To truly begin to understand the significance of the 3rd Arab Bloggers Meeting that just took place in Tunisia, you first have to make yourself familiar with what happened two years ago in December 2009 during the 2nd Arab Bloggers Meeting in Beirut.
Back then, in the words of the late Steve “Abdulfattah” Jobs, we were “the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently.”
We were crazy enough to think we could change the world. Crazy enough to think we could change things in our societies, some things, anything. But as crazy as we were, I don’t think any of us imagined in 2009 that we’d be meeting again in the capital of what then used to be one of the most Internet-restricting dictatorships on the planet.
Fast-forward nearly two years later and that’s precisely what happened. We met in Tunisia, and a lot has indeed changed. So much in fact that it took us all by surprise. And you know what? It’s one of the best damn feelings anyone can experience.
It’s one hell of a powerful validation, because we now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that our collective efforts were not in vain. The risks many Arab bloggers and digital activists have taken and in some cases paid a hefty price for were worth it. They played a critical role in mobilizing the masses and in amplifying the events with the assistance of international media, especially Al Jazeera. This is why we’re vowing to continue in whatever shape or form, big or small, direct or indirect.
Critics can say whatever they want. Yes, there are daunting challenges ahead in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Yes, the stories coming out of countries like Bahrain and Syria are heartbreaking. Yes, periphery Arab countries like Mauritania and Sudan haven’t even erupted adequately as they should, and yes not every single hated dictator in the region is going to fall. At least, not anytime soon.
In fact, in some countries, things might have to get “worse” before they get better. The Arab world after all is not a monolith. Anyone with half a brain and some knowledge about the region knows that different Arab countries face different complex circumstances.
Nonetheless, the regional psychological shift from victimhood and apathy to entitlement and self-empowerment is unstoppable. It has ended over 40 years of political stagnation, and it’s here to stay. Especially in the era of the digital age, more freely flowing information and a time of rapidly changing demographics and evolving belief systems. The psychological shift is only bound to grow and continue.
And the way I see it, we, optimistic netizens and digital activists have to feed it with more fuel along with education on entrepreneurship, human rights and what democracy and good governance entail. Because every optimistic, aware and self-empowered citizen is one less person suffering from victimhood/apathy syndrome, and hence an additional thorn in the side of dictatorial regimes whose survival at best relies on keeping the masses hopeless and ignorant, and at worst, massacring them with tanks and aerial bombardments. Dealing with the former is a battle we can win, but dealing with the latter is proving to be a nightmare in Syria. Still, that’s only more reason to continue and increase needed efforts, not decrease them.
Those are my feelings and the general feelings of fellow comrades, old ones as well as new ones whom I was happy to meet and become friends with in Tunisia. Friends who are diverse in terms of ideologies and political stances, but heartily united by an impassioned impulse to speak up and tell our stories freely. United by a belief in democratic values and dreams of a better Arab world. One in which citizens are free and treated with dignity and respect. (And certainly one in which Palestinians aren’t denied entry visas to Arab countries in such appalling discriminatory manners).
I could go into numerous details about some of what happened behind the scenes during the meeting in Tunisia, but I won’t, because many others have already, and because I don’t think the details are as relevant as the psychological shift. It is the underlying factor that caused these historic events, and which the 3rd Arab Bloggers Meeting will inevitably contribute to strengthening.
As for me personally and what I experienced, in short, I now feel more empowered than ever. I’ve got more clarity. I’ve got more focus. I’ve got perspective. I also realize that Sudanese netizens have a lot to catch up on and do. The good news is, it’s never too late. The great news is, there’s now finally a lot of potential and promising online activity in forums, Facebook and Twitter.
Someone just has to encourage self-organized curation of that important agitation on an open online platform created by Sudanese for Sudanese and also for the international media. Enter VoicesofSudan.com, to be launched soon before the end of 2011.
I now have the support, strategy, and network to make it happen step-by-step gradually, but surely. #AB11 gave me the missing ingredients. It has been a valuable experience, as I’m sure it has been to my fellow comrades too.
And over the next year, you’re going to witness my conscious transformation from a sociopolitical blogger into a writer, activist, and digital entrepreneur. Yup, 2012 is going to be fun.
What about you? What are you going to do?
“Think different.” (Do different).
Peace and love,
Amir – Grateful #AB11 Participant.