Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Tunisia”

Gaza and Facebook Pt. 2

This post follows on from Monday’s post regarding the progression of the Internet in Gaza,  a politically ravaged and poor country which has a huge proportion of its population under the age of thirty.

Dr. Saidam - the Palestinian Mr. IT.

The image that Gaza is a technologically backward country is wrong according to Dr. Sabri Saidam. Gaza has the largest number of Facebook users in the world per capita and (also per capita) the largest number of video conferencing in the world is also in the Palestinian territories. “The legislative council used to meet through video conferencing in the West Bank and Gaza,” says Saidam.

“There were medical exams conducted over the Internet. My mother, who lives in Gaza, has a heart problem. She comes to Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem for treatment. And in so many cases, she was refused permission to go back to Gaza after treatment. That’s one of the reasons I was trying to promote Internet treatment so people wouldn’t have to travel. People take it for granted because the culture of IT is so embedded in society, but there are economic hardships that prevent people from acquiring technology, even though 94 percent use cell phones.”

Saidam has worked hard to teach about social media and the Internet. He launched an initiative to encourage those who use the Internet to teach their parents, as well as stay-at-home mothers, to use the computer and to surf the Internet. He also hosts a radio program in which he advises listeners about what should not be publicized on Facebook. If they surf in other countries, he tells them, they need to bear in mind that their boss has the ability to surf their page. He also warns that the Shin Bet, Israel’s security service, can monitor them as well.

This is no idol scaremongering as Saidam is keenly aware that it is Israeli companies who provide Palestinian telecommunication services. “This is a prime source of intelligence for the Shabak [Shin Bet], Mossad and whatever,” he says. “Everybody here publishes his or her beliefs and opinions and pictures and family news – everything. I tell them: You are the owner of the information. Whatever you are hesitant about – don’t release it.”

Saidam is frustrated that Palestinian politicians seem apprehensive about utilizing the Internet because they have no control over those who surf it. “But then they came to realize that it’s something that is totally out of the censorship scissors, nobody can gag anybody else, it’s a free world.”

The now infamous Third Intifada Facebook page that was closed by Facebook because it was inciting violence, Saidam points out, was created in Lebanon – not in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. However, once the page was closed this served only to excite young Palestinians who opened several more such pages and websites.

Internet communication has led to a number of peace initiatives that are coordinated between activists from all countries in the region. Whether this leads to more peaceful initiatives or a third Intifada remains to be seen.

Whichever way it turns, the potential for information to flow strengthens the hope that people on both sides of the conflict will have the ability to make more informed choices and possibly form low-barrier connections with those on the other side.

The Internet may yet hold the key to peace. But first, we need to ensure that as many people as possible are using it.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Gaza and Facebook Part 1

When you think of Gaza, many images come to mind: poverty, Muslim fundamentalism, frustration, unemployment, Facebook. Facebook? Yes, the Palestinians in Gaza, for all their challenges, are online and connecting.

Dr. Sabri Saidam, a former member of the Palestinian Authority government began getting involved in politics at the not so young age of 34. He was immediately appointed minister of communications and information technology and became known as “Mr. Technology.”

“Coming from the IT field, I can tell you honestly that I’ve always felt as if I were carving in stone – getting computers or talking about e-government in Palestine was mission impossible,” he says in an interview with Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper. “Now all the politicians are meeting bloggers and talking to them. There was no party interested in these people until the events in Tunisia and Egypt. They were considered to be time-wasters, kids.”

Saidam now works in Washington for the Aspen Institute where he continues to promote entrepreneurship among young Palestinians. “All of a sudden, everybody wants to know and have a private session to talk about Facebook and how they can open an account,” he says.

Saidam estimates that half of Palestinian households in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have computers and about 30% are connected to the Internet. As we saw in Egypt and Tunisia, however, this does not include cell phone connectivity.

“When the demonstrations started in Tunisia, there were 600,000 Palestinian Facebook users, and 200,000 of them were posting about politics. Each one of these 200,000 Facebook users is influencing five people around him. We’re talking about over a million Palestinians over the age of 18. In terms of population size, that’s 33 percent. In Egypt, that would be 28 million Egyptians, but there it took only 2,890 bloggers and computer activists to do what was done. The moral of the story is that there is a critical mass of Palestinians waiting to see how things are going to swing.”

Saidam believes that access to a wider discussion group and opinions will broaden the political debate within Gaza and include the younger generation, who make up the majority of the population in Gaza. “But there is no Palestinian Wael Ghonim [the young Google marketing executive who became a symbol of the revolution] . . . It’s the issue of getting bored of the fact that they see leaders who existed for dozens of years. They don’t want any leaders.”

It was the younger generation of Palestinians who marched on March 15 demanding an end to the conflict between Hamas and Fatah. This prompted President Abbas to decide he would go to Gaza and flesh out the subsequent agreement.

“The young people felt they had some influence on the decision,” says Saidam. “And I am telling my peers that they should not only passively listen but allow young blood to flow into the decision making of the parties.”

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

A Jasmine Revolution?

My previous two posts about a Chinese revolution quickly focused in on human rights infringements. As the world’s biggest country watched events unfold in the Middle East, journalists, activists, and other human rights defenders braced themselves for the inevitable crackdown. Radio Free Asia claims that a greater presence of security and surveillance are being observed as China approaches the approach of the 22nd anniversary. Increasing numbers of plain-clothes policemen (how plain-clothed are they if they are so easily identifiable?) not only around the square but in the suburbs surrounding Beijing.

                                                                                       Liang Haiyi

Many people have been detained in recent months facing charges of “inciting subversion. One of the first activists who is clearly connected to trying to raise a “Jasmine Revolution” is Liang Haiyi. Inspired by the regime changes in Egypt and Tunisia, Liang has reposted information from dissident websites hosted outside China regarding plans to protest in China, and has been arrested for her efforts.

One of the people trying to help Liang is Wang Dan, the exiled leader of the 1989 Tiananmen student protests who along with Amnesty International is trying to help free her.

Wang Dan making his famous speech in 1989

China is one of the greatest nations in the history of civilization. I am not personally convinced that China must embrace democracy. There are many aspects of a one-party system that might be advantageous over our political system. But if China really believes in the principles it stands for, then it shouldn’t be afraid of a minority dissenting.

Throwing someone in jail is the action of a frightened oligarchy clinging to power. China deserves better leadership.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

A Chinese Spring?

I am intrigued by Chinaand have blogged about it many times. So I was excited to read an article by in the New York Times on a topic that has crossed my mind. How is the Arab Spring going to impact the world’s largest non democracy?

One of the most lucid social commentators today.

 

Now I am not a China-hater, far from it. There are many things we can learn from them. But my biggest bone of contention lies in the basic right of freedom. As a teenager I came of age politically with the anti-Apartheid movement and the campaign to free Jews from the Soviet Union.

With this in mind, I do wonder whether China, a country with extensive Internet resources can remain unaffected by the Arab Spring. warns that China cannot ignore the lessons of what factors serve as incubators to 21st Century revolutions or how these rebellions are being played out.

“Let’s start with the new. Sometime around the year 2000, the world achieved a very high level of connectivity, virtually flattening the global economic playing field. This web of connectivity was built on the diffusion of personal computers, fiber-optic cable, the Internet and Web servers. What this platform did was to make Boston and Beijing or Detroit and Damascus next-door neighbors. It brought some two billion people into a global conversation.”

The world is connected

The rise of  smarter cellphones, wireless bandwidth and social networks has brought a further two billion people into the conversation and these populations are often living in remote areas.

All this means is that the days when traditional forms of mass communication such as state-run TV and radio could ensure the people hear only the official party lines are over. “The Syrians can’t shut off their cellphone networks now any more than they can shut off their electricity grids.”

illustrates this by  pointing out that although Syria has banned all foreign TV networks, you only need go to YouTube and  search for “Dara’a” in order to see clear up-to-the minute video of the Syrian regime’s crackdown. These videos are all filmed using cellphones or flip-cams by Syrian protesters who upload them to YouTube.

Internet Police cannot be everywhere in this mobile world

  second lesson from the Arab Spring is “a manifestation of “Carlson’s Law,” posited by Curtis Carlson, the C.E.O. of SRI International, in Silicon Valley, which states that: “In a world where so many people now have access to education and cheap tools of innovation, innovation that happens from the bottom up tends to be chaotic but smart. Innovation that happens from the top down tends to be orderly but dumb.” As a result, says Carlson, the sweet spot for innovation today is “moving down,” closer to the people, not up, because all the people together are smarter than anyone alone and all the people now have the tools to invent and collaborate.

The regime of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was just too dumb and slow to manage the unrest. The Tahrir revolutionaries were smart but chaotic, and without leadership. Therefore, the role of leaders today — of companies and countries — is to inspire, empower, enable and then edit and meld all that innovation coming from the bottom up. But that requires more freedom for the bottom.”

While reading this, I began to get frustrated that was focusing too much on technology which essentially is a means rather than an end. But he then moves on to quote the Russian historian Leon Aron who drew comparisons between the Arab uprisings and the democratic revolution in Russia twenty years ago. “They were both not so much about freedom or food as about “dignity.” They each grew out of a deep desire by people to run their own lives and to be treated as “citizens” — with both obligations and rights that the state cannot just give and take by whim.”

Aron added that “The spark that lights the fuse is always the quest for dignity. Today’s technology just makes the fire much more difficult to put out.”

In fact the slogan of the Tunisian uprising was “Dignity before bread.”

China has one of  the fastest growing economies and a standard of living that is probably greatly appreciated by Chinese citizens. But there is more to life than just economic factors. If a Chinese Spring is to be avoided, the first step forward is to acknowledge that maybe the Chinese people crave the values that have seen an amazing chain of events in the Arab world.

The first mistake would be to think that you can prevent them from hearing what is happening globally. The days when the Great Wall of China was its first line of defense does not have a place in the 21st Century. Not that it always takes technology…

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Palestine next?

With the world’s eyes focused on Libya, one string of events last week went under the radar. Led primarily by students, peaceful demonstrations were held throughout the West Bank. Most exciting, they began in Gaza, where mainly young people demanded that Fatah and Hamas stop the internal war and join together to build a state for Palestinians.

Last Week's Unity Demonstrations

Hamas violently seized control of Gaza, publicly executing and murdering Fatah employees and civilians. Fatah, in return, has cracked down on Hamas supporters in the West Bank. The violence and denial of basic human rights for those who support openly one side or the other, is bad enough.

But it has repercussions beyond their own border. Israelis, even the most left-wing, admit that they cannot imagine negotiating a final settlement with one side without the agreement of the other. Any comprehensive peace agreement would include an implicit agreement to cease violence and the destruction of the other people. With both countries so small,  everything is of strategic significance. The stability of a Palestinian government is vital to any validity of a peace agreement. Not everyone in Israel agrees with this, however.

Last Week's Unity Demonstrations

 

The world should pay more attention, offer more encouragement, and help bring about the stability of a Palestinian government. It is probably the biggest obstruction to final negotiations. The Palestinian youth should be praised for their resilience and their vision. It is encouraging to know that true peace partners are out there on the streets.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Post Navigation

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: