Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

#NetFreedom in Syria, Between Sanctions and Censorship

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Free Syrian Internet - Image by Flickr user azraiman

A delegation of US tech companies and policymakers are visiting Syria today and holding a meeting with President Bashar Al Assad and high-ranking officials. The tech delegation (#techdel on Twitter, and “techdel” hereafter) came after coordination on high diplomatic levels and as a part of the Obama administration’s policy of engaging with Syria, according to William Burns, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.

A tweet by Alec Ross, the techdel’s leader, summed up the United States’ attitude towards the visit:

This trip to #Syria will test Syria’s willingness to engage more responsibly on issues of #netfreedom

Of course Net freedom is craved by Syrian users; Censorship is strict and many popular websites are blocked by the Syrian government (Facebook and YouTube to name a couple), and perceived cyber-dissidents have many a time received prison sentences ranging between 3-5 years in most cases. What the techdel seems oblivious to is how much the U.S. sanctions on Syria are complicit in further limiting internet freedoms for Syrian users. Jared Cohen, Member of Secretary Clinton’s Policy Planning Staff and a member of the delegation, tweeted:

Big gap between older & younger Syrians on challenges to business. Youth blame lack of education, not sanctions

Just to show how misguided that statement is, I’ll draw up a few comparisons between Syrian governmental censorship and U.S. imposed IT sanctions: Read the rest of this entry »


Putting Syria on the Map

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I have been doing some intensive cartography lately. Yes, I’m literally putting Syria on the map.

Going to college in Damascus was a frustrating experience for quite a long time. I did not know the city nearly as well as I should have. I didn’t live in the heart of Damascus, but 30 minutes by servees (a microbus used for commuting in Syria) on a good day. When meeting people in parts of the city that I did not know, I was often too stubborn or too ashamed to ask for directions or help getting somewhere. That always ended with me asking questions to people I’m more comfortable asking, but also less likely to be able to help me; or walking aimlessly and asking people in the street who were as clueless as I was. Going to a new theater or cultural center was always a process of finding out the address and the best way to get to and fro the designated activity location.

Well, not for long. Thanks to Google’s Map Maker, other location-recognition-impaired people won’t have to suffer like I did. I’m now one of a group of volunteer users, or citizen cartographers as Google likes to call them, who  have been drawing the entire map of Syria on Google Map Maker. We’re highlighting points of interest, businesses, streets, neighborhoods and just about everything in between. Eventually it will be available on a high quality, easy to search Google map that’s free to use for all people and platforms that have an active internet connection. There’s an intimidating learning curve to Map Maker; roads are hard to draw and they disappear after you first draw them because they need to be moderated before they show up. This means having to draw roads with no visual clues of your previous work. Drawing on water is a close analogy.

Read the rest of this entry »


World Day Against Cyber Censorship

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Today, March 12, is the World Day Against Cyber Censorship. Thus, it’s a perfect timing to finally pen down some of the ideas on the topic that I’ve intended to write for so long. Threatened Voices is a Global Voices Advocacy “collaborative mapping project to build a database of bloggers who have been threatened, arrested or killed for speaking out online and to draw attention to the campaigns to free them.”

As you can see from the map, Arabic speaking countries are a ‘hot area’ where many voices are threatened. I looked closely at the data to see what I can get out of it. My approach was to select a sample of the worst offenders and do a little comparison. I chose the following regimes for this mini-research project I did: Assad of Syria, Mubarak of Egypt, Ben Ali of Tunisia, Mohammed VI of Morocco, Saud of Saudi Arabia, Al Nahyan of UAE, and Sabah of Kuwait. Now wouldn’t it be interesting to see comparison between a regime’s years in power opposed to how many voices were threatened in those years? I thought so too and here’s what I found:

Voices Threatened vs. Years in Power*

Voices Threatened Vs Years in Power Read the rest of this entry »


Hamas, Hezbollah: A Change of Tone

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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 »


A Few Thoughts to Inaugurate my New Blog

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The Shorty Awards are unique awards for the Twitter community in several categories ranging between humor, entertainment, art, tech, politics, and many others. This year the politics category is on fire with Ali Abunimah becoming a finalist in the competition by popular vote. He basically swept the rug from under the feet of a racist Zionist spreading misinformation like a perfect propagandist tool while claiming to lead a “Jewish Internet Defense Force.” The problem is that David is blatantly racist, although he’s doing a poor job denying it; Most Jewish organizations/people are ignoring him or even outright shunning him. If you happen to have a twitter account and want to help Abunimah maintain his lead in the final round of votes you can go to the his shorty awards page and vote for him from there. Make sure you mention the reason you’re voting for him (e.g. because he supports equality and human rights.)

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I have been in the US for over seven months now. Sometimes a friend asks: “Do you miss Syria?” I always think about that and reply by saying that more than anything I miss the people (and sometimes the food). What makes a homeland is the people inhabiting it before the land itself. In a recent conversation with a Syrian friend whom I’ve never met, he was saying that he didn’t want to leave the country because he didn’t want to have to adapt to a new world and new people.  Distance is becoming more and more irrelevant everyday. People of different cultures are becoming less alienated with every click of a mouse in each forsaken corner of the world. The only real challenge that traveling entails is leaving behind those whom you care about the most; Language is acquirable. Cultural customs are a breeze to get used to. A job or an education are attainable. But how easy is it to brew an indifference towards those closest to you?

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To motivate myself into writing more than one post a month over here; I will start a series of posts about the different projects, websites, and organizations that I have been involved with to various degrees recently.

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I really wanted to include something about Syria in this post, so I looked at Syria-news for inspiration. I can’t say that the news have changed much: Corruption. Embezzlement. A vicious circle of useless talks with Western officials. Another honor killing. Another major traffic accident with dozens injured or dead. The Minister of Social Affairs and Labor, Diala el-Hajj Arif, is still an imbecile; I hate her with the heat of a thousand suns.

Things haven’t changed much.

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سَأعيشُ رَغْـمَ الـدَّاءِ والأَعـداءِ * كالنَّسْـر فـوقَ القِمَّـةِ الشَّمَّـاءِ
أرْنُو إلى الشَّمْسِ المُضِيئةِ هازِئاً * بالسُّحْبِ والأَمطـارِ والأَنواءِ
لا أرْمقُ الظِّلَّ الكئيـبَ ولا أرَى * مَا فـي قَـرارِ الهُـوَّةِ السَّــوداءِ

نشيد الجبار (هكذا غنّى بروميثيوس)،   أبو القاسم الشابّي


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

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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.