Archive for the ‘Media Monitoring’ Category

Fragment: The Audacity of.. Reform

No Comments »
Note: the article below is an incomplete fragment. It was written on April 16th; the day President Assad gave his second speech. I was interrupted before finishing it and it has remained a draft ever since. It lacks links, sources, fact/grammar checking. I publish it as is. Please do NOT quote elsewhere.

au·dac·i·ty/ôˈdasitē/Noun

1. The willingness to take bold risks: “her audacity came in handy during our most recent emergency”.
2. Rude or disrespectful behavior; impudence: “she had the audacity to pick up the receiver and ask me to hang up”.

I watched Al Assad’s second speech today, to the newly formed cabinet. The main change: he did not laugh. It’s hard to laugh when people are tearing your pictures apart and destroying statues of your late father and setting them on fire.

He opened by talking of conspiracy theories and infiltrators. Not too promising. There was definitely a change of tone from the previous speech and not interruptions with poetry or parroting chants like what happened at the parliament. However, removing status law is still going to take another couple of weeks. I expect it to be announced on a Thursday.

Algeria(?) lifted their emergency laws promptly after some protests. But in Syria we still need sometime. Time we can’t afford. We have a constitution, be it faulty as it is, so why does it need weeks just to be reinstated?

Giving hundreds of thousands of Kurds citizenship, and even the thought of  establishing a Parliamentary committee to study removing the emergency law were red lines. It was unthinkable that anyone would dare discuss them openly in the public sphere.

It took a few weeks of protests by– if you were to believe the Syrian official line– “infiltrators;” “conspirators;” “agents of Bandar, Hariri, Israel, and the US,” and trained foreign nationals to push the regime to announce that they’re going to give Syrians some of their basic rights back.

Assad talked audaciously for an hour about reform. I’ll leave it to you dear reader to choose which meaning of the word applies here. Meanwhile thousands of people are rotting in jails for committing though crimes against the “beloved leader”  and motherland. Convicted felons, thieves, frauds, and the average thug are released in hours with a .frequent presidential pardon. Bigmouths aren’t so lucky.

Adding insult to injury, Assad talked about ensuring citizens’ dignity, on day after his security forces tied down every man in Al Baida village in Baniyas for daring to protest. Heavily armed thugs gleefully walked all over the men tied down like cattle, frequently kicking them in the head and face and beating them with sticks.

Of course, the speech did not leave out political reform. Assad talked about improving life standards, supporting the drought impoverished  Eastern provinces, improving transparency in the public sector and economic processes as a whole. There was no mention of the economic titans–or Economic Bulldozers as they prefer– of Assad’s close circle, Makhlouf and Shalash, who have been treating the Syrian Economy as their personal trust fund for decades. A promising start indeed.

After the speech, some of my fellow Syrians were optimistic, hopeful, excited even with all the seemingly serious promises and apparent change in tone. I wonder how those promises are in anyway more serious than similar promises from Assad in 2000, or his promises two weeks ago that had a fair share of blood chilling jokes and chuckles as blood of Syrians were coloring the streets red.

For the time being, I’m going to hold on to my skepticism and cynicism. Studies show that cynics are more bitter than the average person, but also have a firmer grasp of reality. To my fellow Syrians that took the redpill and set themselves free I say: I’m forever humbled by your bravery and persistence. I’m honored to be your compatriot and had the pleasure of knowing some of you whether in person or online.

 


Spam Bots Flooding Twitter to Drown Info About #Syria Protests [Updated]

15 Comments »

Defining The Issues

People following the #Syria hash tag on Twitter in the recent weeks to track the developments of the Syrian protests and the deadly governmental crackdown on peaceful protesters must have noticed two major annoyances:

First was the proliferation of what tweeps dubbed as the “twitter eggs,” a group of newly created and mostly image-less twitter accounts that cussed out, verbally assaulted, and threatened anyone tweeting favorably about the ongoing protests, or criticizing the regime. Those accounts were believed to be manned by Syrian Mokhabarat[intelligence] agents with poor command of both written Arabic and English, and an endless arsenal of bile and insults. Several twitter users created lists to make it easier for the rest to track and report those accounts for spam. Here are a couple of examples.

Second, which is more damaging, is the creation of various spam accounts that mainly target #Syria hash tag; flooding it with predetermined set of tweets– every few minutes–about varied topics such as photography, old Syrian sport scores, links to Syrian comedy shows, pro-regime news, and threats against a long list of tweeps who expressed their support of the protests.

Identifying The Cause

At first I thought this was a badly timed annoyance, and several users were already reporting those abusive accounts. However, a couple of users apparently discovered some foul play. The parody account @SyrianPresident tweeted:

Stop it mukhabarat Twitter is not #Bashar’s spam machine! > @TheLovelySyria #Syria #Homs #Aleppo #Damascus #Lebanon http://is.gd/Plii1Z

and @syrianrebels responded:

@SyrianPresident it’s a company in Syria that send automated msgs, a dedicated owner they use server of @eghna check website #Syria branch

I went to investigate the Bahrain based Eghna Developement and Support*, which among other things provides “political campaign solutions.” I searched for any affiliation with Syria, and sure enough, one of the main suspected #Syria spam accounts was featured in their success stories page.

Eghna claims that “LovelySyria is using EGHNA Media Server to promote intersting photography about Syria using their twitter accounts. EGHNA Media Server helped Lovely Syria get attention to the beauty of Syria, and build a community of people who love the country and admire its beauty.” The only problem with that claim is that the lovelysyria.com website is only a Drupal login page void of content. There’s no way of creating a new user account, and therefore any claims of fostering a community are false.

Read the rest of this entry »


Syrian Hackers Deface the Website of Brown County, Ohio

9 Comments »

Syria-News today reported that Syrian Hackers defaced the website of Brown County, Ohio. Below you’ll find a screen grab of the page that was still defaced at the time of writing this post. The hackers went by the names The Pro, SaQeR SyRia, and boy-25 and identified themselves as being from the Occupied Golan Heights.

Screen capture of Brown County website, accessed 10:00 am EST, Feb 16, 2011

The hackers did not list any demands apart from apparently bringing attention to the Golan Heights which Israel invaded in 1967 and annexed later completely ignoring International Law and UN resolutions. Unfortunately Brown County was punished for a crime it didn’t commit. Hacking is in no way acceptable. Surely you can’t hope to solve major regional geopolitical problems by hacking websites of an innocent county in north-eastern US. The hack seems to have happened some time ago, at least it’s been long enough for Google spiders to index it:

Screen capture of Brown County Ohio Google search, accessed 10:30 am EST, Feb 16, 2011

Syrian reactions to the news were divided between cheering the hackers on and berating them. Below are some translations of comments left on the afore-mentioned Syria-news article:

Susu: You’re a master, keep on hacking other Israeli and American websites!

Rami: What an achievement! People show off scientific discoveries and inventions and you go about hacking American websites? I don’t know what to say… you’re leaving us with no friends

blah: Bravo! make them hate us more!

Huda: The road to hell is paved with good intentions. This is a stupid operation that is surely to backfire. What’s the use? Is it just to show off? Does inserting the Quran help Islam or harms it? […] I believe this is an operation to link Syria to Islamist terrorism.

Mahmoud: DUMB TERRORIST! Do you know what you’re doing? Do you realize that you’re acting like Al Qaeda? Do you know that you’re linking Syria to Al Qaeda  when you abuse the Quran and use it in your operation? Oh my God how will we make you understand?

Hacking governmental website has become a common occurrence in Syria recently. Youth have repeatedly hacked the websites of ministries and universities as they view it their only way to get their demands across to the government. The demands varied between asking for a better education, protesting unemployment, and frequent power outages. Sometimes, their only target was to point out security flaws in these websites suggesting that the government should invest some more in protecting its online presence.


Syrian Telecom Minister: The answer is raising awareness, not censorship

No Comments »

Imad Saboni, Syrian Telecom Minister

According to Sada Souria, Syrian Telecom Minister, Imad Saboni, said in a recent lecture at Tishreen University that he personally believes that “effectively raising awareness of the dangers of the internet is the answer, not blocking websites.” Saboni alluded to the ban on GPS devices in Syria that was reversed lately after being in effect for so long. He said that GPS is finally allowed after endless controversy and that it’s now actually used on Civic Administration motor-vehicles. Of course the Minister did not miss the opportunity to launch in ill-informed statement saying that all countries block websites. While that might apply to a few dozen countries, the vast majority of the world does not censor the internet.

The latest statements reflect a conflict between the old guard and more pragmatic officials who see that the censorship policy simply does not work, that the pros of allowing new technologies has a greater positive impact on development than any imagined negative effects that might have on the stability of the political system in the country.   It’s worth mentioning  that in the early days of internet in Syria you had to have a police or intelligence officer look over your shoulder while you surfed the web at Al Assad Library in the heart of Damascus. Before that, satellite TV was banned as well. I remember laughing when my high school history teacher told us that radios were banned in Yemen for fear of foreign influence. Well, I’m not laughing now.

The Minister was clear that what he said was his own personal views, and that the current policies are in effect because it’s perceived that the internet is more of a danger than phone and mobile networks. I don’t want to read much into what he said, but there are hints of a change of policy that might be coming, just like with every other technology that was blocked partially or fully in the country.

Syria currently blocks dozens of websites including some major blogging platforms and social networks, along with humanitarian and political websites. However, circumvention has become common knowledge for a large swath of the tech savvy youth and thus is available to a majority of users. The government is aware of this, but the sporadic nature of online censorship means that very few websites were ever unlocked in Syria due to having too many parties involved in the process. Will other websites soon be free just like Wikipedia Arabic that was blocked for a while and then unblocked? One can only hope.


Collateral Murder: Just Another Day On Iraqi Streets

4 Comments »

WikiLeaks has released today a classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad — including two Reuters news staff. I can’t begin to describe how I felt watching that video, listening to the nonchalant exchange between US soldiers over the radio while they indiscriminately mowed down over a dozen Iraqis; more than half of them were unarmed. Some were shot attempting to aid the wounded. Two of them were children sitting in a van. You can, and you should, watch as much as you possibly can of the video (disturbing content) before going on to read the rest of this post. You can also find the overview page of the Collateral Murder video here.

Have you watched the video? Now here’s the official U.S. army statement in 2007 as it was reported by the New York Times:

The American military said in a statement late Thursday that 11 people had been killed: nine insurgents and two civilians. According to the statement, American troops were conducting a raid when they were hit by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The American troops called in reinforcements and attack helicopters. In the ensuing fight, the statement said, the two Reuters employees and nine insurgents were killed.

“There is no question that coalition forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force,” said Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, a spokesman for the multinational forces in Baghdad.

Nice cover up, No? Weddady explains on twitter how this could happen: “NYT is only as good as their sources when reporting on unseen events. US military sources –> US military official line.” I wouldn’t expect the army to behave any differently; Armies protect their own no matter what. Disgusting, but not uncommon. Defendants of the soldier’s actions are saying that the Iraqis had guns and what appears to be RPGs. Jacob Appelbaum clears things out a bit saying “When I was on northern Iraq in 2005: I had a camera over my shoulder, and a guard with an AK-47. This is very common in Iraq.” I also have to add that RPGs used by the insurgents are anti-tank weapons and not a ground-to-air weapon. Trying to hit an Apache with these is similar to trying to kill a flying wasp with a slingshot. Suspecting the journalist’s camera to be an RPG which is quite an outrageous mistake to make and still does not hold as an excuse for the trigger-happy soldier operating that 30mm machine gun. Read more about how they’re actually used in Iraq here.

Read the rest of this entry »


Hamas, Hezbollah: A Change of Tone

8 Comments »

Thanks to a Syrian tweet bot, I keep on top of everything that’s said about the country in the Twittersphere. And Today I came across a rather interesting AP article: Netanyahu: Israel open to peace talks with Syria. What caught my attention was not the doublespeak of an Israeli official about peace with Syria. Israelis have expressed no interested in returning the occupied Golan to Syria; To them, Syria has nothing to offer in return. Peace in their logic, is overrated. A simple search in prominent Israeli media shows how prevalent that opinion is.

I was especially interested in the particular use of words in the article. I quote:

It has been a quarter-century since Israel and Syria fought directly, but Syria backs anti-Israel forces like the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamic organization Hamas. Israel’s sworn enemy Iran backs Hamas and Hezbollah.

In this article, Hamas and Hezbollah were not referred to as.. *gasp* “terrorist organizations.” Now I was not able to determine if this was an AP policy not to refer to them as such outside of a direct quote, or whether there’s more to the matter. I’m going to layout a few happenings, and let the readers come out with their own conspiracy theories.

Read the rest of this entry »


Welcome to Hell: Mohammed Omer

5 Comments »

Photo by Anas Qtiesh

I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by the brilliant Palestinian journalist and photographer Mohammed Omer which was properly named Welcome to Hell. He demonstrated the the situation in Gaza, the Israeli war crimes, and his experience as a journalist working under the Israeli occupation in Gaza and the abuses and assault he was subjected to by Israeli soldiers.

Omer shocked an awed the audience with striking photos and videos almost never seen by a “western citizen” and he recounted tales of horror of families killed; homes demolished over the heads of its residents; children risking their lives to go to a bombed house looking for a bicycle, or to see whether their favorite school bag survived; and elderly women cooking grass to survive. Needless to say that’s all a result of the Israeli siege on Gaza that has been going on for years now while the international community stands silently on the sidelines.

What really amazed me was his talk about the fluffy names of Israeli operations in Gaza: Rainbow; Summer Rain; and, if I remember correctly, Plucking Flowers where Israeli soldiers would walk around randomly shooting civilians (children included) point-blank.

Looking at Omer’s Wikipedia page you’ll find out that “in 2008, Omer was awarded the 2007 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. In the award citation, Omer was honored as ‘the voice of the voiceless’ and his reports were described as a ‘humane record of the injustice imposed on a community forgotten by much of the world.'”

On his return to Gaza after winning the award, he was assaulted by Israeli Soldier’s at Allenby Bridge and received severe bodily injuries including broken ribs and spine damage. He is still receiving treatment for these injuries till this day. But that’s not the worst of his problems: in 2003 his 17 year-old  brother was killed by sniper bullets as he was going to school. Three years later his mother sustained severe injuries as she jumped out of a house window to escape with her life as an Israeli Army bulldozer was tearing down their 2-story house with no prior warning. Almost all of his younger siblings were injured by the Israeli army at one time or another.

After all he went through, he stood at Harvard advocating a nonviolent approach to end the suffering in Gaza. He asked the people to spread the message and pressure their congressmen to cease blind preferential treatment for Israel. He pointed out a small yet significant progress: The Congress condemned the Goldstone report as biased with a vote of 344 to 36. While the aggression were taking place the Congress overwhelmingly voted against condemning Israeli actions with only 2 in opposition. This counted as a success to a slowly, yet steadily, growing BDS Movement (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) against Israeli occupation.

Mohammed Omer will go on with his tour before going to the Netherlands to resume medical treatment for the aforementioned injuries. His work is available on his website: http://www.rafahtoday.org .


For Fuckin' Fuck's Sake! Cut it Out!

26 Comments »

Karim Arbaji has just been sentenced to three years in prison for defending human rights in Syria. Meanwhile, the Syrian blogosphere is bustling with posts advocating admirable and worthy campaigns. There’s the astounding campaign against masturbation, the noble Blogging Week for Moral Decay, and the enlightening campaign for Blogging Against Fossilized Thinking.

The background of this story is this post by Abu Fares, a response ridiculing the infamous call for a campaign against masturbation. The commentators on that post eventually came up with their own ideas for  random blogging campaigns. In essence to further mock that blogger, and the perceived religious bloggers he’s associated with.

I have to say that upon reading about the anti-masturbation campaign I cracked up. Also, I posted about it on Global Voices, sans-sarcasm. Some people were amused by the idea and tweeted the link of the article and a friend of mine wrote to me saying that the campaigner is likely to have a crowd supporting his campaign that you could fit in a phone booth. So, many people find – me included – that idea outrageous, But does that warrant the ridicule of the blogger? Does that make it ok to put aside all the great words and thoughts I’ve seen many Syrian bloggers write on each of their blogs to combine forces to fight this supposed “common enemy” called religiousness?

Read the rest of this entry »


Newsweek Article Suggests Appointing Bush as U.S. Mideast Envoy

8 Comments »
United States of America President George W. B...

Image via Wikipedia

Gregory Levey suggested in the Newsweek today that President Obama should appoint George W. Bush as his Mideast envoy to gain the trust of Israelis in order achieve the American “wish list” with the Israeli Government. The “full-court press” wishes are the following:

They want Israel to stop expanding settlements; to stop building Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem; and for hawks in the government to chill out while the U.S. is negotiating with Iran.

So Mr. Levey suggests that the U.S. needs to acquire Israeli trust in order to stop the illegal settlements, illegal Judaization of Jerusalem, and to have Israeli permission to have talks with Iran. The absurdity of his suggestion is only matched by a fact he mentions to justify his outrageous suggestion:

In the history of U.S.-Israel relations, probably no president has earned adoration and unequivocal trust from Israel like Bush.

It strikes me that the U.S. President that was considered by the rest of the world as the worst (and most stupid) U.S president in history was the most popular among the Israelis. His achievements were: dragging the U.S. into two pointless wars and promoting anti-American sentiment in the world like never before, and right before his second term was over he practically destroyed the American economy to the extent they had to borrow astronomical sums of money from CHINA to keep the economy going. Of course he was rewarded by a flood of jokes on his expense by late night comedy shows and a sewage plant that was honorably named after him.

Yet of course:, Levey continues with another gem:

During the Bush years, Israelis were consistently among the few foreign populations that gave the American president high approval marks—often in far greater proportion than Americans themselves.

It appears, according to Levey, that the measure of a good American president is how much the Israelis love him, regardless of the catastrophes he brings onto the very people who elected him. After all, voters are dismissible once the elections are won. A better alternative would be that Bush becomes the  honorary Israeli president since he has unprecedented approval rates there and they’re practically fawning over him, although I’m sure the trend would be reversed if this were really to happen . This alternative suggestion, though absurd, is a much superior solution to the Middle East problems than Mr. Levey’s well-thought-well-written plan.


Pepsi Max: 0 Sugar, tasteless ad

4 Comments »

Sitting in one of Damascus’s infamous Microbuses (locally known as Servees), A Pepsi Max ad plays on the radio. It goes like this:

Buyer: Give me Pepsi Max.
Shopkeeper: It has no sugar.
B: I know, but it has all the taste.
SP (in dullest most stupid voice imaginable): but it has no sugar.
B: I know! but it has all the tase, why would I want sugar? GIVE ME PEPSI MAX I TELL YOU!

I don’t know what the guys who created this astounding ad were thinking, but what I inferred from the ad was that those who sell Pepsi Max just don’t get it, and those who buy it are douche bags. Excellent selling point.

That said, the Syrian Advertisement industry is largely a national embarrassment. The examples are just too many. but to be fair, every once in a while an advertising agency does come up with ideas that are pure genius, fun, and original. Yet the trend is largely finding a great song or piece of classical music and butcher it by turning it to a bubble gum song or a floor cleaner brand. Ask any Syrian whether they know the Lavicera musical piece, you will be surprised.

Anyways, you would expect an multinational mega-corp like Pepsi with a huge advertisement budget to actually come up with ads that don’t suck. I guess Syrian advertising is still a guaranteed way for a company to shoot themselves in the foot.