebookiennes. On voit comment la carte fait briller les pays où Facebook est le plus utilisé, surtout en Europe de l’ouest et l’Amérique du Nord. Certaines régions d’Amérique latine, d’Afrique du Nord, de l’ouest du sud, et de l’Asie sont aussi visibles.

    En réponse à cette carte, Thorsten Gaetz, de son côté s’est intéressé au zones sombres non représentées sur la carte de Facebook, là où d’autres sites de réseautage social sont plus populaires, comme Orkut, avec ses 50 millions d’utilisateurs selon Google, Hi5 qui comptait plus de 80 millions de membres enregistrés en 2008, RenRen, le réseau social des étudiants chinois avec ses 70 millions d’utilisateurs ou encore Qzone, un autres réseau social chinois avec ses 200 millions d’utilisateurs.

    Cliquer sur l'image pour voir la carte en haute définition

    Thorsten Gaetz a ajouté donc une couche supplémentaire sur la carte originale de Facebook cartographiant les zones dans le monde où il y a plus de deux personnes par mille carré (zones représentées en couleur rouge dans la carte). Ce qui nous permet de voir d’autres zones où d’autres réseaux sociaux, autres que Facebook, sont très actifs.

     
  • sami ben gharbia 4:14 pm on November 11, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    الحراك الإلكتروني العربي، مـواجهة القمع ومخاطر الاختراق 

    نشر هذا المقال على جريدة الأخبار

    تركز هذه المقالة على الحراك السياسي الشعبي على الإنترنت في العالم العربي ومخاطر احتمال التقائه بالسياسة الخارجية للولايات المتحدة ومصالحها في المنطقة. وتنطلق من فرضية تكاد تكون حتمية بأنّ تدخل راسمي السياسة الخارجية الأميركية وكذلك شركات الإنترنت العملاقة الأميركية، مثل غوغل وتويتر، في حقل النشاط السياسي الشعبي على الشبكة وميدان حرية التعبير على الإنترنت، مضرّ بتلك الحرية وبمستقبل النشاط الاجتماعي الرقمي ذاته

    يرمز ما دُرج على تسميته «النشاط الرقمي» (Digital Activism) إلى الحراك السياسي والحقوقي والاجتماعي الذي يستخدم شبكة الإنترنت والوسائط والتطبيقات والخدمات التي تتوافر غالباً بطريقة مجانية وسهلة للاستعمال من طرف النشطاء. وهذه الوسائط هي فضاءات التدوين ومواقع التشبيك الاجتماعي ورسم الخرائط وتقاسم الفيديو والعرائض. وتستخدم من أجل حشد المناصرة و تحسيس الرأي العام حول قضية ما، أو الضغط على صانعي القرار و التأثير على سياسة الحكومات. فـ«النشاط الرقمي» يشترط توفر عامل استخدام تقنيات الاتصال الحديثة على الشبكة العنكبوتية أو الهاتف الجوال أو كليهما معاً من أجل التنظّم أو التحسيس. ولعل الفرق بين «النشاط» و«النضال»، وهو المصطلح الأكثر شيوعاً في تقاليد العمل السياسي، هو عدم انتماء الناشط بالضرورة إلى تيار سياسي أو إيديولوجي ما، فهو «ينشط» خارج الأطر والهياكل الحزبية والتنظيمية والمنظماتية.

    و قد أعرب الكثيرون من خارج الولايات المتحدة، وليس فقط في العالم العربي، عن قلقهم من «تعويذة» حرية الإنترنت التي صارت تنبعث من الدوائر السياسية بواشنطن. واعتبروا هذه التعويذة مجرد غطاء لأجندة جيو ـــــ استراتيجية تسعى من خلالها أميركا، تحديداً، إلى اختراق شبكات الاحتجاج السياسي والاجتماعي الناشطة على شبكة الإنترنت. فالسياسة التي لقبتها وزيرة الخارجية الأميركية هيلاري كلينتون بـ«حرية الإنترنت»، و وضعتها في أعلى سلم أولويات السياسة الخارجية لإدارة الرئيس باراك أوباما خلال خطابها بداية هذه السنة، لن تطبّق في فراغ. فهي ستُبنى أولاً على قاعدة السياسة الخارجية العامة والعريقة للولايات المتحدة، تطبق أهدافها وتعمل على حماية مصالحها الحيوية. فالمساعي التي تبذلها أميركا والحكومات الغربية عموماً كي تكون طرفاً فاعلاً، بل رئيسياً، في مجال الدفاع عن حرية مستخدمي الإنترنت في الوصول إلى المعلومة وإيصالها، لن تمثل تهديداً واقعياً و مباشراً فقط للنشطاء الذين يقبلون دعمها وتمويلها، بل سيكون لها أثر على طبيعة النشاط الرقمي العربي ذاته وتوجهاته. وبات العديد من المدونين يعتقدون (من الصين إلى المغرب العربي، مروراً بإيران و روسيا) بأنّ مساعي التسييس الجامح للمدونات والنشاط التدويني ومحاولات الركوب على بعض نجاحاته لتحقيق أهداف جيوسياسية، هي «قبلة الموت» التي تهدد شرعيتهم على الميدان. أسوأ الحالات هي أن يؤدي التمويل الغربي لمبادرات المدونين والنشطاء الرقميين، وكذلك التسييس المفرط لفضائهم، إلى تشويه الأنشطة الرقمية القائمة وظهور «نشاط رقمي مواز» يتجاهل السياق المحلي للمنطقة العربية وتعقيداتها. هذا إلى جانب النفاق والكيل بمكيالين اللذين صارا يميزان حركة مناصرة حرية التعبير على الإنترنت في دفاعها عن السجناء من المدونين ومقاومة سياسات الحجب والرقابة التي تمارسها الأنظمة. فأصبح هناك استهداف مفضوح وسافر لإيران والصين وكأنّهما الدولتان الوحيدتان اللتان تبطشان بالشبكة و بحقوق مستخدميها.
    إنّ وضع حرية الإنترنت في صلب الاستراتيجية العامة للسياسة الخارجية الأميركية تحت مظلة البراغماتية النفعية التي عودتنا عليها واشنطن لن يقود الولايات المتحدة إلى المخاطرة بـ«استقرار» النظام القمعي العربي الذي يرعى مصالحها. فمن غير الواقعي أن نتوقع من أميركا أو من أي حكومة غربية أخرى أعلنت «حربها الإلكترونية» على سياسة الحجب، أن تعمل فعلياً على دعم المعارضات السياسية ضد حلفائها العرب بالقدر الذي تفعله أو تسعى إليه ضد إيران والصين. ولأنّه لا يمكننا تحمل عواقب «قرصنة» قضية حرية التعبير على الإنترنت من قبل قوى تخدم أجنداتها الجيو ـــــ استراتيجية، وغالباً لا تصبّ في مصلحتنا، وجب علينا الوعي بهذا «الواقع الافتراضي» الجديد والاجتهاد في تفكيك فاعليه وجس ديناميكياته.

    وهناك آثار جانبية عديدة سيفرضها الواقع الجديد على ميدان الحركة العالمية المدافعة عن حرية التعبير والوصول إلى المعلومة على الشبكة. منها أنّ كل جسر يُبنى بين الحكومة الأميركية ومراكز الأبحاث ومنظمات المجتمع المدني الأميركي سيؤدي إلى تدمير عدد من الجسور القائمة التي تربط هذا الأخيرة بالناشطين والمدونين من العالم العربي والشرق الأوسط. وما لم تتغير ديناميات السياسة الخارجية الأميركية، ولا سيما في أشكال تعاملها مع «الدكتاتوريات العربية الصديقة»، سوف يُنظر إليها دائماً على أنّها سياسة منافقة تختفي وراء شعار حرية الإنترنت الفضفاض خدمة لمصالحها أو لمجرد الاستهلاك الإعلامي المحلي.
    إذاً الأخطار المحدقة بحقل النشاط الرقمي العربي كبيرة، و خصوصاً في مرحلة نموّه الفتية الحالية، وتحتاج بالتالي إلى المناقشة والمعالجة. وما هذه إلا محاولة متواضعة لفهم رقعة الشطرنج الجديدة التي أطلقت عليها الولايات المتحدة الأميركية لقب «فن الحكم في القرن الـ21» وموقع الحراك السياسي الرقمي العربي منها.

    النشاط الرقمي قوة فاعلة من أجل التغيير

    ملأت حركة النشاط الرقمي السياسي القاعدي العربي الفجوة التي تركتها وسائل الإعلام التقليدية ومنظمات المجتمع المدني في معالجتها لقضايا حقوق الإنسان والمواطنة. ففرضت نفسها، على الرغم من تراوحها بين النجاح والفشل، كقوة فاعلة من أجل التغيير، تصقل جزءاً لا يستهان به من الرأي العام، وخاصة داخل الأوساط الحضرية الشابة والمتعلمة والمتصلة بالشبكة العنكبوتية. وهي تنمو في فضاء إلكتروني يبدو أكثر ملاءمة لمراوغة و مقاومة لعين الرقابة الحكومية. وهذه الأخيرة نجحت إلى حد كبير في السيطرة على الوسائل التقليدية للتنظيم والإعلام والاتصال عبر تكميمها أو تدجينها. هكذا تمكن النشاط الرقمي العربي من إدخال ديناميكية جديدة أربكت الحسابات القديمة للأنظمة والمجتمع المدني على حد سواء عبر مبادرات عدّة. منها تلك الرقمية المنددة بالتعذيب والتحرش الجنسي في مصر التي نجحت في فرض هذه القضايا على أجندة الإعلام التقليدي وسلك القضاء البعيدة عن الخوض فيها لأسباب عدة ترجع أغلبها إلى تبعيّة هذه القطاعات وضعفها. كذلك مبادرات فضح ممارسات الرشوة التي تنهش جسم الشرطة المغربية والتي انتهت بدفع الحكومة إلى التحقيق في الموضوع وفصل رجال الشرطة المتورطين، وصولاً إلى مبادرات التنديد بآلة الحجب التونسية التي نجحت إلى حد كبير في جعل قضية الدفاع عن حرية التعبير والوصول إلى المعلومة وإيصالها من هموم المُتصفح التونسي العادي وغير المسيس، منهية بذلك استفراد الأحزاب السياسية المعارضة والمنظمات الحقوقية بهذا النشاط الحقوقي ـــــ السياسي.

    تجدر الإشارة إلى أنّ أغلب مبادرات المناصرة الناجحة للنشاط العربي السياسي والحقوقي الشعبي على الإنترنت لم تكن مموّلة من أي جهة حكومية غربية أو من المنظمات الأهلية التابعة لها. وذلك على عكس بعض المبادرات الرقمية الحالية التي ظهرت بفضل دعم و رعاية من جانب الولايات المتحدة و وكلائها. إذ يتميز الجيل الأول، أي اللامُموّل وغير المرتبط خارجياً، من المبادرات الرقمية المحلية بالخصائص الآتية:
    1 – الضرورة: لم يكن الدافع وراء استخدام أدوات الاتصال الحديثة من أجل الدفع بعجلة التغيير الاجتماعي والسياسي والحقوقي هو المصلحة أو الارتزاق الإعلامي والمالي. فعلى العكس، كانت تلبية لاحتياجات واقعية أفرزها التزام راسخ بالدفاع عن حقوق الإنسان في العالم العربي. وما تلك الاحتياجات إلا نتيجة مباشرة لبيئة استبدادية قائمة و صلبة تتميز بانعدام الفضاءات المفتوحة التي يمارس فيها النشطاء دورهم المواطني. فكان اللجوء إلى النشاط الرقمي لما يوفره من سهولة وسرعة وغياب شبه كامل للتكلفة المالية.

    2 – الاستقلال: يعدّ حقل النشاط الرقمي في العالم العربي من أكثر الحقول لامركزية وتشتت وحيوية. هذا ما يجعله ممانعاً لمحاولات الاختراق والتوظيف من قبل المنظمات غير الحكومية وأحزاب المعارضة العربية، حتى تلك المتمرسة على تقنيات الاتصال الحديثة. فاستقلاليته جعلت منه كياناً جذاباً ومقاوماً في الوقت نفسه لكل أنواع الرقابة الحكومية أو التوظيف المسيّس للمعارضة. لكن صفة الاستقلال تلك لا تعني بالضرورة عزل هذا النشاط الرقمي عن محيطه. فعدد من النشطاء الرقميين في العالم العربي يتعاونون مع أحزاب المعارضة السياسية ومنظمات المجتمع المدني خلال الفترات الهامة والحرجة، كالمحطات الانتخابية والانتكاسات الحقوقية. ومعظم هؤلاء النشطاء مرتبطون أيضاً بعضهم ببعض عبر ديناميكيات تشبيك مزدوج، بعضه على الإنترنت وبعضه الآخر على الأرض. فهم يتعاونون في ما بينهم خلال الأحداث الكبرى التي تشهدها المنطقة، (كقضية غزة والحرب الإسرائيلية على لبنان سنة 2006). كما ينسقون في ما بينهم عمليات الحشد والمناصرة لحملاتهم الإلكترونية كحملات المطالبة بإطلاق سراح المدونين المعتقلين. إلى جانب كل هذا، يرتبط النشاط الرقمي العربي بحركة النشاط الرقمي العالمي من خلال المؤتمرات والورشات التدريبية. أضف إلى كلّ هذا القدرة الذاتية التشبيكية الهائلة التي يتميز بها الإنترنت وخاصة مواقع الشبكات الاجتماعية. خلاصة القول إنّ النشاط الرقمي العربي، يفعل ويتفاعل في سياق متعدد الطبقات، بعضها محلي وقطري وبعضها الآخر قومي وعالمي.

    3 – التعقيد: للوهلة الأولى، يبدو النشاط الرقمي حقلاً بسيطاً وسطحياً، إلا أنّنا إذا ما تفحصناه عن كثب سرعان ما تبرز لنا تعقيداته الخفية. فهو يختلف من بلد إلى آخر، ويطوّر وسائله وتقنياته تكيفاً مع محيطه المتحرك وتعقيدات الاستراتيجية الحكومية العربية للسيطرة على الشبكة وتطويعها باسم محاربة الإرهاب والمحافظة على الأخلاق العامة.

    كلّ هذه الخصائص جعلت من النشاط الرقمي العربي عرضة لعدد من التحديات. فاستقلاليته قد تؤدي إلى استفحال أزمة هيكلية ومالية باتت تهدد مستقبله، وهي تعود بالأساس إلى غياب مصادر التمويل والدعم المحلي العربي والمستقل للنشاط الرقمي. ففي ظروف كهذه، يعتمد أي نشاط رقمي مستقل كلياً على العمل التطوعي والخيري للناشطين وتبرعاتهم البسيطة. وبالتالي، لن يصمد أمام أساليب الحجب والرقابة المتطورة التي باتت تستخدمها الحكومات العربية الراغبة في السيطرة على ما يُنشر على الشبكة. فضرورة تطوير تقنيات مراوغة الحجب والرقابة، وكذلك تقنيات تأمين مواقع المبادرات الرقمية ضد القرصنة والتخريب التي تستهدفها، تتطلب مقاربة محترفة تتوفر فيها الموارد المالية من جهة، والإلمام المعرفي والتطبيقي بالتقنيات الحديثة من جهة أخرى. فلا يمكن استراتيجيات بدائية ومُبتدئة صُمّمت لمقاومة الحجب والرقابة والقرصنة أن تصمد أمام عزم وبطش شرطة إنترنت الحكومات العربية المزودة بالمال والعتاد والخبرة المتقدمة. فالقدرات الأمنية والتقنية لناشطي الإنترنت العرب لمواجهة التحديات الجديدة محدودة، إن لم نقل منعدمة تماماً. أما تقنيات التشفير والتدابير الأمنية و الوقائية فهي غير مجدية عندما يتم سحب كلمات السر والبيانات الشخصية الحساسة من المدونين والنشطاء تحت التعذيب، كما يحدث في مصر والبحرين وغيرها من البلدان العربية. ومن ناحية أخرى، فإنّ تعقيد ظاهرة النشاط السياسي الشعبي العربي على الشبكة العنكبوتية جعل من الصعب على الفاعلين الأجانب والدوليين المعنيين بدعم النشاط الرقمي رسم سياسات تأخذ تعقيدات وخصوصيات كل بلد من بلدان المنطقة بعين الاعتبار عند صياغة أو تنفيذ برامج غالباً ما تستهدف المنطقة بأسرها وكأنّها حقل تجارب.

    هذه الخصائص التي رافقت النشاط الإلكتروني العربي منذ نشأته باتت على وشك أن تتغير تحت وطأة التدخل الأجنبي الذي يهدد استقلاليتها. فالسؤال الذي يطرح نفسه الآن هو: كيف نتغلب على هذه التحديات المتعددة الأوجه دون المساس باستقلالية وحياد نشاطنا الرقمي العربي وحمايته من أيادي التوظيف والتدخل الأجنبي؟

    بقدر ما يزداد استهلاك شعار «حرية الإنترنت» و«النشاط الرقمي» من الساسة والإعلاميين الغربيين وتوظيفه في إطار «نظريات التغيير» السياسي والاجتماعي، يتزايد إنفاق الأموال الغربية على هذا الحقل. وقد مثّل ذلك فرصة ثمينة وغير مسبوقة لعدد من المنظمات غير الحكومية ومصممي ومروّجي برمجيات تجاوز الحجب والرقابة الإلكترونية للدفع بأجندة سياسية أميركية المحور، وقنص مصادر تمويل إضافية جديدة.
    فالتكاثر غير المسبوق للمنظمات غير الحكومية ومراكز الأبحاث التي تتنازع في ما بينها من أجل الفوز بقطعة من «كعكة التمويل» الغربي، سيساعد على اضمحلال الخصوصيات الذاتية الأصيلة للنشاط. فآليات التمويل وإجراءاته البيروقراطية ستلقي بظلالها على الناشط الرقمي، محوّلة إياه إلى «بيروقراطي صغير» همه كتابة طلبات التمويل والتقارير. بل إنّها ستفرز نوعاً جديداً من «النشطاء المرتزقين»، غايتهم «تجارية» بحتة تُساير رغبات الممولين وإملاءاتهم وتقايض المال بنشاط مزيف، فاقد لاستقلاليته وهي قوام شرعيته. فحساسية التمويل الأجنبي للنشاط المدني والاجتماعي في منطقة مثل منطقتنا العربية مهمة إلى درجة أنّها تنزع الشرعية تقريباً عن كلّ مبادرة تسقط في فخ التمويل. فالمبادرات الرقمية الممولة محلياً والقائمة على قاعدة التطوع والعمل الخيري هي الأكثر نجاحاً والأبلغ صدى في حشد التأييد الشعبي لها.

    أما تلك المبادرات الرقمية الجديدة والهجينة التي يرعاها أو يفرزها التمويل والدعم الحكومي الأجنبي فهي الأقل نجاحاً واستقطاباً للدعم المحلي. وهي أقرب إلى «التسويق السياسي» منها إلى النشاط، إذ يطغى عليها التركيز على المواضيع والمقولات الجاذبة للإعلام والانتباه الغربي كالشباب والمرأة والحرية الجنسية وحقوق الأقليات والمثليين والحوار بين الأديان والحضارات. وهي مبادرات تهيمن عليها اللغة الإنكليزية على حساب اللغة المحلية، محتواها بارد وشعاراتها فضفاضة. وتتميز هذه المبادرات الرقمية الممولة أجنبياً أيضاً بصلابة وتعدد قنوات تواصلها مع الغرب ووسائل إعلامه الكبرى ومباركة المنظمات الحكومية وغير الحكومية لها على حساب تجذرها في العمق المحلي وضعف قنوات اتصالها الجماهيرية القاعدية. فالنشاط الرقمي الذي لا ينشأ تلبية لاحتياجاته المحلية ليس سوى تجارة تتخذ من ظاهر النشاط وتقنياته الرقمية طُعماً لصيد التمويل والشهرة.
    فبين قمع الأنظمة العربية من جهة، والتوظيف السياسي والإعلامي الغربي، يمر النشاط الإلكتروني العربي، وكذلك حركة الدفاع عن حرية التعبير على الإنترنت، بواحدة من أكثر المراحل خطورة والتي قد تؤدي إلى تغيّر جذري لديناميكياتها وأدائها. فبدون فحص وتفكيك السياق الجديد الذي يمر به الحراك الرقمي والتدويني العربي يصعب التنبؤ بدقة بعواقب هذا التوظيف والتدخل الأجنبي على طبيعة هذا الحقل الجديد. فعدد المؤتمرات وورشات العمل التدريبية التي تنظمها المنظمات غير الحكومية الأميركية والغربية بتمويل وبمباركة رسمية مستهدفة المدونين والناشطين العرب والإيرانيين والصينيين، قد تنامت على نحو لافت للانتباه حتى إنّها صارت تقلق حكوماتنا القمعية التي باتت تترصد تحركات المدونين داخل الحدود وخارجها.

    السياق جديد

    خلال خطابها «ملاحظات حول حرية الإنترنت» الذي ألقته في 21 كانون الثاني 2010 في واشنطن، رفعت وزيرة الخارجية الأميركية هيلاري كلينتون حرية الإنترنت إلى مستوى محوري في صلب السياسة الخارجية لإدارة الرئيس أوباما. وقالت «أعلن اليوم أنّه خلال السنة المقبلة سوف نعمل مع شركاء من القطاع الصناعي، ومن الميادين الأكاديمية، والمنظمات غير الحكومية من أجل إنشاء جهد دائم يستعمل قوة تكنولوجيات الاتصال ويطبقها على أهدافنا الدبلوماسية». وقبل شهرين من ذلك الخطاب، في تشرين الثاني 2009، أعلنت كلينتون مبادرة «المجتمع المدني 2.0» التي تهدف إلى مساعدة المنظمات الشعبية في جميع أنحاء العالم من أجل استخدام التكنولوجيا الرقمية والحديثة. خصصت المبادرة 5 ملايين دولار لتمويل البرامج الرائدة في منطقة الشرق الأوسط وشمال أفريقيا التي من شأنها تعزيز وسائل الإعلام الجديدة وإمكانات التشبيك بين منظمات المجتمع المدني.

    ومن المؤكد أنّ الولايات المتحدة ليست الدولة الوحيدة التي أعلنت رسمياً تبني مقولة حرية الإنترنت ودمجها بالسياسة الخارجية العامة. فقد أعرب عدد من الحكومات الأوروبية أيضاً عن نفس النوايا ولو بدرجات متفاوتة. فعلى سبيل المثال، أعلنت كلّ من هولندا وفرنسا برنامجاً مشتركاً يهدف إلى ضبط «قواعد سلوك» لسياستهما الخارجية تحمي بمقتضاه حرية الإنترنت. وسيعقد لقاء على مستوى وزراء خارجية البلدين في أواخر هذا الشهر من أجل رسم سياسة دعم «المنشقين إلكترونياً» (cyber dissidents)، وهي صفة تطلق على المعارضين السياسيين الذين يركزون نشاطاتهم المعارضة على شبكة الإنترنت وفضاءات التدوين ومواقع التشبيك الاجتماعي. وكان وزير الخارجية الفرنسي برنار كوشنير قد صرح خلال لقاء تحضيري عقد في باريس: «يتعين علينا مساندة المعارضين الإلكترونيين بنفس الطريقة التي ساندنا فيها المعارضين السياسيين».

    وعلاوة على ذلك، فقد نمت بين شركات الإنترنت الأميركية العملاقة على غرار غوغل وياهو وتويتر، قناعة بأهمية مقولة «حرية الإنترنت» إذ غالباً ما تقاطعت مصالحها الاقتصادية مع جهود ومصالح الإدارة الأميركية. وتعمل شركة غوغل حالياً مع الولايات المتحدة ومسؤولين أوروبيين للدفع بسياسة من شأنها أن تجعل من الرقابة على الإنترنت حاجزاً للتبادل التجاري. فمنذ توتر علاقة الشركة بالصين، صارت غوغل من أكبر الشركات صخباً حول حرية الإنترنت. وقال مدير الاتصالات السياسية في غوغل بوب بورستين، الذي شغل منصب محرر خطابات بإدارة الرئيس كلينتون: «هدفنا هو تحقيق أقصى قدر من حرية التعبير والوصول إلى المعلومات […] إنّه جزء هام جداً لأنشطتنا التجارية».
    المسألة الأخرى المثيرة للقلق هي تلك العلاقة الوطيدة والمتشابكة بين دوائر صنع القرار بواشنطن ومديري شركات الإنترنت الأميركية. فعدد لا بأس به من مسؤولي وزارة الخارجية كانوا قد اشتغلوا سابقاً في شركات الانترنت، على غرار أربعة من مديري غوغل الذين ذهبوا للعمل مع إدارة الرئيس أوباما. وآخر مثال على هذا هو جاريد كوهين، «التكنوبراغماتي» (technopragmatist) والاختصاصي في مجال استخدام التكنولوجيا لتعزيز مصالح الولايات المتحدة ومكافحة الإرهاب والتطرف. فقد شغل منصب وزير دولة للتخطيط في كلّ من إدارتي جورج بوش وأوباما، ثم ترك وظيفته بوزارة الخارجية لقيادة قسم جديد ستطلقه شركة غوغل قريباً ويدعى «غوغل أفكار». وجاريد كوهين هو نفس الشخص الذي تدخل في حزيران 2009، مطالباً شركة التدوين المصغر «تويتر»، بتأجيل صيانة الموقع المبرمجة إبان الاضطرابات التي شهدتها إيران عقب انتخابات يونيو 2009. وكان ذلك من أجل منح معارضي أحمدي نجاد مزيداً من الوقت لاستعمال تويتر لتنظيم التظاهرات الاحتجاجية. فيعتقد جاريد كوهين وغيره ممن يُطلق عليهم لقب «متفاؤلو التكنولوجيا»، أنّ تويتر أدى دوراً وصفوه بالرئيسي في احتجاجات إيران الأخيرة، ما حدا بالبعض إلى الترويج لنظرية «ثورة تويتر» (Twitter Revolution). فبالنسبة إلى هؤلاء، بما فيهم إدارة الرئيس أوباما، مثلت احتجاجات 2009 بإيران أول منعطف تاريخي عالمي كبير أثبت قدرة التكنولوجيا الحديثة على مواجهة الرقابة والقمع الحكومي. وقد انعكس ذلك بوضوح في خطاب كلينتون حول حرية الإنترنت فذكرت خلاله إيران سبع مرات.

    وتتطلع «تويتر» أيضاً إلى استئجار منسق حكومي في واشنطن، مهمته مساعدة الشركة على فهم ما يجب القيام به من أجل «تقديم خدمة أفضل للمرشحين وصناع القرار» بأميركا ورسم الاستراتيجيات الدولية للشركة. وفي 9 تموز 2010 انضمت كاتي ستانتون التي كانت تعمل لحساب غوغل في سنة 2003 ولحساب إدارة الرئيس أوباما في سنة 2009 كمسؤولة في هذا القسم الجديد.
    وهذا ما عبر عنه كوهين جاريد عندما كان يشغل منصبه الوزاري، فقال خلال حديثه عن استخدام الوزارة للتكنولوجيات الجديدة في ممارسة الدبلوماسية: «كل جامعة وكل شركة من القطاع الخاص هي في الواقع شريك استراتيجي للإدارة الأميركية في مجال التكنولوجيا والابتكار وكيفية تطبيقها لخدمة سياستنا الخارجية».

    وكما قلنا آنفاً، يتميز السياق الجديد للحراك السياسي على الإنترنت في العالم العربي وفي منطقة الشرق الأوسط عموماً باهتمام شديد من المؤسسات الحكومية الأميركية والمنظمات غير الحكومية التي تمولها، وكذلك من مراكز البحوث والجامعات وشركات الإنترنت العملاقة. وفي هذا الإطار قدم العديد من النشطاء والمدونين العرب والإيرانيين مساعدة جمة لمراكز البحوث تلك، مثل مركز بيركمان للإنترنت والمجتمع بكلية الحقوق بجامعة هارفرد. فساعدوا على فهم وترجمة ورسم خرائط للمدونات العربية وموقعها على الإنترنت، ما أفاد المركز كثيراً في عمله التحليلي لمحتوى المدونات العربية والإيرانية. أوضح مثال على هذا التنسيق بين النشطاء والمدونين العرب والإيرانيين من جهة، ومراكز البحوث الجامعية الأميركية من جهة أخرى هو خريطتا المدونات الإيرانية والعربية التي صمّمها جون كيلي وبروس ألتينك اللذان يديران مبادرة «الإنترنت والديموقراطية» التابعة لمركز بيركمان للانترنت والمجتمع. وترعى المبادرة وزارة الخارجية الأميركية من خلال منحة قدرها 1.5 مليون دولار قدمتها مبادرة الشراكة الشرق أوسطية التي تأسست في عهد الرئيس بوش الابن.

    وإذا ما فحصنا الإطار العام الذي سيقت فيه هذه الدراسة وخريطة المدونات العربية والإيرانية والمصطلحات المستعملة، فسنلاحظ تركيزاً جلياً ومفرطاً لفهم واستكشاف الموقع الذي يحتله «المتطرفون» و«الإرهابيون» و«الإسلاميون» و«المحافظون» و«العلمانيون» في فضاء المدونات العربية والإيرانية. ولقد اعترف جون كيلي خلال ردّه على بعض الانتقادات التي وجهها عدد من المدونين العرب للخريطة: «كنا نكتب شيئاً ستقرأه الدوائر السياسية بالعاصمة واشنطن، ومن الطبيعي أننا لجأنا، في بعض أجزاء الدراسة، إلى استخدام لغة ترتبط بالنقاش كما يدور هناك». كيلي، مهندس رسم خرائط المدونات، وإيفان سيغل، المدير التنفيذي لمنظمة «أصوات عالمية»، وهي أهم منظمة تُعنى بتتبع ما ينشر على المدونات العالمية وترجمة محتواها إلى أكثر من عشرين لغة، كانا قد شاركا في مؤتمر نظمه معهد السلام الأميركي في 8 كانون الثاني 2009، إلى جانب قائد القيادة المركزية الأميركية الجنرال ديفيد بترايوس وغيره من المسؤولين الأمنيين والعسكريين. وكان من بين مهمات المؤتمر، التعرف على دور وسائل الإعلام الاجتماعي والإلكتروني وكيف يمكن استغلال هذا الدور من أجل إيجاد «حلول غير عسكرية» للتحديات التي تواجهها السياسة الخارجية في منطقة الشرق الأوسط الكبير. وخلال حديثه عن رسم وتحليل شبكات المدونين العرب والإيرانيين وأهمية هذا العمل بالنسبة إلى الولايات المتحدة الأميركية، أكد كيلي ضرورة «تنمية وصقل هذه الشبكات عندما تكون صغيرة، لأنّها تنمو بسرعة كبيرة جداً». لاحقاً، أصدر مجلس الشيوخ الاميركي قانون «ضحايا الرقابة الإيرانية» ( Victims of Iranian Censorship Act) الذي خصص 20 مليون دولار لمساعدة النشطاء الإيرانيين على مكافحة وتجاوز الرقابة على الإنترنت وتدريبهم على تقنيات تبادل ونشر المعلومات على الشبكة. علّق حينها روب فاريس وهو مدير الأبحاث في مركز بيركمان للانترنت والمجتمع «ها قد دخلتم جبهة الحرب الإلكترونية إلى جانب الأخيار». وهذا يبرز هيمنة مخيلة «الحرب الباردة» على عقول هؤلاء الباحثين والساسة، ومن ثم إسقاطها على حقل الحراك السياسي على الإنترنت الذي يراد منه أن يكون جبهة حرب جديدة تضاريسها إلكترونية ومعلوماتية موجّهة ضد حزمة من الأنظمة الاستبدادية التي لا تساير السياسات التوسعية الأميركية. وكذلك يفضح أيضاً مدى اختراق دوائر صنع القرار السياسي الأميركي وأجهزتها الاستخبارية والعسكرية لمراكز البحوث الأكاديمية وتوظيفها لنتاجها المعرفي خدمة لمصالح أميركا الحيوية في العالم.
    فالتطور الأكثر مدعاة للقلق هو أن توضع المعرفة والبيانات حول الشبكة العنكبوتية العربية أو الإيرانية والصينية والروسية، بين أيدي الساسة والعسكر ورجال الأمن والاستخبارات دفعاً بالمصالح الأميركية أو دقاً لطبول «الحرب الإلكترونية» الجديدة التي ينادي لها منظّرو المحافظين الجدد. وتجمع هذه المعلومات غالباً بفضل تنسيق تطوعي وخيري بين نشطاء الإنترنت والمدونين المحليين ومراكز البحوث والمنظمات غير الحكومية الأميركية. وكلّ خطوة تخطوها منظمات المجتمع الأهلي الأميركي ومراكز البحوث والدراسات في اتجاه الحكومة الأميركية ستقود في نهاية المطاف الى اضعاف موقع هذه المنظمات بين أوساط ناشطي الإنترنت والمدافعين عن حرية التعبير على الشبكة العنكبوتية.

    ولعل من أبرز وأخطر الأمثلة ذات الصلة بالتسييس المفرط لفضاء التدوين العربي والإيراني على حد سواء وتوظيف نضالاته لخدمة مصالح الغرب وإسرائيل، تتمثل في مبادرة «المنشقون الإلكترونيون» أو cyberdissidents.org. تسوّق المبادرة نفسها على أنّها حليفة قوى الإصلاح والديموقراطية الناشطة على الشبكة العنكبوتية الشرق أوسطية. وتقول «إنّ المدونين والمعارضين السياسيين الذين يستعملون الإنترنت في دول الشرق الأوسط الاستبدادية يتعرضون لأخطار جمة. ونحن نعتقد أنّ للغرب واجباً أخلاقياً في الدفاع عن هؤلاء المعارضين الشجعان الذين هم أكبر حليف لنا». وقد وصفت السفيرة الأميركية السابقة لدى الاتحاد الأوروبي، كريستين سيلفربيرغ هذه المبادرة بأنّها «المنظمة الرائدة في العالم المكرسة أساساً للدفاع عن المعارضين الديموقراطيين المستخدمين للإنترنت». وعلى الرغم من الضجيج والتغطية الإعلامية التي حظيت بها هذه المبادرة ولا سيما في واشنطن فقد التزم الجميع الصمت حيال من يقف وراءها. فالمبادرة هي من صنع ساسة إسرائيليين وصهاينة وأميركيين لهم خبرة عريقة في مجال مكافحة الإرهاب ولهم صلة وثيقة بالأجهزة الأمنية والاستخبارية في كلّ من الولايات المتحدة وإسرائيل، وهم إلى الآن أعضاء في مجلس إدارتها. المشروع ذاته هو مبادرة من مؤسسة الدفاع عن الديموقراطيات التابعة لمعهد أسّسه المحافظون الجدد في واشنطن بعد يومين فقط من هجمات 11 أيلول 2001. و من بين أعضاء إدارة مبادرة «المنشقون الإلكترونيون» التي تستهدف «الدفاع» عن المدونين العرب والإيرانيين نجد ناتان شارانسكي الذي شغل عدّة مناصب وزارية في حكومات الليكود الإسرائيلية. أما مدير مبادرة CyberDissidents.org فليس سوى ديفيد كييس المساعد السابق لسفير إسرائيل لدى الأمم المتحدة والذي تقلد مناصب رفيعة في شعبة الاستراتيجيا التابعة للجيش الاسرائيلي.

    من أجل أن يحقق الحراك السياسي الرقمي العربي أهدافه النبيلة يجب عليه المحافظة على استقلاليته والتمسك بعمقه المحلي. كما يجب ان يسعى إلى الحصول على الدعم المالي واللوجستي في الإطار الشعبي القاعدي عوض اللجوء إلى «السيولة السهلة» الآتية من وراء البحار والحاملة في طياتها أجندة سياسية وإيديولوجية ضارة بقوى الإصلاح في المنطقة. وهذا بالطبع لا يعني قطع جسور التواصل مع التجارب النضالية الرقمية العالمية التي نحن بأمسّ الحاجة لفهمها والتفاعل معها والتعلم منها. فوسط هذه الهجمة الغربية الساعية إلى الاستفادة من نضالات شبابنا وإغرائنا، بل إغراقنا في لجّة من لأموال و الأعمال المشبوهة، نحن بحاجة ماسّة لتشكيل وعي جماعي مقاوم. وعي يناهض كلّ مساعي القرصنة لقضايانا وهمومنا المواطنية من قبل الحكومات الغربية والمنظمات «غير الحكومية» الدائرة في فلكها والمسبّحة بحمدها. الوعي بمخاطر تسييس فضائنا العنكبوتي العربي من قبل هذه الأطراف الدخيلة هو بمثابة أول خطوة نخطوها من أجل الحفاظ على شرعية عملنا النضالي على الإنترنت، ومن أجل ألا نقايض الصلة الحميمة مع واقعنا المحلي بقبول ساذج لتمويل ودعم ملونين إيديولوجياً بألوان خدعة «حرية الإنترنت» الزاهية. وإذا كانت الولايات المتحدة والحكومات الغربية الأخرى تريد حقاً دعم حرية الإنترنت فينبغي عليها أن تبدأ بحظر تصدير برامج الرقابة والحجب التي تستعملها شرطة الإنترنت في الدول العربية، التي هي بالأساس أميركية الصنع والتسويق.

    نشر هذا المقال على جريدة الأخبار

    المقال باللغة الانجليزية: The Internet Freedom Fallacy and the Arab Digital activism

     
    • سارة 7:27 pm on December 6, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      حسنى مبارك يقدم غاز مصر هدية لدعم إسرائيل و مصر تخسر حوالى 100 مليار دولار فى 20 سنة لأسرائيل !!!

      التقت شبكة الإعلام العربية “محيط ” مع السفير إبراهيم يسري مساعد وزير الخارجية ومدير إدارة القانون الدولى والمعاهدات الدولية الأسبق بوازرة الخارجية وكان هذا الحوار …

      لعل أزمة الأنابيب الموجودة حاليا حيث يتعذر علي المواطنين الحصول علي احتياجاتهم اليومية من الغاز تثبت بالدليل القاطع لكل الناس فشل سياسة الحكومة بتصدير ثروتنا الطبيعية من الغاز لإسرائيل بأسعار فكاهية دولار وربع للطن المتري في حين أن السعر العالمي اثني عشر دولارا ونصف. وهذا معناه إننا نحرم المصريين مع صباح كل يوم من مبلغ 13 مليون دولار أمريكي يمثل فرق السعر في الوقت الذي يتزايد فيه أعداد العاطلين والفقراء وهو ما يمثل حرمانا للمواطن المصري الفقير والمحتاج من ثروة بلده من الغاز …

      باقى الحوار تحت عنوان ( جدارغزة وتصديرالغاز لإسرائيل إهدار للمصالح المصرية ) فى صفحة الحوادث بالرابط التالى

      http://www.ouregypt.us

  • sami ben gharbia 3:58 pm on September 17, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    The Internet Freedom Fallacy and the Arab Digital activism 

    Introduction

    This article focuses on grassroots digital activism in the Arab world and the risks of what seems to be an inevitable collusion with U.S foreign policy and interests. It sums up the most important elements of the conversation I have been having for the last 2 years with many actors involved in defending online free speech and the use of technology for social and political change. While the main focus is Arab digital activism, I have made sure to include similar concerns raised by activists and online free speech advocates from other parts of the world, such as China, Thailand, and Iran.

    This piece stems thus from a major assumption that U.S official and corporate involvement in the Internet Freedom movement is harmful for that same freedom. I will explain why I consider the new context as extremely dangerous for the digital activism grassroots movement. Many people outside of the U.S, not only in the Arab world, have a strong feeling that the Internet Freedom mantra emitting from Washington DC is just a cover for strategic geopolitical agendas. This Internet freedom policy won’t be applied in a vacuum. At first, it will build upon broader U.S and Western foreign policy and their strategic goals and interests; in other words, it will continue projecting the same Western priorities. Having the U.S and other Western government as major actors in the Internet freedom field could present a real threat to activists who accept their support and funding. A hyper-politicization of the digital activism movement and an appropriation of its “success” to achieve geopolitical goals or please the Washington bubble are now considered by many as the “kiss of death”. In a worst-case scenario, Western funding, hyper-politicization and support could also lead to a brutal alteration of the existing digital activism field and the emergence of a “parallel digital activism” in total disregard to the local Arab context. We should also point out how hypocritical and unequal the online free speech movement is in its support for Internet Freedom of bloggers and digital activists at risk.

    When putting Internet freedom at the center of its foreign policy agenda, the U.S will be disinclined to engage in any kind of action which might endanger the “stability” of the dictatorial Arab order. And because it is unrealistic to expect the U.S or any Western government aggressively working to boost political dissent against their closest Arab allies, the way they’re doing with Iran or China, we cannot afford the risk of a potentially disastrous hijacking of the Internet Freedom by powerful actors to serve geostrategic agendas that are not in our favor.

    My own concern is that every bridge that will be build between the U.S government and U.S research centers and NGOs working around the Internet Freedom and digital activism field will lead to the destruction of number of the already existing bridges connecting those same NGOs and research centers to grassroots activists and bloggers from the Arab World and the Middle East. And unless something changes the U.S foreign policy dynamics, activists—especially those from the excluded countries—will always look at it as a hypocritical policy trying to use them and their causes for the sake of own agenda or simply for domestic consumption.

    The direct risks on the digital activism field in the Arab World, in its current early stage of development, are thus huge and need therefore to be discussed and addressed. This is a modest attempt to outline possible strategies for the future of an independent and grassroots Arab digital activism movement and how to better understand and navigate the new chessboard of the “21st-century statecraft”.

    Digital activists as new actors for change

    Filling the gap that mainstream media and traditional Human Rights organizations have left open, the Arab digital activism movement has established itself, with varying successes and failures, as a vibrant actor for change, shaping a relatively important portion of the public opinion (e.g., the connected and literate) while evolving in a cyberspace that looks better suited to resist governmental attempts to police it the way it did with traditional means of organizing and communicating.

    In its first stage, it is vital to point out that none of the most successful digital activism campaigns and initiatives that have marked this field with innovative and creative approaches in dealing with sensitive topics have been funded by any of the Western governments, institutions, or donors. In contrast to some of the currently U.S funded digital activism initiatives, the early ones have the following characteristics:

    1-Necessity: In the Arab world, the use of digital tools for social and political change was not driven by hype or a professional or media interest. On the contrary, it was the result of needs driven by a strong commitment to defending Human Rights. Those needs are a direct result of an established authoritarian environment and a lack of an open space where activists could practice their citizenship. Digital activism has been “invented” and rose out of necessity to fill the very gap that was left by traditional civil society constituents.

    2-Independence: The digital activism field in the Arab world forms one of the most decentralized, unstructured, and grassroots oriented dynamics of change that even most of the cyber-savvy local NGOs and opposition parties have a serious trouble in “infiltrating” or exploiting it for their own benefit. Consequently, this has made this movement independent, attractive, and resistant to any kind of control. But independence does not necessarily mean disconnection or isolation. Many digital activists in the Arab world do collaborate with opposition parties or movements. Most of these activists are also interconnected with each other; they collaborate during major events and rally to support each other’s campaigns and causes. They are connected as well to the global digital activism movement through conference circuits and face-to-face meetings. Add to that the strong networking capability that social networking platforms have integrated in their daily web activity, digital activists act, react, and interact in a multilayered context of activism that is local, regional, pan-Arab, and global. Most importantly the most successful online campaigns to free and support jailed and threatened bloggers are conducted by grassroots activists with loose affiliations of networks and peers. And they are playing key roles in this field.

    3-Complexity: While it may look easy to grasp, digital activism is a complex multi-faceted movement, varies strongly from one country to another, and changes over the course of time. It’s always evolving by adopting new tools and tactics and through a constant adjustment of its strategies of resistance and actions.

    All these characteristics have made Arab digital activism vulnerable to a variety of challenges. On the one hand, its independence and other characteristics can lead to a structural and financial crisis that could threaten its very future. At some point, and out of pure necessity, volunteer-based digital activism might seek to adopt a professional approach that requires resources. Anti-censorship resistance strategies cannot beat a sophisticated and determined Internet police. A hobbyist’s security capabilities cannot stop sophisticated DDoS or hacking attacks. Encryption technologies and security measures are totally useless when passwords and other sensitive data are extracted via torture and threats. On the other hand, its complexity has made it hard for foreign actors involved in the digital activism filed, whether through funding, training, capacity building or logistic support, to come up with a policy that takes that very complexity of each country into account when shaping or running programs targeting the entire region.

    Those early characteristics are about to change due to a myriad of factors and actors that need to be understood in order to prevent digital activism in the Arab world from losing its most genuine and cherished characteristic which is its autonomy. The existential question is how to overcome these challenges and preserve the independency while addressing the needs of building a vibrant, efficient and solid digital activism field.

    As the Internet Freedom and digital activism are getting politically trendy with fancy rhetoric and theories of change, lots of governmental money is being spent on this “new Colorado of change”. For many governments, NGOs and circumvention tools providers and promoters, this constitutes an unprecedented opportunity to push for own agenda, better adjust public relations strategies according to the momentum or simply raise more money.

    Caught in the middle between authoritarian regimes aggressively engaged in repression, Internet filtering and monitoring on the one side, and growing attention from Western public agencies and associated NGOs on the other, digital activists and online free speech advocates in the Arab world are going through one of the most challenging phases of their short history that could alter their ecosystem dramatically. The number of workshops and conferences organized by U.S and Western NGOS targeting Arab bloggers and activists has dramatically increased over the last few years to the point that no one can accurately predict the consequences of these activities on the nature of the Arab digital activism.

    A new context

    During her “Remarks on Internet Freedom” speech in January 21, 2010, U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton elevated Internet freedom to be a major foreign policy of the new Obama administration. Two months before that speech, in November 2009, Secretary Clinton announced the Civil Society 2.0 initiative which will help grassroots organizations around the world use digital technology, “allocating $5 million in grant funds for pilot programs in the Middle East and North Africa that will bolster the new media and networking capabilities of civil society organizations“.

    Certainly, the U.S is not the only government that is working to integrate Internet Freedom into its foreign policy. More European governments are already following its footsteps, with The Netherlands’ and France’s Foreign Ministers working on a code of conduct on Internet Freedom and planning to hold a ministerial-level meeting next October to work on their plan of supporting “cyberdissidents”. “We must support cyber-dissidents in the same way that we supported political dissidents,” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner declared.

    Furthermore, big American web companies such as Google, Yahoo!, and Twitter are becoming convinced of the value of Internet freedom and their interests is sometimes tending to coincide with those of the U.S administration. Google is now working with U.S. and European officials to build a case that would make Internet censorship a trade barrier. Since his debacle in China, Google has been the most vocal web company about Internet Freedom. “Our goal is to maximize free expression and access to information […] This is a very important piece of business for us,said Bob Boorstin, Director of Corporate and Policy Communication at Google and former speechwriter for the Clinton Administration.

    Between 20 and 22 September, 2010, Google will be holding a conference entitled Internet Liberty 2010 in Budapest, inviting activists, bloggers, NGOs, researchers, governments and corporations representatives. “The conference will explore creative ways to address the boundaries of online free expression; the complex relationship among technology, economic growth and human rights; ways in which dissidents and governments are using the internet; the role of internet intermediaries; as well as pressing policy and legal issues such as privacy and cybersecurity.” The occasion will be used to launch the “Middle East and North Africa Bloggers Network”, an initiative of the Washington based National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), which is loosely associated with the U.S Democratic Party. The inauguration, on September 23rd, of a “Middle East and North Africa Bloggers Network” by a Washington based NGO, via its Aswat initiative during an event organized by Google and will be attended by U.S and Western governments and corporations representatives is exactly the kind of interference that we need to avoid.

    The other worrying issue is the “invisible revolving door between Silicon Valley and Washington“, if I may borrow the expression from Evgeny Morozov, as many State Department officials are working for Big Web industry, with four Google employees having gone to work in the Obama administration. The most recent example is Jared Cohen, the technopragmatist and specialist on the use of technology to advance U.S interests, counter-terrorism and counter-radicalization, who served as member of the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff under both the Bush and Obama administrations, and who has just left the U.S State Department to lead a new division at Google called Google Ideas. Jared Cohen was the same person who intervened in June of 2009 to keep Twitter online and delay its scheduled maintenance work in order to keep Iranians tweeting the post-election protests.

    The same Twitter is also looking to hire a government liaison in Washington D.C. whose job it will be to helping Twitter understand what to do “to better serve candidates and policymakers across party and geographical lines“. On July 9th, 2010, Katie Stanton, who worked for Google in 2003 and for the Obama administration as “Director of Citizen Participation,” in 2009, has joined Twitter where she will be working on international and business strategies.
    As expressed by Jared Cohen during his talk about the State Department’s use of new technologies and innovation in the practice of diplomacy: “every single university, every private sector company, is de facto a think-tank and a strategic partner on technology and innovation and how to be relevant or applied for foreign policy […] they just need to raise their hand and say “we want to get involved”.”

    new_context-digital_activism.jpg

    The new context is that digital activists, especially in the Middle East, are getting increasingly more attention from several U.S public agencies, associated NGOs, research centers, universities, and Web companies. Many activists and bloggers from the Arab world have been helping research centers, such as the Berkman Center, in translating, navigating, understanding and mapping the Arab web and blogosphere. The most relevant example here could be the Iranian blogosphere map and the Arabic blogosphere map, both produced by John Kelly and Bruce Etling from the Berkman Internet and Democracy project which is sponsored through a grant of $1.5 million from the US Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative.

    If we take a closer look at the framing and labeling used by this research we will notice a visible focus on the understanding and mapping of “extremist”, “terrorist” and “Islamist” voices in the Arab blogosphere. John Kelly, the affiliate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School who was involved in the mapping of Arab and Persian blogosphere, acknowledged in an email responding to criticism expressed by some Arab bloggers toward the map: “we were writing something that will be read by a policy-oriented DC crowd, among others, parts of the study are naturally in language that is keyed to the debate as it happens there“. Talking about mapping bloggers’ networks during a conference at the U.S. Institute of Peace on January 8th, 2009, John Kelly insisted on the need to “think about nurturing and shaping these networks when they are small, as they grow very large very fast”. All this of course is aimed to shape the development of online media to promote U.S. public diplomacy.

    When the U.S Senate passed the Victims of Iranian Censorship (VOICE) Act authorizing $30 million to the Broadcasting Board of Governors to expand Persian-language broadcasting into Iran and counter Iranian jamming efforts, $20 million for the “Iranian Electronic Education, Exchange, and Media Fund,” that will help Iranians bypass Internet censorship and share information online, and $5 million for the U.S State Department to document human rights abuses that have taken place since the 2009 election, my dear friend Rob Faris, Research Director for the Berkman Center reportedly declared “You are engaging in cyberwarfare, on the side of the good guys.” The fact that our friends from the Berkman Center are adopting the rhetoric of “good vs. bad guys” shows the danger of this very new context whose boundaries are blurred.

    The most alarming development, in regard to this matter, is to put the knowledge and data gathered in part by global grassroots activists and bloggers, via their collaboration with U.S research centers and NGOs, into the hand of the policy-oriented DC crowd to foster U.S interests or cyberwarfare in the world.

    When we see people like my friends John Kelly and Ivan Sigal, Global Voices executive director, taking part in a conference at the U.S. Institute of Peace on January 8th, 2009, with CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus, and many other U.S officials, and sharing their knowledge about the blogospheres and the role of social media in the region while the event is largely focusing on finding “nonmilitary solutions” to critical foreign policy challenges facing the U.S administration, we simply don’t know any more how the knowledge that is being generated by bloggers, volunteers authors and activists is being used and for what purposes. The presence of my dear friend Ethan Zuckerman at a conference on cyberdissidents organized by George W. Bush Institute, even if Ethan has a different political stance, was also perceived by many as a bad move.

    And this is what makes the situation difficult and uncomfortable for all of us. While it is very normal and usual for a U.S citizen to attend such an event and even collaborate with his government or testify at congressional hearing and deliver his expertise, for non U.S activists, it will be much more difficult to accept collaborating with NGOs, research centers or circumventions tools providers/promoters that are sponsored by the U.S government or are sharing their knowledge and data with U.S policymakers, military commanders, Intelligence community and the like. in Such, every step taken in the direction of a closer collaboration with the U.S government will ultimately weaken the U.S research centers and NGOs position in the global Internet Freedom field.

    I’m not questioning here the right of the U.S or any other regime to use Internet freedom as a tool for diplomacy or as a blunt regime change medium that serve its own interests; this is what politics is all about. But, in this new context marked by governmental and private efforts to adopt the Internet Freedom as a foreign policy tool, whether through researching, mapping, translating, supporting, or funding, digital activists in the Arab world may need to be more careful and skeptical about how to deal with this space and rethink with whom they can best work and collaborate. So now, when we want to collaborate with a research center or an NGO to answer a survey, or collaborate in a crowdsourcing project, or help translate a text or a tools, or provide insight about the context of certain topics, or recommend activists and bloggers to attend a conference, we may ask ourselves if we are not in fact collaborating with the U.S government via those “proxies”.

    1. The U.S Internet Freedom policy is not credible. Why?

      During a conversation at the Global Voices summit on the topic of “Internet Freedom”, led by Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon, I was asked by Ethan “whether there was any way [I] thought the US government could have a beneficial influence in the Internet freedom space” and my answer was “No. I’d prefer they stay out of the field.”. My answer is driven by the following three important considerations. As I said, I don’t see the new Internet Freedom policy as independent from the broader and decades old U.S foreign policy, which has been based on practical rather than ethical and moral considerations such as the support for Human Rights. As we all know in this part of the world, in the name of a short-termed realpolitik, the U.S has been supporting all kind of dictatorships at the expense of democratic and reformist movements and aspirations.

      The long tradition of the U.S and the West’s support of Arab regimes is derived from the fear that any kind of democratic reform in the Arabic world will yield even worse regimes than the current ones, which are providing a certain level of “stability” that ensures American and Western interests. Many Arab dictators, who have been leading the so-called “moderate” Arab regimes for decades with virtually no opposition, and among them few aging autocrats who are now orchestrating a “constitutional” succession that will maintain their absolute rule, are considered as allies, and therefore enjoy financial and moral support from the Unites States and Western governments despite their horrid human rights records.

      This same hypocritical foreign policy is visibly manifested in the selective and inconsistent support and attention that the U.S government, Web companies, the Western mainstream and citizen media, and unfortunately an important part of the free speech advocates, research centers, and circumvention tool providers are giving to the Internet Freedom initiative. There is a strong focus on the Internet control in countries posing serious geostrategic challenges to the Western Interests, with a preferential focus on Iran and China and a near omission of allied states or “friendly dictatorships” which maintain close ties with the West, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Golf States.

      And, as eloquently articulated by journalist Rami Khoury in his New York Times op-ed “When Arabs Tweet”:

      One cannot take seriously the United States or any other Western government that funds political activism by young Arabs while it simultaneously provides funds and guns that help cement the power of the very same Arab governments the young social and political activists target for change.

      Even if I do not share most of Khoury’s conclusions about the achievement of digital activism in the Arab world—a field that I have followed very closely for the last ten years—I do agree with his aforementioned one: the U.S cannot be regarded as credible in their new crusade for Internet freedom as long as they maintain the same foreign policy which is, as many Arab affairs specialists and activists describe it, a hypocritical and counter-democratic one.

      Prominent Egyptian blogger and activist Alla Abd El Fattah makes a similar point. Alaa told me in an interview for this article that:

      To most Egyptians the alleged support to digital activism provided by US government, US companies and US non profits is irrelevant at best. For starters the interest and hype in what goes on down south is very selective. For instance the tens of thousands of Egyptian workers organizing factory strikes and posing the biggest challenge to the Mubarak regime at the moment are totally ignored by both media and policy makers. This is not some argument about slacktivism either. These factory workers are using blogs, Facebook, SMS and YouTube to organize, mobilize, and publicize their actions and grievances. Digital activism is very much a daily part of their movement. Even when the State Department notices actual activism happening, their interest and “support” can bring more harm than good. You see we notice how much the U.S. supports the “moderate” regimes that enjoy torturing us. And getting support from the same guys who finance the police, the military, state propaganda media and corruption is simply bad for an activist’s credibility (not to mention how most of us feel about the occupation of Iraq or the United States’ unconditional support for Israel). If the U.S. government is really interested in democracy in the Arab world, it should stop sending aid to the dictatorships, and just get out of the way.

      From Thailand, CJ Hinke, the founder of one of the most active anti-censorhip groups since 2006, Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT), draws the same conclusions in an e-mail conversation with me:

      The U.S. government has been giving a lot of lip-service to Internet freedom. While they talk the talk, I’m not so sure they walk the walk. Walking the walk is about far more than simply budgeting millions for so-called anti-censorship activities. In Thailand, every NGO is funded from overseas and, to a certain extent, taking government funding from any government can undermine both credibility and autonomy. On the other hand, the US funds a lot of critically important voices such as Reporters Without Borders. There is almost no interests in funding Thai free speech efforts because, unlike Iran or China, Thailand is not seen as a major censor despite 210,000 websites censored during six months of martial law.

      Nasser Weddady, from Mauritania, who serves as HAMSA-AIC Civil Rights outreach director, also blogged about the problems posed by foreign funding of Arab digital activism (see also Jillian York’s blog post) and has run a workshop on that topic during our 2009 Arab Bloggers Meeting 2.0 in Beirut. Nasser told me in an interview for this article that:

      There is a serious credibility gap between the US government and other western governments stated policy of support for internet activism in the Arab World. For better or worse, these governments think they are sensitive to the needs of Arab cyber dissidents, Arab dissidents are weary of foreign funding’s impact on their credibility in their societies. This is not only due to the traditional themes of discontent with Western foreign policy, but also because in many Arab countries, receiving direct foreign governmental funding can lead to crack down by the very same governments that are in effect US allies : Saudi Arabia for example.

      In whatever way, it seems that the U.S. officials are not completely aware of such concerns and grievances. During her aforementioned speech on Internet Freedom, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that “on their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress, but the United States does.” And I think we all know that the U.S. is taking sides in our region by backing our Arab autocrats and hereditary republics. We know as well how untrue the claim made by Jared Cohen when he said we don’t have an internet freedom policy towards one country or another, we have a global internet freedom policy, we support efforts to get around politically motivated censorship globally.

      But my dear friend and colleague Oiwan Lam, a researcher and free speech activist from Hong Kong, has a different view than the one presented by Jared Cohen:

      I think the U.S government is not reflective enough on internet freedom. Actually many of the bad practice started from the U.S. such as the over protection of copyrights, the monitoring of net users and compulsory IP logging under the pretext of terrorism. In her talk about net freedom, Clinton singled out China because of the Google hacking incident. It is indeed true that china is an authoritarian state and applies all measures to suppress online organization and speech freedom. However, by singling it out, it makes western country very hypocritical. Many democratic states are also extremely harsh in controlling online speech. South Korea is the first country to apply real name registration, Singapore sues whoever criticizes the government online defamation. And as I said the U.S government is also an origin of many malpractices. Similar to the U.S government, Google also single out China in its internet freedom campaign. For me the main threats to global users are copyrights, defamation charges, privacy protection, new monopoly model, the lack of transparency and accountability in taking down users content, etc.

    2. The online free speech space is already showing its hypocrite facet and the U.S involvement won’t make it a better place. Why?
        Activists and Free speech advocates in countries beyond China and Iran are receiving very bad signals from the global online free speech movement. The attention given by foreign governments, media outlets, research centers, circumvention tools providers/promoters and even online free speech activists to the sexiest countries engaged in Internet control and repression has dwarfed the attention to all other countries into almost nothing.

        This, of course, does not mean that threatened bloggers and activists in Iran and China do not deserve that level of attention and focus. Every single blogger deserve to be supported and all suppressed voices need to be heard. The problem is in the preferential and unbalanced treatment that catches the attention as a significant portion of international media coverage of the threat posed to online free speech are focusing on two major cases, Iran and China. Which begs the question of why are Iran and China a higher priority for several major players than, lets say, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Vietnam and many other repressive regimes?

        For bloggers and activists at risk living under U.S.-backed Arab regimes, this question is more than legitimate. But in the ears of the “policy-oriented DC crowd”, the mere fact we are asking this question sounds just like another conspiracy theory of yet another skeptical “angry Arab“.

        Responding to my concerns that the U.S. Internet Freedom agenda is focusing much more on “sexy” countries like China an Iran while ignoring the online repression going on in Tunisia, Syria, Vietnam and many other less sexy countries, Bob Boorstin, Director of Corporate and Policy Communication at Google and former US government official, labeled my concerns as “paranoid”, while in the main time he recognizes that the U.S “pays more attention to countries with nuclear weapons than to those that don’t.”

        So, when Bob Boorstin stresses the importance of “nuclear weapons” to explain why the U.S is focusing their Internet Freedom policy on certain countries than on the others, we all know what country he is referring to and why. What we don’t know is what this really has to do with the main topic of Internet freedom that Google is now aggressively adopting? This kind of statement from a Google director simply confirms the fact that it’s not about Internet Freedom but about a new geostrategic battle that is hijacking the online free speech field to push for U.S strategic interests.

      • Online freedom for all? not really!
      • In a Global Voices article published in April, 2007, I raised the issue of why some jailed and persecuted bloggers and digital activists are winning the sympathy of Western media, while others have difficulty attracting their attention. Since then, I do not think that this phenomenon, what some are calling a double-standard in defending bloggers and internet activists, is getting any better. Although we worked hard on Global Voices Advocacy with our collaborative mapping project to build a database of Threatened Voices (which by the way does not pretend to be exhaustive or to reference all threatened bloggers), we are still witnessing the same unshaken “selective compassion” reserved to some bloggers in selective countries with much more attractive media-bait than to the vast majority of repressed voices. The most recent example of blackout surrounding the crackdown on freedoms in Bahrain with the arrest of one of the most inspiring blogger and activist, Ali Abdulemam, is here to remind us of what kind of policy the U.S is reserving to liberal Arab grassroots activism in the context of its support to the Bahraini regime, which hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. For now, the Obama administration is very busy with the largest US arms deal ever with the neighboring Saudi Arabia. A 60 billion Dollars deal will make it almost impossible for the U.S to voice its support for the activist when Saudi Arabia and the other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council are backing Bahrain in its crackdown on the opposition.

        Just look at the number of op-eds in the U.S. and Western media covering the crackdown on Iranian and Chinese bloggers and activists and compare that with the lack or the under-coverage reserved to Arab bloggers and activists from allied states. Also, the number of awards that have been given to Iranian activists and bloggers since the 2009 disputed elections is amazingly high. In March 2010, at the occasion of Reporters Without Borders World Day Against Cyber Censorship, David Drummond, Google Senior Vice President who supported the “Netizen Prize” with Reporters Without Borders, declared during the prize-giving ceremony that awarded the women’s rights blog we-change.org that Iran and China posethe most systemic risk and the most immediate risk to individuals” by cracking down on online dissent.

        And even if China and Iran are truly indexed high on our Threatened Voices platform, it is also quite clear that the most repressive region is the Arab World with 41% of the recorded cases of threats towards bloggers and activist. Ironically enough, most of the politically motivated arrests of bloggers and digital activists are taking place in U.S.-allied Arab countries.

        threatened_arabs.jpg

        Nasser Weddady, who has been involved in many campaigns to free persecuted bloggers in the Arab world, commented on this subject by saying that:

        Arab activists have been using internet-based tools to demand democratic reform in their societies for the last 5 years-at least. This has led many bloggers, activists, and journalists to be tortured or sent to jail by their governments. It is a misnomer to expect Arab activists to trust Western (US or otherwise) funding or motives when Western governments are too often silent when they (the activists) are being persecuted by their governments.

      • The hyped and ideological market of circumvention technology

        For many, including the Obama administration, the 2009 Iran elections protest provided the first high magnitude event that showcased how technology can be used in face of politically motivated censorship and repression. This has been clearly reflected in Clinton Speech about Internet Freedom in which she honored Iran with seven mentions. The avalanche of media attention and hype that came about during the post-elections protest, while galvanizing a good portion of Western public opinion against the already hated Islamic Republic, has also created a new context in which almost anyone can market his “support” for democracy under the same umbrella of Internet Freedom. When established circumventions tools providers and promotors were prostituting their achievement in helping Iranian circumvent Internet filtering, many new entrants are claiming the same space, helped in that unethical mission by journalists, politicians and by the blatant silent from the field’s experts. After all, anticensorship efforts and the aggregation of online analysis and data during major events, like the Iranian case, are being perceived, at least by those who own the data and design the tools, as a powerful political lever and as prospective business. “The entire battle over the Internet has boiled down to a battle over resources said Shiyu Zhou, founder of the Falun Gong’s Global Internet Freedom Consortium which is behind Freegate, among other circumvention tools targeting Chinese Internet users. “Suppose we have the capacity to make it possible for the president of the United States at will to communicate with hundreds of thousands of Iranians at no risk or limited risk? It just changes the world. said Michael Horowitz, an advisor of the Global Internet Freedom Consortium. And in May, 2010, after years of lobbying campaign in Washington, the State Department took the decision to fund the Global Internet Freedom Consortium offering the group $1.5 million to provide software to circumvent Internet censorship.

        This came about after many reports surfaced in the media suggesting that Freegate, which introduced a Persian-language version, helped prominently the Iranian Internet users access and disseminate information about the post-elections protests. Then came the news about the much-touted tool that according to careless media coverage, family connections, and an important award was determinant for Iranian dissidents to organize the post-elections protests and communicate with the outside world. A tool designed by a 26-year-old San Francisco hacker who didn’t have knowledge or interest in Iran’s affairs until the recent protests, seemed to have been successful in outwitting Tehran’s censorship machine.

        Everything sounds good until you start searching for the keywords “Haystack“ and the Censorship Research Center. You will end up visiting two websites, with many donate buttons and claims but little to zero information about the tool and the researchers. While the website of the software does not offer any download link, neither does the Censorship Research Center website provide any research about censorship. Carrying the motto “Good luck finding that needle”, you’ll ended up searching for Haystack itself, but with no luck in finding it (read the comments here). Despite all this, and despite the fact that no one has ever tested the security of the tool, Austin Heap and his Censorship Research Center got the U.S. government to provide required authorization to export their anti-filtering software into Iran. “We are working to try to help information continue to flow freely into and out of Iran as well as within Iran. We have issued a license to a company with technology that would enable that to occur,”U.S Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in March 2010.

        Arash Kamangir, a very active Iranian blogger based in Canada who is analyzing the Persian blogosphere, was also curious to know about Haysatsk. He has been asking many Iranians on Twitter and Facebook whether they used the tool:

        How can people from the outside help people who are caught up in these closed-down spheres become active. This question has an implicit assumption inside it; we, the outsiders, are going to respect the oppressed and are going to ask them what they need. Then we are going to evaluate our products based on what these users say about them. Have we done that? I am not familiar with Access Now, but I have frequently asked my contacts inside Iran using Twitter and other social networks and they have always, with no exception, told me that they have had no successful encounter with Hay Stack. To me that means Hay Stack is not working. This is in fact a modest conclusion, because I do not personally know any single Iranian who has actually been able to use Hay Stack. So, maybe rather than asking “Does Hay Stack work?” we should ask “Does Hay Stack exist?” And by that we certainly mean exist like “this desk exists” and not like “fairies exist”.

        In an email interview for this article, Amin Sabeti, another Iranian active blogger agrees with Arash Kamangir’s remarks about Haystack: “Haystack has a very good cover by western media like the BBC (Persian and English channels) or some newspaper like Guardian, but I asked many people inside of Iran about it, but all of them (I mean 100%) answered me they just read and watched some news about Haystack and they never ever used it. I can conclude “Haystack” is not a tool, it is just a name.” Amin went further to voice skepticism about the U.S Internet Freedom policy towards Iran. “During the post-election protest, the U.S and other countries didn’t help in Iran. They just used the Green Movement like propaganda against Iran’s regime for their benefits. For example, U.S congress passed a law for helping Iranian people to bypass filtering and lifting sanctions to allow the downloading and using of their technology. But from October 2009, we didn’t see any action and in some cases like with sourceforge.net, Iranian users cannot download its software, even the open sourced ones. On Youtube’s project “Life In A Day”, Iranian people cannot participate and post their videos, simply because they are Iranian!

        Much has been written recently about Haystack which has led to what it seems to be a fiasco. “We have halted ongoing testing of Haystack in Iran pending a security review. If you have a copy of the test program, please refrain from using it,” said a notice on the Haystack website amid heavy criticism. And I just heard that Haystack’s lead developer and Censorship Research Center’s board members, Karim Sajad Pour, Abbas Milani and Gary Sick have resigned from the CRC.

        Now, the hype is building around yet another successful circumvention tool. Called Collage, using steganography techniques, it will hide controversial messages in user-generated content. “As far as we know, Collage is the first anti-censorship system to store messages inside user-generated content (e.g., on Flickr, YouTube, etc.) such that a censor can block/corrupt some of this content and users will still be able to retrieve their messages,” Sam Burnett, one of the researchers behind the project. The researchers seem not to be aware of the crucial fact that most censors do ban Flickr and/or Twitter and/or YouTube and/or Facebook. Countries like Iran, UAE, Syria, Tunisia and China are already blocking access to more than one of these websites, if not to all of them. Also, if the social media websites that this tool will be relying on are not blocked yet, somewhere, this will give some “legitimate” excuses for censors to block them.

        Both old and new circumvention technology groups, share with the U.S political class, media and research centers the same obsession with Internet filtering in Iran and China. Even Tor, the most respected security and privacy software which is getting some funding from the U.S Department of Defense and the State Department has joined the chorus of the hyped “helping the Iranians” access the Internet and published its initial data on what the Tor network is seeing from Iran: “Measuring Tor and Iran“.

        In order to have a clear picture about the disparity in the level of coverage of Internet control in different countries by three major circumventions tools providers/promoters, I searched the Twitter timelines of Tor project, Psiphon and Sesawe, trying to find which countries are attracting most of their public attention and I found a quite relevant pattern:

        total_tweets.jpg
        PsiphonInc.jpg
        torproject.jpg
        Sesawe.jpg

        While Haystack and Freegate are the kind of “ideological circumvention tools” openly targeting specific countries, mainly China and Iran (like many NGOs that have been created in the West since the 2009 post-election protest), it’s overwhelming clear that other circumvention tools providers and promoters, who claim to address Internet filtering globally, have their attention drawn towards almost the same countries. Sesawe, that presents itself as “a global alliance dedicated to bringing the benefits of uncensored access to information to Internet users around the world“, has followed its counterparts’ pattern in giving a preferential attention to Iran and China in disregard with what’s going on in other countries “where Sesawe matters“. Psiphon, the award winning anti-censorship technology, is giving much attention in the form of tweets to Iran and China too and has been promoting Psiphon proxy nodes via Twitter.

        It is obvious to say that we do not expect to see the same attention or support against the mass wave of censorship that recently heat the Tunisian or the Bahraini Web. Even the mass Gmail phishing attack that targeted the accounts of Tunisian anti-censorship activists and Human Rights advocates has come and gone without any notice from our dedicated Internet Freedom “zealots”.

    3. Governmental involvement is too risky for digital activists. Why?

      In sum, there are many other reasons to be skeptical about the prospects of the US involvement in support of Internet freedom under authoritarian regimes that can cause a huge damage to that same freedom, thereby achieving the opposite results than the “well-intentioned” and proclaimed ones.

      • Risks for grassroots activists

        I will start this paragraph with two anecdotes.The first: Before and during the protest that followed the controversial Iran election of June, 2009, two U.S government grantees ran what is called “Iran Program” aimed to train Iranian bloggers and activists on Internet security, circumvention, digital activism and advocacy. During these two workshops, they brought about 12 young activists from inside Iran to a city in Europe where I attended one of the workshops as trainer. Since the second workshop that took place during the protests, at least 3 out of the 12 didn’t go back to Iran for security reason, one was arrested in Iran and then managed to run out of the country to Europe where he/she is seeking asylum. The second: one day before the anti-censorship rally in front of the Tunisian Ministry of communication technologies that was planned to be held on May 22, 2010, to protest the Internet filtering policy in the country, a female blogger and journalist, and assistant professor at a university of Tunis was arrested and investigated for seven hours. She was questioned about her online activities, her relation with Tunisian bloggers and journalists and her trips abroad. She was also questioned about her relation with the U.S embassy in Tunis and was informed that her attendance of a three-day workshop for North African bloggers that was held in February 2010 in the Moroccan city Rabat and funded by Search for Common Ground (SFCG), a non-governmental organization based in Washington DC, could be perceived as espionage and lobbying foreign bodies, an act which, according to the newly adopted amendment to Article 61bis of the Penal Code that criminalizes contacting “agents of a foreign power to undermine the military or diplomatic situation in Tunisia”, could be punishable by up to 20 years in prison, with a minimum sentence of five years. Curiously enough, on January 21, 2010, exactly four months before her arrest, the same female blogger was invited, amongst several other Tunisian bloggers, by the U.S. embassy in Tunis to follow Hillary Clinton’s speech “Remarks on Internet Freedom”. The blogger, who attended that meeting, was open enough, and may be naïve enough, to have written about it on the Tunisian Weekly Tunis Hebdo.

        The same trend is happening elsewhere. From China, to Burma, to Tunisia, to Cuba, to Egypt, to Zimbabwe, both U.S government grantees and non-U.S government grantees are being financed and sometimes created from the ground up to run programs or support initiatives targeting bloggers and activists living under authoritarian regimes. An increasingly important database of activists names, contact information and affiliations is being build, aggregated, mapped and sometimes shared between tens of governmental and non-governmental bodies in a clear and careless violation of privacy and confidentiality. One can imagine the risk that would involve this kind of data aggregation for the on-the-ground activists if one day it falls into the hands of any of the eager authoritarian regimes. A Palestinian bloggers who attended our Arab bloggers meeting in Beirut in 2008, has been arrested in his way back to the West Bank by the Jordanian Security services. He has been investigated for hours about the meeting and he has been forced to hand over the program of the meeting, and the names of the attendees. The same incidents happened with activists from Syria, Tunisia and Egypt. The last one, one of the most repressive regime towards bloggers and activists, has even made of investigating and confiscating bloggers’ electronics devices (i.e: cellphones, laptops, flash drives) from an almost daily practice at the Cairo international Airport and TrueCrypt and other tools and techniques of data encryption on which activists and bloggers are trained won’t be of any help in front of torture, detention, and the fabrication of charges.

      • Brutal alteration of the digital activism field through money and foreign agendas

        The other downside of this has been an unprecedented mushrooming of new NGOs and research centers that are hungry for money under the prospects of the huge amount of funding allocated by the U.S. and other Western governments and donors with the noble aim to better understand and support digital activists and bloggers in closed societies. The informal, decentralized and generic nature of native digital activism is being altered by the mechanism of funding and its bureaucratic procedures with a final result of 1) turning the good and talented activists into powerless social agents and bureaucrats spending their time in writing proposals and reports instead of being active. 2) Recruiting a horde of charlatans who are claiming to be “activists” but are out there to make a career for themselves with zero interest in activism or in the struggle for human rights. And as more dollars pour into this field, the high risk of alienating digital activism most vibrant pioneers from its base of supporters will ultimately occur. What we don’t want to see is a vibrant digital activism trading money for credibility and losing its legitimacy due to the sources of funding. On the other hand, as more foreign money flows, native digital activism will innovate less or will innovate to only impress western attention and not to have a real impact on the grassroots level. Nasser Weddady, the U.S-based Mauritanian blogger and activist, echoed similar sentiments:

        A potential pitfall of Western interest in Arab internet-based activism is the belief that tools and technologies are per se going to change the harsh realities of the Middle East as a civil rights desert. Any amounts of funding will not significantly alter the fact that as long as online activism is NOT translated into real world actions, funding will only be a poisoned gift to Arab activists. Their credibility will be undermined, their otherwise positive entrepreneurship will be wasted once foreign support dries up after a predictable disappointment due to their inability to deliver any tangible results.

        Everyone who is familiar with the Arab world and the so-called broader Middle East, know the sensitivity of foreign funding, not only in the eyes of local regimes but also and most importantly in the eyes of the masses. Foeign money delegitimizes political and social activism. And once delegitimized, activism cannot influence social and political changes and cannot be supported by the rest of the society. Also, all those who are knowledgeable about the digital activism field in the Arab world know that the most effective initiatives are the ones that are not funded by any NGOs and rely entirely on the personal and voluntary-based efforts. In sharp contrast with the former, the new funded digital activism initiative is the less successful. In the Arab world, we are already witnessing how foreign funding is altering digital activism into political marketing and business. More fancy websites that focus on the aggregation of content around sexy topics (i.e: youth, gender, minorities, LGBT, interfaith dialogue), cool mashups, slick badges, dominance of the English language at the expense of local languages, good communication channels with the West, Western big media and the NGO crowd at the expense of local rooted communication channels with the masses and local activists. This shift could affect the inner nature of the digital activism movement in the Arab world. An activism which does not arise anymore out of necessity to address local needs that are rooted in its native context is no longer activism, but a digital activism businesses.

        An activist who loves to invest his or her personal money to pay his hosting and spent most of his free-time in experimenting, coding and implementing projects won’t be the same anymore once he get paid to do the same job. Money has always corrupted activism. When you look at the outcome of the decades-funded work of traditional NGOS in the Arab World you will understand that the same will happen with the activism 2.0. Corrupted elite, without any kind of support by the rest of the society, completely disconnected from the masses, with poor to inexistent impact on the democratization process and a zero effect on the civil and political liberties.

        This is not to say that digital activism in the Arab World is not facing financial challenges. But the challenges of being affiliated with the U.S government grantees are much greater. In order to gain not only acceptance of the ideas of change but also support in their own society, digital activism in the Arab world needs to remain independent and try to solve their financial problems at the grassroots level. But Nasser Weddady from Mauritania remains optimistic about the future and the potential of what he calls the “Arab activism 2.0”:

        Overall, I remain optimistic because a new generation of cyber activists is slowly emerging and filling in the footsteps of the pioneers who opened the road for them. In my opinion, campaign like the #Khaledsaid campaign in Egypt, or the Sayyeb Sale7 in Tunisia that were developed entirely by individual activists with a vast array of skills show that we have yet to see the full potential of Arab activism 2.0, in fact, I believe these campaigns show that internet-based activism in the Arab World is maturing and is no longer the strict domain of a small elite with foreign-language skills and connections.

      • Hyper politicization of the Internet and the blogosphere

        The politicization of cyberspace is a choice that has to be made by local activists themselves and not by the Washington DC politicians or the Silicon Valley corporates, such as Google. Transforming bloggers into cyberdissidents means putting them under a greater persecution risks. The mass trial in Iran following the 2009 elections protest is there to remind us all that the U.S and Western official involvement and even the hijacking of the legitimate democratic aspiration and struggle of the Iranian people can be very harmful in two ways: 1) the risk of alienating the movement’s base by giving more arguments to the regime to prove that the dissents are working in collusion with the U.S interests. 2) the risk of legitimizing the persecution that will follow. Two major risks that the U.S policy-makers do not seem to have taken seriously into account. A particularly relevant example of the kind of potentially dangerous politicization and hijacking of Arab digital activism is the cyberdissidents.org “organization”. Their about page tells us that “bloggers and internet dissidents in autocratic Middle Eastern countries are already at great risk. We believe that the West has a moral duty to stand up for these brave dissidents who are our greatest allies.” And former US ambassador to the European Union, Kristen Silverberg, has reportedly described CyberDissidents.org as “the leading organization in the world principally devoted to online democratic dissidents.” Despite the hype and the media coverage that CyberDissidents.org has gained, especially in Washington, it’s hard to believe that an organization which has been launched in 2009 can become a leader in defending online democratic dissidents in our region. Secondly, the project offers another kind of challenge as many Israelis and U.S politicians with a strong anti-terror background and linked to the security services in the U.S and Israel are the main architects of these projects and sit in its board. The project itself is an initiative of Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a neo-conservative institute based in Washington, and founded two days after 9/11 attacks. Even the American Conservative accused the FDD of “being funded mainly by a small number of pro-Israel hawks” and described by the Christian Science Monitor as one of the “top neocon think tanks”. The far right-wing politician Nathan Sharansky, who served as Minister for Israel in different departments in Likud governments is the Chairman of CyberDissidents.org. David Keyes a former assistant of former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations (U.N.) who served in the Strategic Division of the Israeli army is specialized on terrorism is CyberDissidents.org director. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a counter-terrorism expert from Washington

        So when the CyberDissidents.org describes threatened Arab and Iranian digital activists and bloggers as “our greatest allies” it’s very normal that this will harm the ability of these activist to achieve their goals in a regional context marked by strong and legitimate anti-Israeli feelings. Second, CyberDissidents.org is not only using the sacrifices that the on-the-ground activists are making and capitalizing on that in Washington, but they are exposing activists to a great risk of being labeled pro-Israeli. And we really have to wonder if those activists who are now listed and showcased on the CyberDissidents.org website want to be featured there.

        Curiously, when a number of activists from the Arab world started using twitter to protest the hijacking of their cause by the right-wing Israeli CyberDissidents.org, we’ve seen a an absurd and naive response from an advisory board member, the Egyptian American Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the same who is now backing Gamal Mubarak’s father-to-son presidential succession, turning the arguments of CyberDissidents.org opponents into a caricature and simplistic religious conflict:

        A small group of activists in the Middle East have attacked CyberDissidents.org because some of its members are Israeli. I serve as an advisory board member to this marvelous organization and I am saddened by the attacks on it. CyberDissidents.org promotes freedom of expression in the Middle East, a cause which people of all faiths and nationalities should support. Alongside me on the board of advisers and staff are Sunnis, Shiites, Jews, Iranians, Jordanians, Syrians, Israelis, Sudanese, Canadians, Russians and Americans. If peace is to come to our troubled region, it will be through inclusion, tolerance and understanding, not disqualifying certain people because they happen to belong to a certain ethnic or religious group. I applaud CyberDissidents.org for its tireless advocacy of democratic dissidents.

        It is thus up to digital activists to opt for a politicization of their activism depending on their own agenda and context, not those of Washington DC. With their own determination to invest time and money, digital activists in the Arab world are building and sharing their own experiences and knowledge, their own construction of their own culture of social change and by that engaging themselves in getting political power through their own native activism initiatives.


    Conclusion

    For digital activism in the Arab world to achieve its noble aspirations, it must remain independent and homegrown, tapping its financial, logistic and moral support into the grassroots level or try to seek a support from neutral parties that do not push for any kind of political or ideological agenda. Of course, this does not mean we should be completely disconnected from the global digital activism experience that we need to understand, interact with and learn from. At the present time, we urgently need to resist every governmental attempt to hijack or politicize our space, publicly denounce it and make sure that we are making informed decisions, rather than naively accepting ideologically tinted Internet Freedom funding and support.

    If the U.S. and other Western governments want to support Internet Freedom they should start by prohibiting the export of censor wares and other filtering software to our countries. After all, most of the tools used to muzzle our online free expression and monitor our activities on the Internet are being engineered and sold by American and Western corporations. The other problem is that the U.S. and other Western governments are not challenged from the inside about their policy. Our U.S. free speech advocates and dear friends should put more pressure on their own government to halt the export of this kind of tools to our regimes instead of lobbying for more money to help build yet another hyped circumvention tool or support dissidents topple their regime.

    Google, instead of using the same mantra of Internet Freedom and instead of cocooning itself in the ideological echo-chamber of the U.S “21st-century statecraft”, should roll out more tools or improve the old ones to help strengthen the digital activism field. I have always advocated for a default https for every blog on Blogger.com. I also called on Google to provide activists groups in countries blocking access to YouTube with alternative IP addresses that enable them to interact with YouTube API without fear. Talking about the U.S private sector companies role in supporting Internet Freedom, blogger and activist Alla Abd El Fattah , point out that the best they should do is to continue on developing a free, neutral and decentralized Internet:

    If the U.S companies and non profits want to support democracy in the Middle East the best they can do is continue to develop a free neutral decentralized internet. Fight the troubling trends emerging in your own backyards from threats to Net neutrality, disregard for user’s privacy, draconian copyright and DRM restrictions, to the troubling trends of censorship through courts in Europe, restrictions on anonymous access and rampant surveillance in the name of combating terrorism or protecting children or fighting hate speech or whatever. You see these trends give our own regimes great excuses for their own actions. You don’t need special programs and projects to help free the Internet in the Middle East. Just keep it free, accessible and affordable on your side and we’ll figure out how to use it, get around restrictions imposed by our governments and innovate and contribute to the network’s growth.

    Oiwan Lam from Hong Kong recommends the same advices. For the business sector, Oiwan suggests that the U.S companies, like Google, should avoid turning the circumvention into guerrilla war:

    The development and promotion of circumvention tools is more or less under the imagination of the cold war rhetoric of the GFW (like Lokman Tsui has pointed out in his thesis). I think we need to have more decentralized and sustainable approach to help people in different situation to get access to the Internet. For example, we can encourage universities to provide their partner university students’ in less open societies VPN access or online proxy access. For online activists, they may need more sophisticated tool. For the business sector, commercially run VPN providers will probably be more effective. Instead of turning the circumvention into a guerrilla war, it is better to embed the tools into people’s daily life and work setting.

     
    • Ethan Zuckerman 5:34 pm on September 17, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Sami, this is an extraordinary essay. You’ve been developing this argument for some time now, and I think this is the best articulation of the concerns I’ve heard you express thus far.

      A partial response:

      – I think you’re absolutely correct in pointing out how complex and intricate this field has become. The diagram you offer is extremely helpful in thinking through the space, and helps me understand why my head hurts so bad when I work on these issues, as I’m trying to maintain relationships with all nine types of actors.

      – Your argument about the hypocrisy of US foreign policy in this space is very well argued in this piece. The linkage between internet freedom and Iran and China, and the ignorance of governments the US supports (not just in the Arab world – Vietnam as well) and your illustration via Twitter analysis is excellent.

      – I’m very glad you end the piece with constructive suggestions for Google et. al. It’s far more helpful that suggesting they stay out of the space – much better to show the idea that there are ways companies could engage productively.

      – Where I continue to worry about your line of argument is around the idea of contagion. I understand – and understand much better after this piece – the concerns that Arab activists attending trainings sponsored by the US government are going to face scrutiny from their peers and their home governments. I think you’ve done a great service by bringing this issue to people’s attention, and I hope that as people digest that point, we’ll see people making more careful decisions in organizing events and considering threats to people who participate.

      That said, I think the danger of this argument is knowing how far the contagion spreads. Tor – which I think most of us agree is a useful and worthwhile tool – was developed initially with money from US Navy. Does that mean we shouldn’t use it? Colleagues at Berkman and I are going to publish a paper later this year evaluating the major anticensorship systems in terms of performance and security. That paper sponsored by Internews, who are sponsored in part by the US State Department. Should that invalidate the analysis? Should people stop using the tools we recommend?

      My worry is this: the nine circles you diagrammed aren’t entirely separate from one another. They share technology, advisors, training, ideas with one another. People like me are associated with several different circles. You make the case – well and eloquently – that I may be putting independent activists at risk when I interact with people within the State Department, or former US government officials. If my work is primarily with the middle circle, it would probably be
      appropriate for me not to interact with those folks. But I work in several of those circles, and in some of those instances, my responsibilities involve engaging with USG. I worry that my situation isn’t unique – I think this is true for many of the people who work in this space.

      The right response may be for USG to get out of this space. That might not be a bad idea. The politicization of these issues is distracting from the hard work that needs to be done to build better tools and techniques to protect online speech. But I suspect USG is going to continue engaging in this space. For me, that raises this question: can people who
      want to help people in that middle circle – independent, indigenous activist groups – try to advise USG as well? If not, can we work at one step removed? Can I work with you – as someone who works closely with Arab activists – and continue to try to influence policy at the USG level? If not, I fear we’re losing some of the most powerful relationships in this space, and the ability to support groups while trying to change the landscape.

      Thrilled that you’re bringing these issues to the forefront, and really impressed with this essay, Sami – it’s a major contribution.

      • Jillian C. York 6:30 pm on September 17, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        This isn’t so much a reply to Ethan’s comments as a piggybacking on them, because he said–and more eloquently–a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about.

        To the point of Tor, and even Ethan’s involvement in multiple spheres, I think the reason that I put so much trust in both (Tor and Ethan) is, in fact, transparency. I may not agree with Ethan’s choice to attend something at the GW Bush Institute, but I trust that when he does, he’s going to be up front and honest about it to all spheres in which he’s involved. I’m simply using Ethan as an example, because I realize that there are many other folks in this middle space (myself occasionally included), but I think that that category of people are an interesting parallel to Tor as an institution: The reason folks trust them is that they do occupy several circles, and do so transparently (and often without allegiance to any one group).

        On the other hand, there are multiple other organizations that start initiatives to “help” or even “save” a certain group without actually bothering to consult with people working in that sphere. Or if they do consult folks in a particular region, it is only those folks whose ideas are closely aligned with theirs…Cyberdissidents.org seems to be a good example of this. Because there are Arab activists who support the initiative, the initiative is free to dismiss the (sometimes louder and certainly broader) views of those for whom the initiative is alarming. This is something I see all the time.

        In any case, Sami, this is excellent work and I hope to see more discussion around it.

        • Alaa 7:03 pm on September 17, 2010 Permalink

          I don’t think transparency makes much of a difference to the misgivings and dangers involved.

          but it does allow someone like me or sami to have a nuanced relationship with the transparent person or organization instead of just avoiding them altogether.

          however having a nuanced relationship is both a luxury and a gamble. I’ve seen activists totally corrupted or destroyed for failing to do that.

          there are also intangible dangers that sami did not touch on relating to surrendering narrative and identity of young activists and even whole movements to the analysis and lenses of western academia and media.

          this is a much more difficult topic to discuss I can only relate to it on a personal level, I’ve at times found myself forced to take certain actions in a panicky response to what felt like a hijack of my story.

          I think hoder is a tragic case of the effects of this contagion including on the personal identity level. and I believe the 6th of april movement was utterly and unrecoverably corrupted by similar unprotected interactions.

    • Arash Kamangir 6:09 pm on September 17, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Great piece Sami! Thank you.

    • Alaa 6:51 pm on September 17, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Ethan TOR being Free and Open Source software makes it easier to promote regardless of funding. but this doesn’t mean the relationship with the military does not impose problems.

      but FOSS is a defense. when confronted with an accusation that we are colliding with US interest we’ll defend ourselves by arguing about FOSS. the more the tor “brand” gets entangled in US foreign policy the less effective this defense will be.

      actually it is the intersections and overlaps between academia, civil society, corporate, government and military in the US that makes it highly problematic for activists to engage at any level with anything US. this is very particular to the US.

      I don’t think the french equivalent of the electronic frontiers foundation will be managing a project that was initially funded by the military.

      confronted with this high degree of overlap (combined with continues US imperialism) I believe activists should mostly keep a distance. and you’ll find that they mostly do.

    • Solana Larsen 7:02 pm on September 17, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I’ve been waiting for you to write this piece Sami, and I am thrilled you were able to make such a strong argument so constructively. These issues are really important, and I hope it will be read and noticed by a lot of people. One minor comment: How I understood the question Ethan asked you during the Summit was actually whether *any* government (not just US) could do anything positive to help, and I took your answer to be ‘No’. Maybe I misunderstood, but I guess I’m curious to know what you would say to people who might say you were being just as selective on the position you take on the US government. Obviously the US government case is a unique one, but I just wanted to add that question to the conversation. I’m looking forward to printing and re-reading this weekend and adding more to the discussion.

    • Alaa 7:26 pm on September 17, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Solana waiting for sami’s answer, but governments with a recent history or a current policy of interference in your region will be viewed differently.

      the US currently occupying Iraq and imposing sanctions on syria and iran, makes it a very particular case.

      the US not having a political left (in the way the rest of the world defines it) also make it unique. it means what is considered apolitical points of consensus in the US are highly charged political points of debate locally. and it also means that US funding (of any kind) has an immediate effect of dragging politics of the recipients of funding to the right.

    • Sonam Ongmo 7:41 pm on September 17, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      This is a VERY interesting piece. I don’t have time to go through it all right now but just wanted to comment on something. I think the U.S govt, in particular, should stay out of trying to help any activism in any country given their history and motives/agenda for interference.

      We have a similar situation in Bhutan of which I am only hearing about now. Without naming names, a rich entrepreneur with ties to U.S govt wants to get involved in supporting digital/media activism/development in Bhutan but people are very skeptical. They think upfront the motives all look good but don’t know what that support may entail down the line.

    • Gabriel Nada 9:19 pm on September 17, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I think this is exactly why Global Voices Online’s recent decision to open itself up to taking corporate advertising from US based AllTech (animal feed producer with 120 subsidiaries worldwide) which has recently entered the market in Haiti after the earthquake and is opening a factory and starting a brand of coffee with Haitian beans – and the fact that GVO will be doing a paid sponsored piece on Haitian coffee, a paid sponsored piece on AllTech’s charitable PR work in Haiti, and that GVO will be doing a sponsored piece on horses because AllTech is going to be the main sponsor of the FEI World Equestrian games, damages the credibility of GVO from an outside perspective and links the already nearly completely US funded organization to more American corporate money and power – problematic even if it is just in superficial form to those who look from the outside with suspicion on American corporate investment in such entities as GVO, whose main administrative and editorial control is also US citizen/institutionally based or in the hands of westernized, western-minded people whose political leanings tend to serve both the local opposition community but also Washington’s foreign policy in certain areas. Even if core editorial control isn’t fully compromised it will make a lot of people more skeptical about trusting the independence of such an organization.

      • Jillian C. York 1:49 am on September 18, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        “I think this is exactly why Global Voices Online’s recent decision to open itself up to taking corporate advertising from US based AllTech”

        You mean considered the idea, right?

        Since this idea has since been discarded, I’m curious as to what your motivations are by continuing to write about it publicly. From my view, you’re a new community member who just came in, saw this story, and is now running all over the Web with it. I question that kind of mentality nearly as much as I question the idea that inspired it in the first place.

    • tricia wang 9:42 pm on September 17, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      thanks for writing this well-researched post – this is such an important contribution to the dialogue.

    • Ivan Sigal 10:25 pm on September 17, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Sami – love your post. Will send thoughts in a bit.

      Gabriel. I’m sorry to see that you’ve assumed that GV is in fact taking funds from Alltech. You’ll note that in the discussion on the author’s list on GV, that we have not decided to do this; we are debating it. I’ll leave your characterization of Alltech aside. On the GV list we don’t have unanimity regarding whether corporate sponsorship is appropriate, much less which companies might be appropriate as partners. I’ll simply note that this is a substantial conflation of issues – whether or not GV decides to accept advertising, more sponsored posts as a source of revenue has pretty much nothing to do with the debate on whether/if the US government invests in or interferes with digital activism in the Arab world. Please note – Global Voices does not take government funds, and has no plans to do so.

      Cheers Ivan

    • gregorylent 5:25 pm on September 18, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      simple assumptions .. there will be no free internet anywhere .. there is nothing anyone can do about it .. humans are like this

    • Fabrice Epelboin 2:32 pm on September 19, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      That’s a ‘must read’ post for anyone involved in anykind of online activism!
      You gotta have this translated in french, these thoughts must be spread by all men!

    • Nichol Brummer 7:12 pm on September 20, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I’m reminded of what Roosevelt said of diplomacy by a world power: “Speak softly, and carry a big stick”. This article demonstrates the opposite: “If you carry a big stick, you better speak softly, and be aware that even standing close to friends might hurt them”.

      There is nothing new under the sun: one can observe the same type of problems between children on a playground, that might get help from a bigger kid against a bully, and then get ‘punished’ for that afterwards. But it is still good to see the situation spelled out like this.

    • Houwari 9:30 am on September 21, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Sami, an excellent post that I think is missing an important question – I would like to ask what you think the role of second generation and up, or indeed, well integrated first generation MENA region immigrants to the west have in the 9 spheres you have in the diagram. Understandably, Many of these people are involved in activism and are interested in change in their (or their parents’) original home countries.

      I would argue that the tendency to shy away from political positions of influence in western governments and NGOs is very harmful to both our causes as minorities in the West and to any causes we might subscribe to with regards to the MENA region. After all, this passiveness is one factor that leads to western governments having such policies towards these countries. I think it is not only possibly, but also necessary for MENA minorities in western countries to get involved at levels in *a way that constructively benefits these countries*, while at the same time trying their best to tame the tendency of western governments to use activists as political arms.

      An important question vis-a-vis this problem is the credibility problem and the perception in arab counties that anything to do with western governments will be tainted. But hear this out: this may be a long term goal or indeed a far dream, but I suppose it is within our reach to get involved enough in western policy making as to change perceptions and to make it possible to steer western foreign towards more sensible policies that align well with activists’ goals in the MENA region. Hopefully, at that point, the masses in middle eastern countries will change and involvement that makes them believe that there is someone on their side.

    • Houwari 10:27 am on September 21, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      On another note, writing from the Internet at Liberty conference, I would have loved to see you Sami here raising these issues.

      • Claire Ulrich 11:30 am on September 21, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Merci pour cet article, Sami. Avec toi.

    • Chris Rushlau 1:18 am on September 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I came here from the Al Jazeera version of this article, which was poorly edited. I had to read almost the whole article there before I knew what Sami was concerned about. Here, I got that main idea in the first two paragraphs. And that is all I’ve read here, but I read all the comments.
      I suggest that the main thing the Arab governments are worried about is Israel’s having a racist constitution, which makes the US position of spreading democracy a lie. That is the contagion to be worried about. If people want to work with the US to try to dissuade the US from this position, good, but remember, people die every day (in Palestine, in Afghanistan, who knows how many places) for opposing this position of the US and Israel. Don’t imagine that a “word to the wise” will change this policy of racism, lying, and violence. Equally, the difficult position this policy puts the Arab governments into is not something a “word to the wise” will simply blow away like a pinch of dust.
      Any one who enters this debate without a focus on Israel’s racist constitution is simply confusing the issue, which is exactly Israel’s policy and the US’s.

      • Chris Rushlau 2:10 am on September 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Now I’ve read the rest of it–I’d read five or ten paragraphs before hand but was being modest like an English imperialist. Even though my ancestors have lived in the US for three hundred years.
        If I had to summarize pro-Israeli public diplomacy in one phrase (as to its content), it would be, “oh, I know it’s a tragedy, but we can’t do anything about it, it’s so complex.”
        It’s so simple–Israeli state-racism–that a total clamp-down on free debate is the only way to sustain it.

    • Catherine Fitzpatrick 7:56 pm on September 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      The net effect of this essay is to demonize the U.S. more than the Arabic countries, and to infantilize Arabic cyberdissidents as being unable to form strategic alliances with foreign governments that care about them without fear of being “tainted”. It’s an argument that endlessly plays into the hands of dictators and hobbles advocacy. The oldest secret police ruse in the book is to tell foreigners that they will harm dissidents if they support them — it ensures they stay in power.

      States aren’t perfect — but neither are cyberdissidents, some of whom can be tacitly supported even by the states they supposedly resist. To caricature the U.S. as merely concerned about oil extraction and cynical about human rights leaves the moral space open only to the OIC. Sorry, I’ll take the imperfect U.S. advocacy.

      http://3dblogger.typepad.com/wired_state/2010/09/the-arabic-digital-activism-fallace-and-politics-as-the-art-of-compromise.html

    • Catherine Fitzpatrick 1:36 am on September 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I’ve got more to say on my blog, but I’ll try to summarize:

      Sounds like you’re simply jealous and resentful of the NDI network that you aren’t on and you are swaggering to try to wrest control of the movement and condemn those who opted to work with that USG-funded effort. OK, we get your politics, but they are sectarian. Surely Arabic bloggers, individually, in groups or as a wider movement can become mature enough to make strategic alliances with governments and states that they find helpful and even compatible and thread their way through the pitfalls entailed in these relationships without having to abolish contact with them all in a puritanical manner. And surely there is space for those who wish to take such funding and make such alliances to work, and those who don’t wish to, alongside each other in a broader movement with the goal of Internet freedom. It need not be binary.

      Your call for the USG to get out of the Internet Freedom business handily achieves what oppressive governments couldn’t do, with more credibility. So how are you different than those governments, if you can’t make pragmatic use of such Western assistance?

      You’re ambivalent about aid even coming from the USG in the first place, yet condem the U.S. for not helping Egyptians or Syrians or Vietnamese. Well, which is it? You just finished telling us that we shouldn’t help cyberdissidents, it will only taint them.

      Can you admit the differences for people’s freedoms between the U.S. and Iran? While I can relate to the vaunted third-way path, having followed various iterations of this over the decades, I’d like to hear you project into the future of where you will be 25 years from now? Smuggling your precious thoughts out on TOR to somebody’s blogspot and eternally cursing the Man? Or sitting in parliament or an environmental agency of government or running a business? There is no such thing as eternal revolution.

      http://3dblogger.typepad.com/wired_state/2010/09/paralyzing-the-us-government-freedom-initiative-achieving-even-what-oppressive-governments-couldnt.html

    • Chris Rushlau 1:59 am on September 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Catherine, I don’t see what this has to do with Israel. You presume that the US is active for freedom around the world but I don’t see it. I was in Iraq with the US military for nine months in 2004 and I didn’t see it, even in the name of the operation, Iraqi Freedom II.
      So tell us, Catherine, how the question of Israel’s state-sponsored racism–this supposed Jewish democratic state–that the US backs to the hilt (nice imagery, huh?)–which underlays the whole issue of what the US is doing in its foreign policy, looks to you. Is the US the main force for liberty under law in the world–as shown by what evidence–or is the US the main proponent of contempt for the rule of law–as shown by its patronage of Israel, the racist state? Isn’t Israel a racist state? What does “Jewish state” mean? It means “Jews first”. Indeed, Israel forces the word “racism” onto itself by insisting, as a matter of law, that Judaism is a biological trait–mothers’ milk.
      Your hectoring, to no particular end, stirs up dust, but the strong wind is blowing the dust away.

    • Catherine Fitzpatrick 4:13 am on September 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I don’t expect *a war* to be the place where you fight for freedom, particularly a complex and ultimately unjust war which I myself oppose. Even so, what the US has done in Iraq in supporting the formation of a new government at at least providing some assistance, and I don’t fault the U.S. military for *the overwhelming majority of civilian deaths* there, I blame the terrorists and militants — and you don’t have an answer for how to address them other than magical thinking about how they might go away if the U.S. does, Chris.

      This is a piece not about these wars, and not actually about Israel, either, but about programs and policies for Internet freedom. And there, the question has been raised as to why the U.S. choses to fight for Internet freedom selectively, and is mum on certain places like Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. And we all know why: because a) the U.S. picks what they view as more moderate or secular states that they can cooperate with strategically and b) they pick states that they think will be more cooperative with Israel, which they wish to support — and that’s a good thing, because it’s prudent, just, and in the American geopolitical interest to support a democratic and open country whose Supreme Court can rule against torture, and whose human rights groups can criticize the state, rather than a proto-state that commits terrorist acts against Israel and oppresses its own people.

      I simply don’t buy this silly leftoid and Cuban-inspired propagandistic canard about “state sponsored racism” in Israel that we’ve had to endure since the Durban World Conference Against Racism. I’ve seen it all and heard it all, and I don’t buy it. Which country is hanging the Bahais and the gays, Chris?! Whatever crimes against civilians you can lay at Israel’s door, it does not constitute some “apartheid-state” like overarching state philosophy, and to portray it as such is merely mischievous or even sinister.

      Indeed, the U.S. — and the EU, and their allies — are forces for freedom and human rights in the world. That you believe otherwise merely marks you as a tendentious flamer steeped in sectarian propaganda. Not even the major human rights groups who are quick to report on Israel’s every misdemeanor and ignore the sorts of bloggers described in this piece claim that Israel is a state with a racist premise, like Nazi Germany. Acts of discrimination don’t make a state racist. I don’t have any problem with Israel being a Jewish state; that’s ok, and legal under international law. It has done far better treating minorities, even with obvious human rights problems over-abundantly recorded, than any Arab state. Why don’t you go work on a more fact-based cause, like Roma not getting citizenship in Romania and existing as second-class citizens? Why the obsession with Israel all the time? It’s hardly hectoring to speak up against this really outrageous attempt at hegemony in the Arab bloggers’ world. I have no stake in this world, and merely regard this from outside, but I call “foul”.

      • Christopher Rushlau 6:59 pm on September 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Thank you for your views. I think being a “flamer” must be a good thing.

      • Jillian C. York 5:41 pm on September 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        With all due respect, Catherine, I think you’re conflating some issues here.

        First, you state that the US is most cooperative with secular states and with states that side with Israel. When it comes to the Internet freedom initiative, you seem confused: in this region, the US is most concerned at the moment with Iran, which is neither secular nor in favor of Israel. Tunisia, on the other hand, is secular, and Saudi Arabia is an ally, but neither is a focus in this agenda.

        As for your comment about “who hangs gays and Bahais”, I can tell you: Not the Palestinians. It seems like you lack awareness of the difference between Iran (again, the USG’s biggest target after China in its net freedom initiative) and the occupied Palestinian territories which, while certainly not friendly to their occupiers at the moment, do not hang gays nor Bahais.

        I’m generally just confused about your comments – you say the US supports certain countries because they ally with Israel, and in Israel, people have the right to protest. Even if we were to assume that to be entirely true (it’s not, ask Haneen Zoabi), that still completely ignores the fact that the US’s alliances with repressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia hurts the citizens of those countries.

        Frankly, if we are to support US involvement, then we should support it only when applied equally to all countries that repress their own citizens. In that vein, I actually have less of a problem in theory (though not in practice or approach) with a group like Cyberdissidents.org than I do with State’s “net freedom agenda.” At least the former sees it prudent to support ALL democracy activists, whilst the latter picks and chooses based on geopolitical interests.

        You’re fooling yourself if you think that State’s goals are balanced, fair, and in support of all dissidents. They’re not – they support only those in countries where it’s prudent for the US to attempt to undermine the regime’s authority.

    • sami ben gharbia 11:13 am on September 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Hi all, I’m very sorry for not answering your comments. I’m in the process of leaving the hague to Belrin, it has been a very hectic week. I’ll write a response post once I’m done with the move. thanks you all for your comments.

    • Doug 4:09 pm on September 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Hello;
      I’m Doug Bernard, editor of VOA’s “Digital Frontier” project.
      Just read Sami ben Gharbia’s essay on US govt. promotion of ‘net freedom. Very interesting!
      Would Mr. ben Gharbia be available next week for a video interview via Skype? Our audience would definitely be interested in his perspective.
      albest; –dbj

    • Andrew 2:43 am on September 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Hello sami,

      This is a fantastic article and I’m glad you wrote it. A few responses and
      questions follow.

      1. Tor is transparent in code, design, and funding. We specifically turned
      down private money and taking the for-profit route in order to be fully
      transparent. By no means should one consider a non-profit safer than a
      for-profit. I’ve worked at and met many people from both realms who truly want
      to help and truly want to hurt. We don’t know how else to be un-tainted by our
      funders, other than to be radically transparent.

      To this end, soon Tor is going to publish our financials, audit statements, and
      plenty of other forms on our website. We do our development in public, all of
      our code repositories are open to all (globally and unfiltered). Our
      wiki/bugtracker also functions as our task tracker. https://trac.torproject.org
      lists how we manage projects, what we’re working on, and who is doing what.
      Radical transparency is the only way we know to counter those that hide in
      secrets and shadows. We give up our anonymity so others can have theirs.

      2. Tor is first and foremost an organization for research and development into
      online anonymity. We work heavily with academic researchers around the world to
      improve Tor’s design at a core level, tor’s code, and as a result have helped a
      growing number of people get their PhD’s by attacking and improving Tor. All of
      this is public and all of this is encouraged by us.

      3. As for your twitter counts, as the main identica/twitter poster, I focus on
      what interests me. Iran and China fascinate me. I wish I could visit and talk
      to the people. Looking for keywords in the dent/tweet text is probably going to
      give you a different picture than looking at the content of the urls we post.
      You may also want to add in the US to your lists. You’ll find we’re just as
      concerned about our backyard as the rest of the world. China and Iran are also
      a fascinating research partner, as they are advanced, smart, and quick to
      respond to changes in any circumvention software. American companies won’t
      work with us, so we’re forced to work with China and Iran from afar. 😉

      4. It’s difficult to separate my personal feelings from Tor, as it is for any
      of us involved in Tor. However, I worry greatly about our effect on others. I
      really want individuals to wake up and see what’s happening around them. As
      the old saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it
      drink.” I want to give people the control over sharing their online
      information, rather than having it taken from them in any number of ways. I
      want to empower the user, the citizen, the person to make decisions.

      We are Tor are doing this the only way we know how, through code, education,
      and radical transparency. We’re open to other ideas as well.

    • Stephanie Hankey 5:15 pm on September 29, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Sami, this really is a very welcomed piece of writing. It echoes so many of our thoughts and discussions at Tactical Tech over the past two years and I really would like to extend our warmest thanks for voicing many things that those of us who have been working in this sector for over a decade have become increasingly worried about.

  • sami ben gharbia 3:09 pm on September 5, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Abdulemam, Arrest, bahrain,   

    Free Blogger Ali Abdulemam 

    badgefreeali.png

    Ali Abdulemam is a leading Bahraini blogger and Global Voices Advocacy author, and founder of Bahrain’s popular BahrainOnline forum. He a pioneer among Arab activists, using the internet to militate for peaceful reform. He inspired many young Bahrainis and Arabs to use the internet to express themselves and engage in spirited debate. Ali was arrested on 4 September, 2010 by the Bahraini authorities amidst a major crackdown on the country’s opposition. Ali is married with three children two baby girls (twins) and a boy. This blog is part of the Campaign to Free Ali Abdulemam.

    On February 27, 2005, he was arrested by the Bahraini authorities because of messages posted on BahrainOnline that are critical of the ruling regime. The following day two more moderators of BahrainOnline were arrested: Mohammed Al Mousawi and Hussain Yousif.

     
  • sami ben gharbia 6:17 pm on August 8, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , blackberry,   

    Blackberry facing growing pressure in the Gulf and India over encryption code [Updated] 

    Timeline of the Blackberry ban in the Arab world - Click to enlarge

    The United Arab Emirates’ Telecommunications Regulation Authority (TRA) and The Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) announced, respectively on August 1st 2010 and on August 5th, 2010, that they will block some functions of the Blackberry due to non-compliance with the regulatory requirements in both countries.

    And while the UAE will cut off some BlackBerry services such as BlackBerry Messenger, BlackBerry E-mail and BlackBerry Web-browsing as of October 11, 2010, Saudi Arabia had ordered the kingdom’s three mobile phone providers, Etihad Etisalat-Mobily, Saudi Telecom Company (STC) and Zain Saudi Arabia, to block all BlackBerry’s services, including e-mail and instant messaging, starting from tomorrow, Friday, August 6th, 2010.

    This ban, which according to both countries, will remain in place until BlackBerry applications are in full compliance with local regulations, will seemingly affect more that 500,000 BlackBerry users in the UAE and 700,000 users in Saudi Arabia.

    The main reason of the ban seems to lie in the way BlackBerrys handle data and in the judicial and security concerns of the encrypted communications sent to computer servers outside of the two countries. Since BlackBerry’s Messages are sent in an encrypted format through BlackBerry’s servers in Canada, which are run by the manufacturer Research in Motion (RIM), both Gulf states regulatory bodies are upset that they are unable to monitor the data traffic on BlackBerry’s handsets.

    The UAE’s Telecommunications Regulation Authority says that “in their current form, certain BlackBerry services allow users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social and national security concerns.”

    However, and as explained by CPJ Advocacy Coordinator Danny O’Brien:

    With suitable technical investment in domestic Internet monitoring, the UAE can decode a great deal of BlackBerry traffic without RIM’s help. When it comes to secure, encrypted communications, neither RIM nor any other telecommunication provider will be able to help them beat the encryption and spy on their own journalists or readers. The power lies far less in the hands of RIM, and far more in the hands of savvy Net users’ choice of the right tools.

    According to Dr. Christopher M. Davidson, a Gulf specialist and author of “Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success“, the United Arab Emirates’ ban on BlackBerry email and messenger is “primarily a response to mounting political opposition“:

    It is also a stark reminder of the current regime’s disingenuous attitudes, its invasive censorship practises, and its intensifying control over the flow of information between the country’s citizens, its millions of expat residents, and all of their contacts with the outside world. Unlike other smartphones, such as Apple’s ubiquitous iPhone, data transferred using BlackBerrys has proved difficult to intercept and monitor for third parties, including the UAE’s state security services and other ill-intentioned eavesdroppers.

    This interpretation seems to be confirmed by the recent arrest of several BlackBerry users in the United Arab Emirates for allegedly trying “to organise a protest against an increase in the price of gasoline” using Blackberry messages:

    BBM user Badr Ali Saiwad Al Dhohori, an 18-year-old resident of Ras Al Khaimah, has reportedly been held in Abu Dhabi since 15 July. The authorities were able to trace the organiser, known as “Saud,” because he included his BlackBerry PIN in a BBM message he sent calling for the protest. They held Saud for a week and interrogated him to trace those he had been messaging. Accused of inciting opposition to the government, he has lost his job. At least five other members of the group have reportedly been summoned by the police or are still being sought.

    In the main time, the pressures from government authorities worldwide on Blackberry maker, the Canadian Research In Motion, are growing for access to Balckberry data. In an attempt to prevent an outright ban in India, RIM has recently agreed to allow Indian security agencies to monitor its BlackBerry services:

    The company has offered to share with security agencies its technical codes for corporate email services, open up access to all consumer emails within 15 days and also develop tools in 6 to 8 months to allow monitoring of chats

    In Kuwait, at the request of Kuwait’s communication ministry, RIM has reportedly agreed to block 3000 pornographic websites by the end of the year, and is working with Kuwait on “legal controls that would guarantee national security on the one hand, and the rights of citizens…to use the device’s services on the other.”

    In Bahrain, the widely used BlackBerry chat groups have been banned since April 2010 over the “chaos and confusion” that would result from sharing and distributing local news through these groups.

    Back in 2007, RIM has reportedly provided its encryption keys to the Russian Mobile TeleSystems (MTS) “which, in turn, provided access to the Federal Security Service (FSB)“.

    Update 1 (August 5th 2010): Indonesia is considering banning BlackBerry services. Gatot Dewabroto, spokesman for the Ministry of Communication and Information declared: “We don’t know whether data being sent through BlackBerrys can be intercepted or read by third parties outside the country.”

    Update 2 (August 6th 2010): It has been reported that the Algerian government is reviewing the use of BlackBerry. “We are looking at the issue. If we find out that it is a danger for our economy and our security, we will stop it,” the Telecommunications Minister Moussa Benhamadi said.

    Update 3 (August 6th 2010): Lebanon is considering to assess security concerns relating to the use of BlackBerry in the country. “We are studying the issue from all sides — technical, service-wise, economic, financial, legal and security-wise,” the acting head of the Telecoms Regulatory Authority told Reuters. “We are discussing this with the concerned administrations and ministries.

    Update 4 (August 6th 2010): Yestrday, August 5th, 2010, the Tunisian mobile operator, Tunisiana, announced that it will suspend the email function of the Blackberry phones for three days citing concerns about security risks.

     
  • sami ben gharbia 6:23 am on July 6, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    أصوات نسوية من غزة في حوار حول واقع التدوين و آفاقه في ظل الحصار 

    على هامش الدورات التدريبية “معاً نحو خلق ثقافة تدوين تسعى للتغيير” التي قدمتها في غزة لعدد من المدونين و الصحفيين و ثلة من ناشطي المجتمع الأهلي كنت قد أجريت هذا الحوار مع ثلاث مدونات غزاويات: نور الخضري و نازك أبو رحمة من الجزيرة توك و علا عنان، صاحبة مدونة “من غزة“.

    و قد تناول الحوار واقع التدوين في القطاع و طبيعة التحديات التي يواجهها مدونو غزة، مثل انقطاع التيار الكهربائي و بطئ الإرتباط بالشبكة، و كذا آفاق التدوين و الإعلام الجديد هناك و مدى تأثيره على تغيير الصور النمطية حول القطاع و دور المدونات في خدمة وحدة الصف الفلسطيني.

     
  • sami ben gharbia 7:28 pm on June 16, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Hamas, ,   

    حوار صوتي مع المتحدث باسم وزارة الداخلية و الأمن الوطني في غزة حول حجب المواقع و الأمن الألكتروني 


    أنشر هنا أول حوار من سلسلة لقاءات سأقوم بها مع مسؤولين و مدونين و نشطاء المجتمع المدني في قطاع غزة. الحوار الأول و الصوتي الذي أنشره هنا كان مع المهندس إيهاب الغصين، المتحدث باسم وزارة الداخلية و الأمن الوطني في قطاع غزة حول مسألة حرية التعبير على الأنترنت تحت حكومة حماس و عن سياسة الحركة تجاه حجب المواقع و قضية الأمن الألكتروني و القرصنة.

    و قد أكد السيد إيهاب الغصين عدم توخي حكومة حماس لأي سياسة حجب تجاه المواقع أو المدونات المعارضة للحكومة في غزة مؤكدا أن الحجب لا يطال إلا المواقع الإباحية: “نحن لا نقوم بتكميم الأفواه”.
    و أشار أيضا أن حتى الحجب الذي تتعرض له المواقع الإباحية هو حجب إختياري بمعنى أن أي شخص يريد الوصول إلى هذه المواقع يمكنه الإتصال بمزود خدمة الأنترنت في غزة و طلب رفع الحجب عن تصفحه لمثل هذه المواقع.

    و قد أشار المهندس إيهاب الغصين إلى الدور الذي تلعبه إسرائيل على الفايسبوك من استبزاز موجه ضد المبحرين من قطاع غزة على موقع الشبكة الإجتماعية الشهير قصد إسقاطهم في فخ العمالة و الإخبار لصالح المخابرات الإسرائيلية و ذلك عبر استغلالهم لما ينشره الغزاويون هناك من مواد و معلومات شخصية لا تحلم إسرائيل بجمعها بالطرق الإستخبارانتية التقليدية. فمواقع مثل الفيسبوك سهلت، حسب رأي المهندس إيهاب الغصين، المهمة الإستعلاماتية للإحتلال الإسرائلي في تجنيديه و إسقاطه لعملاء جدد في الداخل الفلسطيني. و من هنا تأتي أهمية ما يطلق عليه ب “الحملة الوطنية لمواجهة التخابر” التي تهدف إلى تحسيس مستخدمي الشبكة الفلسطينين لمثل هذه اللأخطار.

    و تعرض أيضا السيد إيهاب الغصين إلى مشكلة القرصنة التي تتعرض لها مواقع حماس و حكومتها كقرصنة موقع وزارة الداخلية مؤخرا من قبل قراصنة إسرائيليين معتبرا أن القرصنة المضادة هي أحدى وسائل المقاومة المستحدثة، فالمقاومة كما قال ليست فقط أن تحمل سلاحا بل لها صور و وسائل مختلفة و منها هذا الأمر (أي القرصنة) داعيا في الوقت نفسه العرب و المتعاطفين مع القضية الفلسطينية ممن لديهم خبرات تقنية إلى القيام بعمليات مقاومة ألكترونية ضد الإحتلال من بلدانهم.

     
    • Hasan 9:19 pm on June 16, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      حوار جيد ومفيد يا صديقي

    • ibrahim arab 9:48 am on June 17, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      بإنتظار المزيد من الحوارات
      فكرة جميلة وتسلط الضوء على أمور نجهلها وتهمنا
      تحياتي

      • باسل خلف 11:48 pm on June 17, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        موفق وان شاء الله دوما نكون اصدقاء انا باسل خلف من غزة ولي مدونة متوقفة تألمت عندما توقفت ولكن اتمني ان نلقتي للمزيد من الثقافة والفكر

    • نور الخضري 7:17 pm on June 22, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      http://www.aljazeeratalk.net/node/6255
      لقاء الجزيرة توك مع المدرب الدولي سامي بن غربية

  • sami ben gharbia 5:39 am on June 6, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: flotilla, , Isreal,   

    33 most sarcastic tweets about the #flotilla 

    In the wake of the deadly and universally condemned attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, on May 31, 2010, carried out by the Israeli army in international waters, many new twitter accounts have been created, by both sides (Israel and its apologists Vs. pro-Palestinian peace activists), with the sole aim to initiate a counter-narrative “PR” campaign against each other.

    A “new era of PR” has been initiated by new accounts such as @USGOVPR (joined twitter on June 1st, 2010) and @IsraelGlobalPR (joined twitter on 31 May 2010), @HamasGlobalPR (joined twitter on June 1st, 2010).

    And while mainstream media embargoes many verboten ideas, and operates always within its own bubble of assumptions, the twitter news-wire is free from all those constraints. Tweets are passionate, racist, negationist, belligerent, provocative, and most of all funny and sarcastic.

    Even the twitter account of @IDFSpokesperson and the Consulate General of Israel in New York, @IsraelConsulate (that held the twitter Q&A #AskIsrael) have adapted to the twitter environment by showing some air of sarcasm in their hasbara.

    In this sea of blood and madness, being funny – not à la “Con the World” disgusting way – is certainly much better than killing and arresting journalists who were on the ship; and that is much elegant than the IDF’s doctored audio, photos and videos that are meant to manipulate public opinion.

    I was tweeting massively about the #flotilla and this post should end my twitter contribution to the noble – and so far successful – struggle to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

    Here is a collection of the 33 best sarcastic tweets related to the tragedy that I came across during this past week:

     

    @IsraelGlobalPR: Sneak preview of our impartial investigation: “Israel’s response was proportionate and justified”

     
    @IsraelConsulate: @somemuslim If u want to send chocolate, bring it to the Consulate and we will b happy to send it to Gaza after proper inspection #flotilla

     
    @HamasGlobalPR: If the price of ending the blockade is that we need to accept gay visitors, long live the blockade #gaza #flotilla #gays

     
    @TheLiamMurphy: Somali pirates attack over 100 Ships with 6 fatalities. Israel captures 1 & murders over 9 http://bit.ly/90YN34”

     
    @SarahJanett: “paint-ball guns” Why not just dress the Israeli commandos up in non-threatening clown uniforms? Or Charlie Chaplin outfits. #flotilla #fact

     
    @AnnraoiOD: GOATS are banned in Gaza. @IsraelMFA How does banning such animals protect Israeli security? #RachelCorrie #FreeGaza http://bit.ly/aCjadx

     
    @avinunu: Based on Obama logic on #flotilla BP should be entitled to investigate itself “impartially” of course!

     
    @janee: If the israeli army was only armed with paintballs I’m never playing skirmish again! #flotilla

     

     
    @IsraelStatePR : We are peacefull people. You see there is lot of peace in cemeteries we created in Gaza. #flotilla #israel

     
    @amirahoweidy: Pls stop comparing Israel’s army to Somali pirates! This is insulting to the Somali pirates who didn’t murder anyone #flotilla #Gaza

     
    @radgeness: We warn the island of Cyprus to leave Israel’s territorial waters immediately or risk the consequences. #flotilla

     
    @HamasGlobalPR: #flotilla. please make sure next boat is only gays, christians and slutty woman. looking fo a win-win: either israel kills them or we will

     
    @pmoharper: Israel investigating itself for war crimes is like BP investigating itself for safety violations. #gaza #flotilla #cdnpoli

     
    @IsraelGlobalPR: Israel has seized toys from the flotilla which could have provided emotional support to Hamas. #flotilla

     
    @somemuslim: Israel should lead investigation into attack on #flotilla? Then Bin Laden should lead 9/11 investigation http://bit.ly/brRhNe

     
    @TenPercent: How many Zionist trolls does it take to change a lightbulb? The lightbulb attacked us! #flotilla

     
    @AlanDana: Where is the global condemnation of Turkey for it’s #flotilla attack against Israel? #StandWithIsrael #tcot

     
    @SarahJanett: We will soon release evidence that Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan is the second in command of Al-Qaeda, after Bin Laden. #flotilla

     
    @EhabZ: Wasn’t the 1st time pirates hijacked ships, but 1st time I can recall them claiming “self-defense.” #flotilla

     
    @SherifSharkawy: Now,I admit. Israeli soldiers were defending themselves from most dangerous weapon: Pikachu http://bit.ly/9QKXDV #flotilla #FreedomFlotilla

     
    @IsraelGlobalPR: Now that we have copies of their passports, Israel will release all foreigners from the flotilla

     
    @stpaulgal49: It’s all clear now. People on #flotilla were found “without papers.” Thank God Israel stopped them before they reached Arizona.

     
    @alaa: Economist forgets how easily chickens can be weaponized in this day and age http://is.gd/cAhfU and no one told me economist is using drupal

     

    @migueldeicaza: Israel is the kind of country that would elect Glenn Beck for president, is made up of Fox News viewers with billions in weapons

     
    @SarahJanett: What will Israel now do with Rachel Corrie ship thats heading there way. Is there such a thing as a water-bulldozer? #flotilla #rachelcorrie

     
    @USGOVPR: The soldier probably thought the man was holding an RPG. Some of our pilots have accidentally done the same thing #flotilla

     
    @FakeIsraelMFA: Mossad has evidence Terror Boat Rachel Corrie is carrying IRA Terrorists who plan to join the Hamas to invade Britain! #flotilla

     
    @IsraelGlobalPR: Israel apologises for the death of a US citizen aboard the flotilla, however we must state that the individual was not white

     
    @GenRachel: I call for the end of the occupation of Obama in the White House!!!! #tcot #Obama #politics – hey we need a FLOTILLA!

     
    @Ultra_Bravo: i never would’ve been upset about this whole #flotilla thing if i had watched that holocaust documentary last week.

     
    @Remroum: Wow at the rally. Listening to a pissed off Zionist yell at pro-Palestinian Orthodox Jews: you should have died in the Holocaust!! #flotilla

     
    @DolpheenaIDF: @montezume No we’ll never be at peace cz the world is Nazi

     

     
    @heidiko44: I don’t know what to believe anymore ~ #flotilla

     

     
    • Freedom Flotilla 9:47 am on June 6, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      This is one of the best posts i saw. very funny indeed, thanks 😉

    • Aaron 10:48 am on June 6, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Unfortunately @Israelconsulate isn’t even a parody account, it’s the official account of Israel Consulate in New York. A few days after (June 3) the attack on the flotilla they had a twitter conference with Israeli Minister for “Information & Diaspora” [AKA propagada] Yuli Edelstein and that was one of the answers given. The account isn’t very active and you can still see that tweet. BTW A list of permitted goods was recently obtained by some Israelis activists under FOI and chocolate is not one of the 30 or so items admitted to Gaza under the blockade. @IsraelConsulate previously answered that “Chocolate is getting into Gaza”, however neglected to mention that’s it’s via the smuggling tunnels to Egypt. It’s worth examining the responses to questions posed to @Israelconsulate during the twitter conference: the cynicism and semantic games are breathtaking.

    • sami ben gharbia 3:19 pm on June 6, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for the info Aaron, do you have the link to the list? I only saw this one

    • catauro 4:41 pm on June 6, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      LOL exellent post Sami… !!

    • Ebtihal 4:52 pm on June 6, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Very Nice. Thanks

  • sami ben gharbia 2:46 pm on May 28, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , manif22mai, SayebSala7,   

    Anti-censorship movement in Tunisia: creativity, courage and hope! 

    A cartoon by the prominent Tunisian blogger and cartoonist Z

    Following the recent massive wave of online censorship carried out by the Tunisian censor, targeting major social websites, such as the popular video-sharing websites, flickr, blogs aggregators, blogs, facebook pages and profiles, the anti-censorship movement adopted very creative, outspoken and brave tactics in protesting the online censorship. A censorship that is not only harming the country’s average Internet users but is also affecting professionals whose work is relying on web 2.0 services and platforms, like youtube, flickr and other media-sharing websites.

    Far from being exaggerated, the Tunisian anti-censorhip movement is one of the best innovative in the world and has been adopting creative approaches and tactics from its early beginning to its current stage. From Yezzi Fock Ben Ali! (Enough is enough, Ben Ali!) and its online protest “Freedom of Expression in Mourningorganized during The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) held in Tunis in November 2005, to the Google Earth bombing for a free Tunisia, and the several national days and white notes against censorship, despite its technical and tactical advantages, has never managed to go offline and reach out to the average masses of Tunisian Netizens. It was mainly limited to a hard core of digital activists and bloggers who are pushing for a political and social change by making sure to remain independent from any political party while putting their struggle for online free speech within the continual and broader battle for fundamental rights and justice led by the civil society.

    But things are about to change, since the new wave of online censorship is affecting everybody and is not anymore targeting the very dissent and political blogs and websites. Which is why it was not surprising at all to see how much the Tunisian internet community is abuzz with discussions related to various aspects of censorship policy and how much it is embracing and contributing to the anti-censorship protest.

    The new anti-censorship efforts, which were prepared and organized publicly online by grassroots activists – on facebook, twitter and Google Groups and Docs – were involved in a wide range of initiatives and here are the most important ones:

    However, the move that will revolutionize the entire protest had the merit to bring it offline. All started when the virtual protest culminated in a non-virtual one with the initiative Nhar 3la 3ammar (A day against the censor, or manif22mai, #manif22mai on twitter). Two activists and bloggers, Slim Amamou (@slim404) and Yassin Ayari, took upon themselves the courageous responsibility of calling to rally in front of the Tunisian Ministry of communication technologies on May 22nd, while ensuring to request a permit and respect the proper legal procedures which are required to hold a rally. The rally in Tunisia was also part of a May 22 worldwide day against Internet filtering in the country.

    Slim and Yassine, joined at a certain point by Lina Ben Mhenni, mastered the art of communication by making sure to update their friends and sympathizers about each step they are taking, producing a serie of videocasts published on the not-yet-blocked video-sharing website vimeo as well as on facebook.

    And the expected happened: on May 21, a day before the rally, the two main organizers were arrested and investigated during the entire day. They appeared later on separate video messages where they were forced by the security forces to call off the rally and urge protestors to stay home. Slim was also forced to sign a document stating that he “understood that his call for a demonstration is wrong.”

    The Police demanded that Slim records a video asking people not to show up for the planned demonstration. Apparently, Slim had to negotiate the terms of this “friendly public service announcement.” Afterwards, he had to sign a document saying that he “understood that his call for a demonstration is wrong” and then he was driven out by the police to record that “friendly reminder to stay home” aimed to dissuade people from demonstrating.

    The same evening, a communiqué signed by the friends of Yassine & Slim – translated here by our friend from Morocco, Hisham (also available in French and in Arabic) alerted the public opinion and called for a plan B: “walk on Avenue Habib Bourguiba, in downtown Tunis, wearing white shirts and sit in the cafes on May 22nd at 3 pm, as a symbolic act to protest internet censorship“:

    #manif22mai - May 22, 2010 - photo by Olfa (@mimouna on twitter)

    Friday May 21th, from 11 am local Tunis time and until now (6.30 pm), it has become impossible to contact any of both organizers of the citizen’s march, Slim Amamou and Yassin Ayari. This comes despite the fact that both organizers insisted they wouldn’t turn off their cell phones, not today, nor tomorrow, and that in the case their phones were not working they would use any internet connection from any public space nearby. Add to this the fact that Slim’s car was parked near Habib Bourguiba Street, and that most probably both organizers were contacted by the Ministry of the Interior to announce the march was disallowed (…), we assume tat they are now at the headquarters of the Ministry of the Interior or any of its affiliate centers.

    Tomorrow, May 22 is the day of the march, called for by Slim and Yassin, who strictly followed the procedures prescribed by the law protecting the right to protest set forth by the constitutional (specifically Law No. 4 of 24 January 1969 “organizing public meetings and processions and demonstrations and gatherings,” particularly the chapters from Part II and Chapter I in Part I). We call on all citizens to consult the text of the law governing the right to demonstrate available in Arabic and French.

    […]

    No one can declare the march “illegal” (nor “legal” for that matter) if the initiators can’t lead it. And until this moment it seems there is no possibility that they would. But at the same time, and as friends of Slim and Yassin, we can’t ignore the many indicators that prove that the march has been banned indeed. And it is necessary to inform everybody of all obstacles and difficulties so as not to leave Slim and Yassin exposed to liability or legal consequences in case the march is declared illegal.

    At the same time we call upon all those who do not see the possibility of participating in the march to join the following initiative.

    The initiative was clearly supported by Slim and it calls on supporters to walk on Avenue Habib Bourguiba wearing white shirts and sit in the cafes on Saturday at three o’clock pm, as a symbolic show of protest against [internet censorship]. At the same time we call on everyone to respect the campaign slogans and principles and focus on the issue of internet censorship and continue all efforts aimed at denouncing censorship by following legal means. Of course, we are also calling for the release of Slim and Yassin (if they are not freed before three o’clock on Saturday 22 May), free of any legal prosecution, since they upheld all legal procedures as mentioned earlier.

    On May 22, Tunisians living abroad took to the street in front of their country’s embassies and consulates in Paris, Bonn and New York. In Tunis, dozens of young Tunisians have managed to converge on Avenue Habib Bourguiba and took part in the protest. And even if the presence of uniformed and plain-clothes police barring access to the flash mob site and making it impossible for an important number of sympathizers – easily recognizable by their white T-shirts – to join the protest or remain seated in the café terraces, Tunisia’s first flashmob protesting online censorship was a successful story that should inspire us all.

    #manif22mai - Avenue Habib Bourguib, Tunis, May 22, 2010 - photo by Houeida Anouar

    #manif22mai - Avenue Habib Bourguib, Tunis, May 22, 2010 - This girl has been arrested the same day, no news about her whereabouts- photo by Houeida Anouar

    #manif22mai - Montreal, May 22, 2010 - photo by Haroun Bouazzi

    #manif22mai - Paris, in front of the Tunisian consulate, May 22, 2010 - photo by Nhar 3la 3ammar

     
  • sami ben gharbia 2:48 pm on April 20, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    Chronology of Major events surrounding censorship, hacking, DDOS and online Free Speech 

    Given the increasing importance of events surrounding Internet repression, especially after the Iran protest and the Google Vs China debacle, I was trying to collect this data over a period of time then display it on a timeline with useful links and videos (where available).

    Like the Threatened Voices Timeline and Map, the purpose of this small project is obviously to identify trends in digital repression over time and highlight other issues often overlooked by mainstream media.

    The collected data used in this Dipity timeline is based on this Google Spreadsheet which I made available for any use desired.
    Anyone can view and edit it without signing in. This information can be exported as an .xls file or other file types, and can be used to create timeline, maps and any other kind of data visualization. It also serves as a collaborative tool for tracking these kind of major events.

    So please, help us collect this important information and keep this timeline updated. Just go to this Google Spreadsheet and add the missing events.

    dipity_timelie.jpg
    click to go to dipity; wordpress.com doesn’t allow iframe here!!!
     
    • Zorrino Hermanos 5:35 pm on April 22, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Great work !! Great idea !! Great tool choice !!
      I’ll start to add events as soon as I have the time to do it right.

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