The Arab Spring - the Jasmine Revolution - the hashtag revolts - the uprisings in the Arab World: whatever you call them, they're ongoing and as long as they go on, their proponents and opponents use, and misuse, technology. Technology played a great role in communications between protesters in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and between those protesters and the global public; it was also the fulcrum for the efforts of the regimes to stay in power, such as shutting down their connections to the Internet. It retains both of those functions.
I asked people I know in the countries of the Arab Spring to tell us how they think things currently stand and what role technology continues to play there. This post is the first of three. Today we take a look at Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain. The next will cover Syria, Morocco and Yemen and the final post will examine the effects of the Arab Spring on a radically interconnected world.
Fabrice Epelboin is a French tech writer and entrepreneur who led ReadWriteWeb's France site. He has long been involved with Tunisian issues with a focus on technology. He recently launched, along with Tunisian partners, a citizen journalism site, Fhimt.com and is rolling out a number of Tunisia-based projects through a new NGO co-founded with Heykel Djerbi and Khelil Ben Osman called ATLN.info.
"Censorship has totally stopped until a few weeks ago, when a military court (the only legitimate court remaining in the country) decided to block half a dozen Facebook pages. More recently, a group of lawyers tried to push for a ban on porn, but the Internet authority, ATI, asked for a clear signal from the government.
"Slim Amamou, Bylasko, Aziz Amami and Lamia Slim (first two are former contributors to ReadWriteWeb France) started a tour in France where they were invited onto major TV shows and met with the press."
Ahmed Zidain is the Egyptian writer for MideastYouth and the crowdsourcing site CrowdVoice. He was involved in the protests and is keeping a close eye on the developing situation. He was kind enough to contributed an article on the revolution and the Internet to ReadWriteWeb in February.
"The image is very vague, to be honest. No one knows the exact dates of the forthcoming 'secret' general elections, or even the presidential elections. The Military Council infamously detains bloggers and invites activists and media personnel 'for a coffee.' This council is apolitical, and the (political) space is now open mostly for Islamists and extremists. One of the anti-militarist activists, Maikel Nabil, was sentenced to 3 years by a military court, because of an article published on his personal blog. And now he's serving his sentence in Marg Prison.
"One of the most famous Twitter trends among the elite is #NoSCAF. SCAF stands for the 'Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.' Activists are calling on Facebook for an open sit-in in Tahrir Square beginning on the 8th of July. Most of the bloggers and activists are calling for a civilian presidential council to rule Egypt out of the transition period, rather than the infamous SCAF.
"Tahrir is a major tourist-attraction now, more than the Giza Pyramids. We call it revotourism, or revojournalism, because a lot of tourists and journalists travel to Egypt specifically to cover Tahrir's events."
The Bahraini founder of CrowdVoice responded briefly. Not only is this person very busy with projects centering on the Web, but Bahrain is a difficult place to be right now. It is only the second country to see a blogger die in government custody.
"Censorship remains on the rise, and activists are increasingly cautious with their Internet activities and presence as people were tracked down and arrested for their tweets and Facebook messages.
"Our site has been censored in the country since the 17th of February merely for collecting information on the protests."
Are you Bahraini, Egyptian, Tunisian? What do you see in your present and future? What is the status of communications technology? What is its future in your country. If you've recently been in the country, or have heard from friends and family recently, please help add depth to our picture of the Arab Spring.
Stories fade from public view as the media (and that includes us) moves on to other issues. But this is such an epoch-making wave of change that we think it's important to keep on it and revisit it as we move forward. We need your help to do that.
Next time: Syria, Yemen, Morocco