Given the fun historic events unfolding now in Egypt, many of us are dying to know more about what’s happening. Now, while Twitter is amazingly awesome, a stream of 140-character messages doesn’t really provide much context, and with Aljazeera’s operation in Egypt sort of broken, I’ve become increasingly annoyed, so I took matters into my own hands and called my friend in Cairo, the Egyptian blogger, Sandmonkey.
With the internet still mostly down there, it’s been difficult for him and many other Egyptian digital activists to get compelling perspectives and detailed contextualized information out.
Below is the recording of my revealing 20-minute interview with him.
Here’s what you’re going to learn from Sandmonkey’s perspective when you listen to it:
How protesters feel about the dwindling availability of basic resources and towards the military
What will probably happen if or when Mubarak steps down
Why Egyptian digital activists are dismissing the opposition’s committee
Why talk about the Muslim Brotherhood’s supposed involvement in the protests is greatly exaggerated
And a number of other things
Click play to stream and listen to the interview.
Please spread awareness about this interview, and share it on Facebook, and Twitter to help others learn more about what’s going on.
For years, after 9/11, some enlightened right-wing American pundits (in many ways similar to today’s Fox-Beck-Palin-Limbaugh fans and lovers), have offered a simplistic answer to the question:
“Why Do They Hate Us?”
And by “they,” they pretty much meant anti-US Arabs and Muslims lumped together with the 9/11 terrorists.
So what was the simplistic answer these genius pundits, and their like-minded friends, offered? Well, it was usually one of two brilliant assessments: “they hate us because of our freedoms” or “Islam!”
With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaching, and the United States’ wonderful reaction to the uprising in Egypt, it would be wise for all of us, global citizens who believe in cooperation, to revisit such assessments, demolish them, and replace them with ones that are actually grounded in facts and reality, and that more Americans must learn about.
And we need to do it in light of statements like this from influential people high up in the US government, in this case, from Vice President Joe Biden himself.
Asked if he would characterize Mubarak as a dictator Biden responded: “Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with – with Israel. … I would not refer to him as a dictator.”
Yup. Joe Biden refuses to refer to Mubarak as a dictator, and it’s not a surprise. His stance represents the overall and general position of the United States’ decades-long foreign policy towards the Arab world.
For years, America has supported many (but not all) oppressive and brutal Arab dictators, preferring to secure its regional geopolitical interests (and those of Israel’s of course) over the freedom and liberty of the Arab citizens it helps oppress.
Such images provoke a real sense of outrage as they should.
That’s why they, the protesters – the overwhelming majority of whom are not members of the Muslim Brotherhood – dislike you, and in some cases, hate you dear America. That’s why they’re outraged, and it is this kind of outrage that fuels the widespread anti-US sentiments in the Arab and Muslim worlds, which then groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamists exploit for their own gains and destructive ideological goals.
Now, speaking of Al-Qaeda, let us be crystal clear about something important.
If starting tomorrow, the United States stopped supporting the Israeli occupation and brutal Arab dictators, withdrew from Iraq and Afghanistan and basically stopped interfering and causing problems in Muslim countries, we would still end up with very tiny, albeit dangerous globally scattered groups, of radical militant Muslim fanatics motivated primarily by their wicked theology, and who hate America for her freedoms and her values. However, we must recognize that they will have a much harder time recruiting Muslims and radicalizing them.
Still, such groups must be combated everywhere and mercilessly crushed, which brings us to some critical distinctions that we must not fail to make.
Anti-Americanism in the Arab and Muslim worlds is neither uniform nor of the same type as too many right-wing American pundits make it seem.
The kind espoused by violent jihadist groups is far, far from anything like the much milder version you would find espoused by most Arabs and Muslims, and which is primarily caused and aggravated by various injustices of US foreign policy. Not theological reasons.
These are the sort of people who enjoy consuming American pop culture – music, movies, brands, products, etc., and would love to study and maybe even live in the United States, but revile the American political establishment, just as many strongly leftist Americans themselves do. One actually doubts if such sentiments qualify to be labeled “anti-US.”
But then we have various Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and their form of anti-Americanism, which isn’t as strong as Al-Qaeda’s, but is nonetheless troublesome, and not just for the United States, but also for every Arab and Muslim throughout the world who believes in human rights, freedom and liberty, and democracy.
It’s these guys who make things tricky, and whom Tunisians, Egyptians and all democracy-supporting Arabs need to watch out for.
After all, look at what happened in Sudan after we had our own popular uprising against the military dictatorship of Nimeiri in 1985. Here’s an old video featuring the action:
The gains of the uprising were squandered. Merely a few years later, the Islamists took power in a coup and brought us to our miserable situation today.
The gains of the Tunisian people must not be squandered. Islamists must be encouraged to give up their theocractic tendencies and to participate in the democratic process, but more importantly to uphold democratic principles and human rights.
How that can happen is a task for Tunisia to figure out and work on, and for the military to hopefully enforce. They might want to use this video in their efforts.
As for Egypt, there seems to be a wide consensus that the Egyptian military has very low tolerance for the Muslim Brotherhood, which is good news.
Ultimately, it seems like the status-quo might be beginning to crumble. Moreover, the American people now have a unique opportunity to pressure their government to do the right thing and to stand on the side of Arabs demanding their rights.
And even if Tunisians and Egyptians still haven’t figured out exactly who’s going to lead them or how, it shouldn’t stop us from supporting them.
Post-communist Eastern Europe didn’t have everything figured out. Post-apartheid South Africa didn’t have everything figured out. And post-dictatorship Tunisia doesn’t have everything figured out either, but they’re all better off. And while the possibility of Tunisian Islamists resurfacing is quite a worrisome one, it shouldn’t scare us or stop us.
Whatever happens, we, global citizens and netizens, Arabs, Muslims, Americans, and people everywhere, East and West, who believe in human rights and democracy, need to work together towards goals that are in our common interests, and that serve a higher purpose regardless of how idealistic or impossible this might seem.
Whoever could have predicted the overthrow of an “impossible” dictator like Ben Ali?
Tunisians have made the seemingly impossible, possible, and in this age of social media and the 24/7 news cycle, we all got to see it, and as a result, have become inspired by it.
So again, let’s work together, and do what we can.
Lastly, allow me to leave you with these two tweets from @Gsquare86.
And so it begins. Check out the updates Global Voices has here, and read my recent roundup, “Sudan: President Announces North Will Be Ruled By Islamic Law If South Separates,” here.
After a few days of voting, it looks like the expected results are pretty much in. Not surprisingly and understandably, the Southerners are very happy about this historic moment, and I’d like to congratulate them. They’ve endured hell at the hands of this regime, especially in its early NIF days when that scumbag known as Hassan al-Turabi, the man responsible for inviting and hosting Bin Laden in Sudan during the 90′s, was still in power.
Those days are now over, and they’re behind us in many ways. However, by the time the South formally proceeds to separate, those days might return again in a new form.
The Iranian protests of 2009. WikiLeaks. And nowthe unrest in Tunisia. It doesn’t take a genius to observe the very different ways the US government has reacted and is currently reacting to those events as part of its internet freedom policy, one which is pretty much part of its foreign policy.
If we as a nation truly believed in Internet freedom, then we would focus not only on those countries that might benefit us (a free Iran, a capitalist China) but on all of those nations where citizens are restricted from speaking out. We would loosen the export controls on Syria–not just Iran–to allow Syrian citizens access to communications and circumvention tools, and we would give our ally Tunisia–secular, egalitarian Tunisia–incentive to stop oppressing its citizens.
Although, as Brian Whitwalker observes, it might not be such a bad thing that Tunisia isn’t getting much attention from the United States and its media.
Now, on a related note, sadly, it looks like Tunisian activist and blogger, Slim Amamou, whom I personally know and had the pleasure of meeting in Beirut and chilling with, has been arrested by the Tunisian authorities for the horrible evil crime of peacefully expressing his views and advocating for freedom of speech.
Appelbaum is the public face of Tor Project, an organization that, by introducing intermediaries between computers, is used to prevent some of the world’s most repressive regimes from tracking activists’ movements online. Dissidents from China, Tunisia and a suspected high-level member of the Iranian military have used it to protect their identities.
While Appelbaum’s work for Tor has been substantial, more notorious is his extensive work for Wikileaks. “Jake has been a tireless promoter behind the scenes of our cause,” founder Julian Assange said.
I’ve had the fortune of being trained by Jake on how to properly use Tor and other anti-censorship and anonymity tools, twice so far at two separate events, and I certainly hope he can endure the crap he’s been facinglately.
The next days and weeks are going to be interesting for sure, especially as the US Department of Justice builds up its case against Assange, and the unrest hopefully continues in Tunisia and produces some fruitful results. Until then, many questions will remain unanswered, but one thing is for sure. America’s “Net Freedom” policy needs some serious uniformity.
UPDATE: It’s official. Dictator Ben Ali is bye bye. What a glorious, historic moment. What an inspiration. What a beautiful scene.
Like many others, I’ve been following the news closely, and while I am excited about the future prospects of something similar happening in other Arab countries, I remain cautious, because Tunisia is quite a unique case. Also, while social media played a significant role in what happened, it’s only a single factor amongst others, and it can’t take all the credit, or even most of it, as Ethan Zuckerman has explained.
Whatever happens after this, remains to be seen, but I do predict one thing. Governments in the region are going to start thinking about ways of controlling the internet more effectively to preempt any similar developments from taking place within their countries. Good luck to us netizens and bloggers.
Where YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are blocked. I arrived just in time for the New Year celebrations, and had a pretty damn good time with friends out here. I’m currently doing a little traveling around the country, and right now I’m at Shanghai. It’s a big, massive, fun city. I’ll write a thing or two later about my observations when if I have some time. Until then, happy new year everyone!
Location: Deep, deep down the orgasmic rabbit hole of epistemology.
The Bio of Awesomeness: Fundamentalist Muslim, turned hippie Sufi and fan of science. Total blogging junkie since 2006. Social entrepreneur and digital media and marketing consultant. Proud Sudanese and cultural nomad. Author of upcoming book on Islam and new media. Pro-democracy guitar-strumming activist. Loud and drop dead gorgeous. Fan of integral theory and spiral dynamics. Sarcastic Afro-Arab goofy genius. The High Priest of Mischief. Welcome. You've Been Warned! ;)
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