Arab Bloggers Exercise Democracy and Prompt Debate Despite Tough Opposition From Governments

Arab Bloggers Exercise Democracy and Prompt Debate Despite Tough Opposition From Governments

Wael Abbas, an Egyptian blogger that was recently awarded the 2007 Knight International Award for Civic journalism said to the press in a  recent statement “We are establishing a new school of journalism.”

The International Center for Journalists and the Knight International Journalism Fellowships program applauded his contribution to raising professional standard among bloggers in Egypt, recognizing his efforts to pursue the craft of journalism despite serious challenges with even more serious consequences.

Having just graduated from Columbia University’s Master”s Journalism program and been fortunate enough to benefit from being involved in a Knight fellowship of my own, I am familiar with the hope a journalism degree and/or the participation in such a fellowship can offer.

Abbas covers the essential obligations of any journalist. He pursues rumors, verifies facts and quotes sources to tell a story with as much credibility as time and effort can afford him. He is one of several thousand Arab bloggers that are challenging Arab society and governments to promote public discourse in the region.

The Internet has become an indispensable tool, for the advancement of public debates in the Middle East. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of a growing satellite television and internet market, whether intentional or not, the two relatively recent developments in the Middle East are reshaping the social and political landscape of censored governments.

Many Arab bloggers enjoy a newfound sense of freedom that is changing the way Arabs approach and participate in politics and social discourse.

Although just a handful of Arab journalists are taking advantage of the Internet revolution in order to tell the truth as they see it, a bravery that is unmatched by local governments is slowly beginning to work in their favor.

Despite the recent jailing of a Kurdish journalist for criticizing Kurdish leaders in Iraq, and the imprisonment of a Libyan journalist who was recently assassinated for challenging Libyan officials, goups of bloggers are gathering across the Arab world to discuss the challenges they face in pursuing the freedom of expression and how to overcome them.

Still, bloggers such as Abdel Kareem Suleiman, a 22-year-old law student from Egypt who faces a 4-year prison sentence for insulting Islam and Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak, struggle to challenge the current state of affairs and the governing leaders.

Sharif Hikmat Nashashibi comments via webcam on the Egyptian blogger Kareem Amer, who is the first blogger to be convicted by an Egyptian court and jailed for 3 years for insulting Islam.

Cell phones, text messaging and the relative ease with which ordinary citizens can use videos and photos to expose injustices during rallies or inside police stations is adding a new dimension to Arab consciousness.

Instead of sitting in their pajamas, as bloggers are stereotypically perceived, many Arab bloggers are becoming actively involved in monitoring their country’s mainstream media. The new exposure has encouraged many others, previously pajama-clad bloggers to actively participate in protests and other tangible forms of political dissent.

The growing trend of active Arab bloggers, both Islamic and Secular is largely unreported. When the topic is covered, the western media chooses to focus on liberal bloggers, telling the rebolutionary story in a black and white filter of conservatives Islamists versus liberal secularists. But that is not a fair assessment. The Muslim Brotherhood, for example–whether one agrees with their politics or not–has taken advantage of the new blogging phenomenon to spread their message, a fact that cannot and should not be ignored.

Young Muslim Brotherhood members are extremely Internet savvy and beginning to take advantage of a trend that has the power to spread any message, regardless of the political motivation, to Arabs across the world.

When Arab bloggers first began to publish in large numbers; the majority of them were more liberal voices who were writing in English.

But now it is undeniable that new, and quickly growing groups of politically engaged bloggers — blogging in Arabic– have emerged, criticizing and promoting political agendas, both domestically and internationally.

The use of blogging technology to spread their message has allowed them to harness a sense of solidarity across national, and in some cases, political spheres.

Almost every week or so, Egyptian bloggers are arrested, either for taking part in protests or even for blogging about against restrictive constitutional amendments.

One of Egypt’s fastest growing blogging communities is called “Wedna ne3ish,” which means, “We want to live.” The blog discusses problems facing Bedouins, a tribe of nomads inhabiting Egypt’s deserts that are historically and still very much an integral part of Egypt’s cultural richness, in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

Within the past year, hundreds of Bedouin have sought entry into Israel, as they run from Egyptian police who had recently killed two Bedouins for exchanging fire with police after driving through a checkpoint without license plates.

In 1999, Bedouins hoped to find refuge in Israel. But though they applied for asylum, they were eventually returned to Egypt.

Since the Egyptian government blamed the bombing of a resort in Sharm el Sheikh in 2006 on al-Tawhid wal Jihad on Bedouins in the Sinai with religious dispositions, security operations have focused on the Bedouins in Sinai. Thousands have been allegedly arrested, without proper reasons.

This story, although relative to the largest issues facing the middle east serves as an example, a microcosm, of larger issues that remain unresolved, or unreported, until a blogger or a community of bloggers decide enough is enough. As the Middle East struggles to swallow the United States plans for implementing democracy in the region, blogging remains to be one of the most intrinsic and organic forms of democratic action and debate and all types should be welcomed, if not recognized.