Archive for January 2011

March for Egyptian Democracy in Washington

29 January 2011

A demonstration that began in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Washington today became a march to the White House, with 400-500 demonstrators processing down Connecticut Avenue chanting in English and Arabic, calling on Hosni Mubarak and the rest of the Egyptian leadership to yield to Egyptians’ demands for democracy. I cut together a few photos and a recording of the march into the video below:

(more…)



What Should Obama Say About Egypt?

28 January 2011

In the past few days, the Obama Administration has begun to feel as though it is on the wrong side of history in Egypt. It’s becoming impossible to imagine how President Mubarak can stay in power without a truly brutal crackdown, and by continuing to give credence to him as a ruler, instead of calling upon him to step aside, the U.S. is putting itself on the side of the oppressors. The State Department is surely engaging aggressively behind the scenes in ways that cannot be made public, and it’s encouraging to hear that the U.S. government will “review” its support for Mubarak’s regime. But all the same, public statements that don’t voice support for the democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people serve to support the regime.

Likely the best case scenario we can hope for– both for the U.S. and for Egyptians– is for Mubarak to step aside, and the military to assume control of the country until free elections can be held and a democratic government can take power. If free elections were held, the Muslim Brotherhood would likely be part of any ruling coalition, and Egypt’s peace with Israel could be called into question. Clearly, this is potentially problematic for the U.S. government, but the problems presented by failing to voice support for a democratic movement in Egypt are just as, if not more significant. (more…)



Paper Release & Webinar: ICT in Mexican Civil Society

20 January 2011

Today, I’m proud to release a new paper entitled “Information and Communication Technology in Mexican Civil Society.” It’s based on the research Ana and I did in Oaxaca and Mexico City back in the fall, and is an overview of how the people, movements and organizations that make up civil society in Mexico have adopted new technologies including mobile phones and social media to facilitate and improve the effectiveness of their work.

The best part is a series of case studies represending the most effective tech-based initiatives of the past several years. The paper is available in both English and Spanish. If you’re interested, I will host a webinar tomorrow, Friday, January 21, at 12:30pm EST to offer an overview of the paper’s findings and answer questions. Please RSVP to receive webinar instructions.

As a taste, here’s an excerpt from one of the fascinating projects I profile in the report: a blogging platform for women called “Mujeres Construyendo.” While not strictly “civil society,” as it’s set up as a for-profit endeavor, MC lives in the space of social entrepreneurship, somewhere between the business world and the nonprofit/civil society world. It’s a great example of a project that leverages the power of the global network to address a specific gap in civil discourse:

“Mujeres Construyendo” is a blogging platform for Spanish-speaking women, created by Claudia Calvin Venero to address a “digital glass ceiling” she observed in Mexico. Venero has recruited over 350 contributors from all over the Spanish-speaking world, encouraging them to engage online, and teaching them the necessary skills; now, their writing covers issues ranging from international politics to the trials of being a mother. Over 4,000 women around the world are in the network of Mujeres Construyendo, many of whom have taken courses taught by Venero. Her courses touch on a range of women’s issues, but the message to her students is always the same: they must overcome the “culture of silence” that keeps many Latin women from engaging in public dialogue, and recognize that the internet is a powerful space to raise their voices about the issues that affect their lives. Next year, she’ll be offering a course exclusively for female legislators in Mexico, making them more aware of the “self-marginalization” of women, and encouraging them to raise their own voices online and in government.

Mujeres Construyendo is one of a handful of emerging online platforms for engaged citizens to share their ideas and experiences, and participate in public dialogue. ”Revolución con Letras” is another: without the specific focus on women and women’s issues, the site welcomes posts from citizens about social issues, and allows readers to identify the best, most useful articles. Sites like these are an important development for the engagement of Mexican civil society online, as they give platforms for even those people unaffiliated with any organization and without sophisticated technological skills to engage in public dialogue online. For the internet to successfully become a “second public sphere” in Mexico, sites like these will be essential.

I hope you enjoy the report!



No “Twitter Revolution,” But a Connected Revolution in Tunisia

18 January 2011

When Mohamed Bouazizi lit himself on fire in front of a government building after being robbed and slapped around by the local police, his desperate and tragic act sparked a tinderbox of anger and resentment against the Tunisian state. As news of Bouazizi’s self-immolation spread, so too did a nationwide wave of protests, and on Friday, longtime dictator Ben Ali fled the country.

With most Western media looking elsewhere, and journalists in Tunisia sharply censored, Twitter became one of the only sources of information about what has come to be called the “Jasmine Revolution.” Among the protesters, Facebook and YouTube allowed them to share stories, videos, and encouragement, while e-mail, text messaging, and other social media were among the ways that Tunisians communicated, rallied, and coordinated their movement. (more…)



Protests in Tunisia Threaten to Topple Dictatorship

13 January 2011

You might not know it from the coverage of the American media, but there are protests going on in Tunisia right now that threaten to topple the authoritarian government that has ruled there for more than half a century. A bit less than a month ago, a young man named Mohamed Bouazizi lit himself on fire in protest over his mistreatment at the hands of Tunisia’s brutally repressive police. His act awoke a latent anger among the Tunisian people over both the government’s repression and economic prosperity that has not been widely shared– despite 5% GDP growth in recent years, unemployment is well into the double-digits, and away from the prosperous coast, Tunisia’s interior remains underdeveloped. 

Ben Ali, Tunisia’s current leader, has cracked down on the protests, and shut down the state-controlled media, but the protests continue, confirmed by reports that have snuck past the country’s censors via social media, while mobile phone videos illustrate the violence that has led to at least 35 deaths. The use of new media seemed to catch the government off-guard at first, they have caught on quickly. In a release yesterday, the Committee to Protect Journalists described Tunisia as the “undisputed leader” of online repression in the Maghreb:

According to CPJ’s analysis, the country’s state-owned Internet bandwidth provider, the Tunisian Internet Agency has been spying on and interfering with its customers’ access to private e-mail and social networking sites, including Facebook, Gmail, and Yahoo. Individuals have reported that these sites’ pages have either been blocked entirely, or been manipulated to include malicious code that collects private usernames and passwords and then relays them to the agency. The accounts of bloggers and journalists have subsequently been broken into using these stolen credentials, and content and accounts deleted, including Facebook pages administrated by local journalists as well as the account of local online video journalist Haythem El Mekki.

Bloggers and journalists have been detained and imprisoned, and while Facebook remains online and available as the only remianing tool for video sharing, it’s likely that the government is watching online activitiy and taking advantage of Facebook’s social graph to identify and surveil protestors. While new technologies are undoubdedly providing powerful new tools to protestors, Tunisia’s government also finds itself with valuable new information and methods at its fingertips. The NY Times reports today that protestors have overwhelmed police in one coastal city near the capital. It’s hard to imagine such a long-standing dictatorship falling so quickly, but it’s becoming harder to ignore the extraordinary sacrifices of ordinary Tunisians in the streets.