Well, it has been some time since I blogged for the Patch and this time it isn't a joke.
Earlier this year I decided that I would try my luck with writing an essay and entering it in Amnesty International's annual essay competition. I emailed journalists, spiritual leaders, protestors, bloggers, and many other people from across the Middle East and northern Africa. The entire process of educating myself and corresponding with these people was pretty incredible, and I wanted first hand information to be the basis for my essay. However, when I realized the deadline was much closer than I had expected, I was scrambling to fit all my ideas in the restrictions given. I tried to make every word count, but upon submitting, it still was left with an overall feeling of, "Oh man, not my best work."
Fast forward to earlier this week. I am sitting in Western Civilization learning about the middle ages and my phone vibrates. I give a quick glance and see that i have an email, but i can only see a part of the title: "2011 Change our World Essay..." was all i saw. I signed out a pass immediatly to read it, and I came back to class trying to cover up an emormous smile.
I had just won second place.
I wanted to share with the people of the Patch and the blogging community my essay, to get some insight on what they think about my essay and to show off what to me is a very big deal. Enjoy reading and let me know what you think!
What is the significance of the popular uprisings for the Middle East/North Africa region and for the international human rights community? What is the role of young people and social media in mounting this challenge to so many established governments? And how should an organization like Amnesty International respond to this largely unforeseen development?
Mohamed Bouazizi never lived to see it, but on December 17, 2010, he changed the world. Like so many Tunisians at eight he became the sole provider of his family, selling vegetables on the street for a meager living. He worked so hard for so little until one day, he had enough. A policewoman stopped him, tossed aside his cart, fined him, slapped him, spit on his face, and then proceeded to insult his dead father. Bouazizi pleaded to the municipal office in Sidi Bouzid who refused to hear him. He returned an hour later, poured gas on himself, shouted “How do you expect me to make a living?” (TIME) and then lit a match. This match ignited the fuel of resentment for oppression that had existed in many countries waiting to explode. Throughout the Arab world social media organized people and demonstrations, and when dictators fought back Amnesty protected the rights of activists. The 23-year oppressive rule of President Ben Ali ended when he was forced to flee only ten days after Bouazizi’s death.
‘Kefayo!’ which means “Enough” in Arabic became word that represented the sentiments of people involved in the Arab Spring. However, if you had you been on the streets before December 17th you never would have known people felt this resentment toward authority, because being critical of the government was a crime. The internet was a different story. Facebook and Twitter were not moderated in the years before the revolution. In the words of Rasha Abdulla (The Revolution will be Tweeted), “The Revolution did not start January 2011. It began at least ten years earlier.” This is when the internet started to play a role in democracy. People suddenly had a way of expressing their thoughts and feelings without fear of prosecution. When protests started, social media became more than that. It became operation rooms, a center for mobilizing the people. When for example the Syrian government wouldn’t let foreign reporters in and began producing fake reports of protests, social media became an outlet to global media such as CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera seeking the truth. Youth groups, women’s rights groups, and many others that originated on Facebook now are starting to shape the three nations that have had success so far. It has only been a year.
This event has had an impact on the human rights community in hundreds of ways, but what was the most significant was revealed by Ausama Monajed an Advisor to the Syrian National Council who in an email told me, “Now that the youth have experienced and realized their ability to change their destinies and reform their surroundings, they will strive for more.” The youth also learned important components for success such as media attention. For the first time, the people of North Africa and the Middle East are playing a role in their own democracy by standing up and yelling, “Kefayo!” The modus operandi is challenged in many countries, and the regimes which have toppled give rays of hope to those who would simply vote. Organizations involvement such as Amnesty International play an essential role in supporting the people involved. Because he was jailed for calling for protests on Facebook, Jabbar Savalan’s case was promoted during the Global Write-a-thon. Protection of using the internet freely must be maintained for people to be mobilized, and for global media to obtain the truth. Internet without restriction has proven to be a quintessential tool for democracy.
“It’s impossible to answer. It varies greatly from country to country, and in each one the outcome is uncertain” wrote Noam Chomsky in a response to my question about what the result of the Arab Spring will be. The futures of these nations are being written, and are impossible to tell unless we become a part of the story. Social media has proven its importance to these nations as being tools for democracy. Amnesty International must support the people’s right to the internet and continue to fight for the freedom of those persecuted by it. This year has marked only the beginning of a long struggle that will test not only the Middle East and North Africa but the entire world. As citizens of the world we must not let our brothers and sisters go through injustice alone. We must be one world, one group that will yell together, “Kefayo!”
25, January. "The Revolution Will Be Tweeted." The American University in Cairo. The Cairo Review. Web. 13 Dec. 2011. <http:>.</http:>
Abouzeid, Rania. "Tunisia: How Mohammed Bouazizi Sparked a Revolution - TIME." Breaking News, Analysis, Politics, Blogs, News Photos, Video, Tech Reviews - TIME.com. TIME, 21 Jan. 2011. Web. 13 Dec. 2011. <http:>.</http:>
Chomsky, Noam. "RE: Looking for Insight on the Arab Spring." Message to the author. 11 Dec. 2011. E-mail.
Monajed, Ausama. "RE:." Message to the author. 7 Dec. 2011. E-mail.
Word count of essay: 726
Thanks for reading!