Seventeen Arab activists, including myself and Alaa Sayegh representing SMEX, met in the ever-charming city of Amman for a weekend of presentations, conversations, and workshops hosted by 7iber, a Jordanian citizen media collective, and supported by 7amleh, a Palestinian citizen media collective, and the American Friends Service Committee. The conference—tweets were aggregated with the hashtag #ASM2014—grouped several Arab organizations active in social media and was organized and facilitated by Rasha Hilwi and Nadim Nashif from 7amleh.
We started the #ASM2014 conference with a tribute to computer engineer, open data advocate, and founder of the Arab Digital Expression Foundation Ali Shaath, who passed away in December. We observed a moment of silence while listening to his reading (Arabic) of Rabindranath Tagore’s “Where the Mind is Without Fear”:
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
And it was in the spirit of open and free knowledge that we started the conference. The organizations, by order of appearance, were as follow:
- 7amleh from Palestine presented by Manar Yacub and Minem Marouf. 7amleh was created 6 months ago in Haifa and is dedicated to raising awareness on topics ranging from democratic rights and freedoms of expression to racism, sectarianism and other social issues as well as defending Palestinian identity. Yacub gave a general overview of 7amleh’s activities and gave a few examples such as the “Speak Palestinian” campaign. Twitter and Facebook.
- 7iber from Jordan, presented by Ramsey George. 7iber was founded in 2007 and has since become a leading regional citizen media platform. Ramsey covered 7iber’s activities from past to present and introduced the “7assoun” project, the online platform for independent voices in Jordan. Among the examples of 7iber’s work that were presented was the documentary on how Syrian refugees have benefitted the Jordanian economy. Twitter and Facebook.
- SMEX from Lebanon presented by myself and Alaa Sayegh. We introduced SMEX to those who weren’t familiar with our work as well as the Tasharuk and Nethawwal project. In addition, I gave the example of the Lebanon-based “I Am Not a Martyr” campaign and the blood donation NGO “Donner Sang Compter” as case studies of how Lebanese civil society is responding to the on-going series of explosions. Twitter and Facebook.
- Aramram from Jordan presented by Jumana Mustafa. Aramram was the first independent Arab online television and has since dedicated itself to tackling social, economical and environmental issues that are not always covered by the mainstream media. Twitter and Facebook.
- Ta3bir from Tunisia presented by Rafik Omrani and Mehdi Mnakbi. Ta3bir is dedicated to encouraging artistic expression in favor of social causes. One of its well-known projects is “Temoin Oculair” (visual witness) which aims, among other things, to give voice to victims of torture during Ben Ali’s dictatorship. Twitter and Facebook.
- The Uprising of Women in the Arab World presented by Farah Barqawi. The Uprising is the most influential group dedicated to the empowerment of women regardless of religion and ethnicity. One notable story Farah shared is how women from very conservative societies such as Saudi Arabia and Yemen were among those who shared their stories. Twitter and Facebook.
- Radio SouriaLi from Syria presented by Iyad Kallas and Caroline Ayoub. With over 110,000 followers on Facebook, it is one of the leading independent voices from within Syria focusing on human rights and various socio-cultural issues. It is also present as an online radio as well as a mobile app. Twitter and Facebook.
- Kharabeesh from Jordan presented by Wael Attili. Kharabeesh produces Arabic-language animated cartoons, music videos and talk shows that generally tackle political issues in the Arab World. Twitter and Facebook.
Having had a full day of work, we ended our day in the hope that our respective interests would concretize into interesting projects. The next day, we had a full day of workshops and discussions on how to use the resources we possess in our favor. In the end, we all agreed to join our forces to create something that would benefit the Arab world at large.
So this is just the beginning. Stay tuned.