Often, it's the simple tools that matter... says Egyptian blogger

GOA, India

An ant, they say, can infuriate an elephant. That is, if the ant choose the right target, and goes into the elephant's ear. In the Egyptian world of technology, an 24-year-old engineer is doing the same by giving a voice to protest that's otherwise stifled in that part of the globe.
An ant, they say, can infuriate an elephant. That is, if the ant choose the right target, and goes into the elephant's ear. In the Egyptian world of technology, an 24-year-old engineer is doing the same by giving a voice to protest that's otherwise stifled in that part of the globe.

Alaa was recently arrested, and kept in jail for three fortnights! See this report The Independent of UK.

But others view his work differently, obviously! When they won an Reporters Sans Frontiers international "best of the blogs" prize, The International Freedom of Expression eXchange called this the Egyptian "blog that has become a key information source for the country's human rights and democratic reform movement."

"We use technology and the web a lot," says Alaa, about their campaigns against the Mubarak regime which has survived 25 years with "only mock elections".

So some of their campaigns helped political groups fight their low popularity and other problems. "Various groups were not communicating with each other. Out from the blue, a bunch of bloggers appeared, and started communicating with each other," he shared with us when we met up earlier this year.

They use RSS in Arabic and English and collect posts from each others' blogs. This builds "conversations" among earlier disconnected people. "Instead of protests with 70 people, we started seeing 400," he says. "My generation was earlier involved with politics only from the fringe."

Their campaigns made them realise that the "net is very important". They created websites for others. Used SMS to share the latest news. They also use mailing lists, and email.

Says their blog: "We also offer drupal based free hosting space and free aid in developing a website for any cause we find worthy or
interesting and for any speech that is censored or prosecuted in Egypt."

Getting a profile for their concerns -- even if only in an elitist cyberspace -- has also helped them get the message out. "Anything we publish there gets mentioned in Al Jazeera or the Christian Science Monitor," says Alaa.

But initially there was a hitch. Those leading the movement were new to this idea. Yet, these techies used their sites to influence the protest plans -- and make sure they didn't remain mild affairs restricted to middle-class areas.

They used the Inkscape software to create posters. An animation was created which was "very critical of the government and distributed via CDs"

.

Alaa feels that "simple technology" can make the difference.

For instance, RSS feeds, email and even SMS sent out manually. Using a variety of media, they help build campaigns which are not based just on the typical "we object"
statements. The ones that send everybody into yawn-mode!

"You can start a campaign on the net, but you still need to use the mass media. Using the international mass media could help protect you," he believes.

Egypt has 500 blogs. Which Alaa feels is "quite small" for a country with a 70 million population. Says he: "Iran has 100,000 bloggers!"

While some dismiss these technologies as elitist, Alaa notes that they can help cover "violence and torture not covered by the mainstream media".

In the real world, cybercampaigns are not separable from life, he argues. Some campaigns start on the web, but their ripples are felt elsewhere, the 24-year-old techie points out.

In a blog-post he wrote from jail Alaa said: "On the surface it wasn't as bad as I expected it to be, but on the other hand it doesn't feel like the transformative experience it is told to be. It didn't make me stronger, it didn't make me believe more in "the cause". I still fail to see myself as an activist let alone a freedom fighter or a monadel."

"Less than 5-10% of Egyptians access the web. The poor don't access it. But then, the majority of the people don't read leaflets either. So, start with the web, but don't stop there. Don't forget leaflets. You need all possible tools and all available channels," says he. "No one would have predicted that blogs would be such an effective channel."

No votes yet

Sign in to APC.org