Arab Media Forum

16 Apr, '06

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I’ve been invited to be on one of the panels of the forthcoming Arab Media Forum organised by the Dubai Press Club starting on April 26th in Dubai. I’ll join a panel to be chaired by Aneesa Al-Sharif. With me on the panel will be Dr. Emad Al-Bashir (Lebanon), Wael Abbas (Egypt) and Dr. Umaima Ahmed (Algeria).

We will be discussing very interesting topics, including:

  • Although there is an increase in the freedoms of expression (in the region), the Arab bloggers remain an unknown entity.
  • Is there any impact by blogs and bloggers on public opinion and on the local press?
  • The impact of blogging and bloggers on Arab freedoms of speech policies
  • Women bloggers, presence and impact

If you’re around, please look me up!

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Comments (13)

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  1. nibaq says:

    One blog in Kuwait that has really taken off especially since the whole succession issue is ساحة الصفاة.

    In terms of public opinion in Kuwait this is a major news source on the on going background politics of Kuwait and have resources and abilities that even news papers don’t have.

    More times than I recall hearing other bloggers mentioning their parents/uncles/aunts referencing the blog. Even just earlier today one of my uncles was asking about the site from my father.

    In terms of us being an unknown entity. I just have to look at blogs around the world and even the US. The conventional media and even regular people are not sure what to make of blogs. For the word blog can either be about someone’s daily life, or their personal commentary on the weather, or even political situations. Cause at the end of the day it is still a personal commentary on their views.

    The best way and I believe the only way to look at blogs and their influences as well as a zeitgeist of that country is to look at a week or month’s worth of aggregated feeds. For if you see a repeated topic come up regularly from many sources than that is affecting the country as a whole.

    At the end of the day in my opinion what people write about. It is all content that is going to be indexed and searched. Cause the truth is that blogs will not change the world, people do.

  2. Ibn says:

    For some time now, I have been pondering what the best way of bringing reformation to the Arab nations is.

    Although there are certainly many many rights that are violated in the Arab world, I think they one that we should fight for is the right to Free Speech.

    In my opinion, all other rights will come from there. As long as people are free to talk, exchange information and have transperancy, people will be willing to do something about it, and motivations will be stirred.

    Concentration on the right to free speech should probably be number one, since it is only from it, that OTHER rights violations can be brought to light, which will in turn motivate change. The tactic here is that although there are many types of rights violations, one still has to “pick his battles” wisely, and this particular one would seem to open the gates of further improvement.

    Plus, fighting for the right to free speech is probably the one that has the least religious connotations: In fact, we could use it to our advantage: We have the RIGHT to know what every muttawa is doing, what every Imam is preaching, and what every government official is saying.

    I just had a brainstorm. You know what, forget the right to free speech. Lets start with something simpler, and less active, but more passive:

    Fight for the “right to know”. The right to know is not active, it is passive, since you have effectively said that I want the right of my ears to hear, rather than my mouth to speak. We could use the same justifications as before – one religious argument one could use for example would be:

    “Allah created all of us as equals, so we have the right to know what our rulers are doing since they are equal to us.” Something along those lines perhaps. That would be for the religious populus. Secular arguments are easier to make, and we could, in so many words say: “We DEMAND to KNOW what you are doing, since we want to raise our kids properly, we are concerned about infiltrations, blah blah, etc”.

    The next step after that would be to fight for the right to free speech.
    Thinking aloud here.

    -Ibn

  3. mahmood says:

    Nibaq, I love Sahat Al-Safat. It’s on my daily visit list!

    I agree that it is people who change their situation rather than the internet or papers, however, the saying that the pen is mightier than the sword is not without merit. And this blogging (phenomenon : I hate this description because it supposes that blogging is a temporary thing and will just disappear as a flash in the pan) is exposing popular thoughts without being put through an official mincing machine for international consumption. It does have an effect and impacts decision makers all over the world… so much so that Reuters have signed up with Global Voices for instance to include some blog-posts/responses to global events as an indication of local feeling for a large event. That gives blogging a bit more legitimacy than previously assumed.

  4. mahmood says:

    Ibn you raise two very thorny issues:

    1. freedom of speech, and
    2. freedom of access to information

    both of which were restricted for centuries from the normal person in any of our countries of the Middle East and Muslim world, simply because with their restriction, you prolong the life of corruption and despotic regimes.

    These regimes (since Sept 11 especially) under international pressure and the realisation by the international powers that under these (restrictive) conditions terrorism and its support infrastructure actually bloom quite happily, put pressure on our despotic regimes in order for them to open up… or perish by probably telling them that their support will be withdrawn and they will be left high and dry to fend for themselves.

    In Bahrain we have had a push/pull relationship where these basic human rights were TAKEN (for want of better word) by the people, especially the younger generation, rather than them being granted and these freedoms have flourished, judging by what appears on the Letters to the Editor pages in all national papers especially, and of course on the various fora which dot the Bahraini internet space.

    The parliament – ironically – was and is the main machine to the acquiescence for the introductions of various laws which – if adopted – could limit these freedoms.

    The bellwether test is coming up tomorrow actually as parliament is scheduled to finally debate the Press & Publications Law which will supersede that infamous Law 47 of 2002 which restricted these freedoms appreciably and placed jail terms on matters of expression of opinion by journalists.

    Just yesterday for instance, the editor of a weekly magazine (don’t know which yet and would appreciate feedback) has been fined by the court for “using words contrary to public norms in an article she published” and got BD300 in fine for her troubles. It would be really interesting to find out more information about this incident.

    But at least she didn’t end up in jail.

    Times are a-changin’

  5. Ibn says:

    Mahmood,

    It is certainly going to be a long and hard course to take. From my position on the hill, us Arab reformers must choose our battles wisely. My battleplan essentially calls for a concerted, focused and very well articulated demand to allow for the Arab populace, the unequivocal freedom of speech.

    I say concerted and focused because I think that garuanteeing our freedom of speech is by far the-most-important right we can fight for, and not only that, but it is the catalyst for further change.

    Let me illustrate:
    Take two rights violations:
    a) Restriction of freedom of speech.
    b) The banning of women to drive in Saudi Arabia.

    Suppose I took up issue (b), and decided to make a fuss about this particular rights violation, that women are not allowed to drive, that its unthinkable, blah blah blah. Now suppose, that I win this, and that Saudi decides to let women drive…well, thats great, but its a deadend.

    Suppose instead that I took up issue (a), without touching on issue (b) at all. I fight for the unfettered freedom to speak my mind, anytime, anywhere, about anything, so long as no threats are made. I do not even touch on the women’s issue. I do not touch on corruption. I do not touch on terrorism, and I do not touch on muttawas gone wild.

    If the fight for (a) is successfull, then further change can be prompted from there, as I have now secured the means to free speech, now we can talk about womens rights, terrorism, muttawas, mosque and state, etc etc etc.

    Again, thinking aloud here.

    Thanks for the insight into the Bahraini parliamentary system by the way. I hope the upcoming session works out fine.

    -Ibn

  6. mahmood says:

    Very true… and that freedom should not be fettered as our parliament wants it to be: they want to amend the penal code in a way that if anyone “denigrates the parliament” then s/he should be imprisoned!

    And the press law is being discussed today in which I fully expect them to penalise anyone denigrating the king, parliament, defence forces, police, religion, or any other “cultural norms” and be rewarded with prison if one does so….

    Doesn’t sound much like freedom of expression does it?

  7. jasra jedi says:

    Ibn,

    As a woman, I would fight for the right to drive before I fought for freedom of speech.

  8. Jinny says:

    Jasra: Why the drive?

  9. Jinny says:

    Mahmood: I’ll be at the conference and hope to meet you there! BTW, what does it mean when I open up someone’s blog, it’s still loading, I start to read, and then, bam, everything disappears but the template? As a matter of fact, that happened several times when I was trying to open yours, a few months ago. Same with Relilgious Policeman.

  10. mahmood says:

    Looking forward to meeting you Jinny.

    Scary about the problem loading sites and I have no idea what it could be specifically as the variables are far too many (browser problem, coding standard used for the blogging software, plugins installed in your browser, operating system, cache mechanism, etc.)

    I would shy away from “CIA”-type stories as those to me are far too far fetched!

  11. Ibn says:

    Jasra Jedi,

    As a woman, I would fight for the right to drive before I fought for freedom of speech

    Understandable. It is an affront that affects 50% of a country’s citizenry. I just used the woman-driving issue as an example, but that does not take away from its magnitude of course.

    I think fighting for freedom of speech first a more tactically sound decision if a ruckus is indeed to be made in the first place, since it opens up other means for further change. Although you are right of course, both rights have the same weight in being wrong. They are both affronts to our freedoms.

    I actually wanted to attend a “conference” once where some Islamic leaders were talking about the “justifications” for (forced or not) female circumsision, since females shouldnt get aroused. Because as we all know, female arousal causes many of society’s ills. I thought it would be funny if me, a man, walked in and said: “Not a bad idea! Maybe us men should also cut our balls off since when we get aroused, we are usually the ones who do all the raping! Which one of you humble Islamic Imams would want to volunteer first?”

    🙂

    -Ibn

  12. Nawab of Kabab says:

    Still a long way to go, mates. Met some academic types and professor types at a dinner this weekend, and few knew what blogs are all about. If the alleged intelligentsia have no clue about all that’s going on in blogistan, then, how on earth are we expect to shake things up anyway???

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