Final Blog Post: Arab Media, Culture, and Politics this Semester

Before this semester, I had never posted on a blog before and I knew very little about the Arab world. With that said, I have since learned a lot about Arab culture, society, and technology and media in the region. I think everyone should take a media class like this before they graduate and I’m glad I had the opportunity to. Posting blog entries kept me up to date with news on Arab media and culture all semester. In doing this, I realized that media is one of the most positive aspects of Arab culture portrayed in the news. From my classmates’ posts, I began to see that technology and social media is what can develop the Arab world into a more positive place for its people. Many of the stories posted showed examples of how media is helping people throughout the Arab world to learn and express themselves freely – an opportunity they didn’t previously have. I also read many stories that demonstrated how media has been used to fight for justice and new ways it is being used to do this. The blog posts told stories of how Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and all forms of technology are being used in new innovative ways to unite the Arab region, as well as the world.

While many of the posts were about how media is enabling the arab world to learn, express, and share ideas and beliefs, there were also many posts about conflict and controversy. Some of the conflict itself centered around the use of online media by journalists and activists, while others simply used online media to show controversy occurring in the region. Like always, with push for societal change comes new problems and conflicts. However, now, unlike any other time before, people of the Arab world have the tools to stand up for their rights and the rights of others, as we have seen in many of the blog posts.

Much of the conflict and controversy we saw in blog posts this semester was from government in the Arab world. Countless blogs this semester centered around the government trying to constrain the freedoms of its people. There has been violence, cruelty, and human rights violations against the people of the Arab world that we only know about because of social media and technology. Thanks to social media and the internet, those events have been broadcasted on a global scale where those in the wrong can be held accountable for their actions. Stories of the many journalists who were wrongfully imprisoned, and activists who were brutalized for standing up for their beliefs, were not forgotten but instead shared and remembered. Instead of being silenced, their stories were heard.

Often, in mainstream American media, we only see protest and riots – but not the reasoning behind it. Through this blog, I have seen, as I’m sure my classmates have as well, that the majority of violence in the Arab world is in fact based on ideas we support: freedom, justice, and equality.

With that said, the final theme I saw in blog posts this semester was the importance of representation in media. How Americans portray Arabs, how Arabs portray Americans, how Arabs portray government officials, how opinions are portrayed, and many other examples, are all important in media and important in relationships. Our relationship with the Arab world, our relationship with Arab Americans, the Arab citizens’ relationship with their government, and freedom in the Arab world – depend on interpretations. True to life portrayals in the media are what journalism is about and will lead to good relationships. Though, this semester I learned that, in my opinion, there truly is no such thing as unbiased journalism. There will always be some aspect of media in society that someone is not happy with. But, thats ok when we trust that media gives us the opportunity to respond, discuss, counter and debate freely.


Cyber Security Taught in UAE Schools

In the UAE, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), United Arab Emirates Computer Emergency Response Team (aeCERT) and the Ministry of Education (MoE), is running a program to boost cyber security awareness among students at all stages of education. The initiative trained nearly 500 teachers of grades 1 to 12 from every emirate on IT security practice and includes online activities, fun games, guides, presentations, lectures and case studies.

The curriculum content covers many different aspects of cyber security including cyber threats, ethics of computer use, information security, password protection, phishing security protocols, secure browser use, and correct use of content sharing on social media, avoiding copyright infringement.

Mohamed Ahmad Al-Qamzi, TRA chairman said “Cyber security is a critical element to ensure the sustainable development of our nation’s knowledge economy. Such security relies on the knowledge and vigilance of the public at large, and educating our youth is one critical element in building this robust knowledge base”

The UAE has high hopes that “from students, this knowledge passes to families and friends, enabling us to reach every home in the UAE.”

Cyber security, online safety, and caution online are surely important, especially for young children. It could have exponential implications on the Arab World for upcoming generations to be educated on IT and the cyber world as young as 1st grade. This program, or at least the idea behind it, may inspire other parts of the world to follow in its footsteps. Even in the United States, things like cyber-bullying and online safety are important lessons that need to be taught to children at a young age. Elementary aged children have Facebooks – and even before that most have some sort of presence online even if just through a photo posted of them, etc… How young is too young to be on social media? Should public schools be teaching computer safety? IT? Security? This program is like all social media in the Arab world in that it will continue to motivate not just the people of the region, but people all over the world – raise questions, and spark debate.

Arab Youth Trusts Social Media

The Khaleej Times published an article from the UAE articulating results of the ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey showing many Arab youths now trust social media more than their local newspaper.

Newspapers, radio, and magazines are losing readers rapidly to social media and online sources. The poll found that almost 60% now get their news online, up from 51% in 2012 and 42% in 2011. One third of all surveyed cited Social Media in particular as their primary news source, up from 20% last year and 0% the year before.

This raises concerns about transparency online especialy considering 26% believe non-media websites are the most trusted form of news, and 22% trusting social media the most — almost triple the number the year before. These sites don’t having the same transparency, editorial policy or accountability expected of news outlets.

So, is there a need for more transparency in social media? online in general?

Jeremy Galbraith, CEO of Burson-Marsteller Europe, Middle East and Africa, said “Who are these bloggers and tweeters? At the moment, it’s just about being received, but I think in the longer term, these people will look at these sources with more concern.” He also makes a valid point to “keep this Internet trend in perspective — although they use the web to read news, what they’re really doing is listening to music, sending emails, downloading music, online gaming…” Reading news was actually sixth on the list of the top eight activities done online.

The question of transparency is not just a question for the Arab world but a question for the world at large as well. And, realistically, it all comes down to regulation and restrictions. How can social media be monitored? What sites can we trust to give unbiased information? How can we restrict misleading information on the internet without restricting peoples’ rights? Where is the fine virtual line between fact and opinion? 

Arab Media: “Obama The Sycophant”

Arab media has been criticizing President Obama for his speech on Thursday in Jerusalem where he spoke before hundreds of students asking them to push politicians towards the path of peace. An article by Al Quds Al Arabi, a pan-Arab newspaper, reported Obama identified with the suffering of the Palestinian people and emphasized his threats toward Iran and Syria. Specifically the article criticized his warmness to the Israeli public calling him a sycophant (a servile self-seeker who attempts to win favor by flattering influential people.)

Atwan, Editor-in-chief himself, wrote “I have never in my life seen a president who toadies to the Israelis so much and seeks to please them; who gives their achievements and history as much praise as US President Barack Obama. He promises the Palestinians a state and pleads with Israelis to put themselves in their (the Palestinians) place.” The article expresses Arabs’ disappointment stating, “We mistakenly expected that this man, because of the color of his skin and his association with a group that suffered from decades of persecution, the man who spoke with bitterness of racism towards his ancestors in Chicago…we expected something different from him something closer to understanding our nation’s pain under the Zionist occupation, but he disappointed us.” Atwan admitted Obama surprised the Arab world when “he demanded that Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state and entreated with Arabs to normalize relations with Israel, telling those who deny its right to exist that their denial is like denying the earth and the sky… We don’t know why Obama used these words and why he was so shamefully obsequious – Israel is the one who threatens our existence and denying our rights.”

Many other Arab media sources expressed similar views. Al Hayat’s headline pointed out the difference of opinion between the US government and senior Palestinian officials: “Obama is frustrating the Palestinians and fawning over Israelis.” Alarabiya addressed the Syrian angle of the speech: “Obama threatens Hezbollah and Assad from Jerusalem… He (Obama) called on Israelis to consider Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and called on Assad to resign.” Al Jazeera took a softer route, titling their article “Obama calls on Arabs to normalize relations with Israel.”

In his speech Obama said, “Every country that values justice should call Hizbullah what it truly is — a terrorist organization.” This was apparently a dig at the European Union, who declined to put the group on their list of terrorist movements. Hizbullah responded saying, “Obama is a full partner in the enemy’s crimes and is trying to place conditions for Arabs to accept the enemy as a purely Jewish state in the region… Obama spoke as if he worked for the Zionist entity rather than as the most senior official in an independent country.”

Lebanon’s Al Akhbar newspaper’s headline read “Obama calls on Palestinians to recognize the Jewish country … and described Hezbollah as a terror group. Obama obeys Israel’s authority.” The article went on to claim: “The president’s stance is not surprising … he refuses to see the occupation from the ground and chooses instead to come to Ramallah by helicopter. Yet young Palestinians fulfilled their duty in occupied Jerusalem when they shouted out the facts.”

The Arab world has gained technology and freedoms through the media revolution – but that does not necessarily mean they have gained a new outlook. With technology must come development. Social media, blogs, and online articles allow ideas to be spread much quicker than ever before, but it does not make them evolve. In this case, social media allowed President Obama’s ideas to reach a much wider audience than just the Jerusalem students and allowed Arabs to express their opinions of it to the world. However, with that said, while Obama might have made a call to peace – he definitely didn’t make any friends in the Arab media… or possibly in the Arab world….

Al Bayan: Obama demands more from Palestinians

Al Bayan: Obama demands more from Palestinians

Al Jazeera: Obama sympathizes with Israel, gives aid

Al Jazeera: Obama sympathizes with Israel, gives aid

Obama hugs Israel at Arab world's expense

Obama hugs Israel at Arab world’s expense

Al Quds Al Arabi

Al Quds Al Arabi

El Hayat: Obama goes sightseeing

El Hayat: Obama goes sightseeing

Story of Jewish Egyptian Girl Denounced in Arab Media

Dina Ovadia

An article posted to the Israel Defense Forces blog over Passover has been denounced in the Arab media. The article was about a young woman, Dina Ovadia, who had been born and raised in Egypt without knowing she was Jewish and her journey to Israel where she is now in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). Her family kept her Jewish identity from her in fear of reprisal. Her family was later kicked out of Egypt when it was discovered that they had a connection to a member of the IDF.

In her story she recounted when her home was invaded and her family was told they had “a few days to get out of the country, and that in the meantime they could not leave their home. They threatened that if the children went to school, they would be kidnapped.” She recalls “Salafists would encircle the house in their vehicles, shooting into the air. That month even the school didn’t call. I slept with my mother – I was terribly afraid. My father told me that they are just thieves despite the fact that they didn’t take anything. ‘Jew’ was really a kind of swear word, he said; but I couldn’t believe him.”

Dina works in the Spokesperson’s Unit at the IMF. She believes her job “is about getting the Arab world to truly accept her.” For example, in Operation Pillar of Defense, she believes they had a great impact because they wrote on the various platforms that the IDF doesn’t want to harm civilians and “there were people in the Arab world who listened and were convinced. We get comments and messages from across the Arab world; from Saudi Arabia, from Egypt, and from further afield.”

Despite some opinions changing in the Arab world, Rashid Shaheen, who writes for the Arabic Media Internet Network, expressed his intolerant view of the article, denouncing it completely. He called the article a “lie” and as “fake as Anne Frank”. “Not only is it a lie, he states, but it is another Zionist lie like the lie of the diary of Anne Frank, which, he claims – quoting Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy – was written in ballpoint pen before such pens were invented.”

The Arabic Media Internet Network (AMIN) is an independent Palestinian non-governmental organization whose “vision”, according to their website, is “a free Palestinian media that informs the public and promotes democracy and acceptability.” Their website also says they strive for

1. a Palestinian media that supports human rights, social justice, civil society and local sustainable development

2. a politically engaged Palestinian youth that uses social media to convey its message

3. institutional, policy and legal reforms that support greater freedom and independence of the Palestinian media

4. a stronger role of the local media and citizen journalists supporting freedom of expression, local development, and civil society

The fact that an organization striving for media that “promotes democracy and acceptability” “social justice” and “civil society” would post such anti-Semitic beliefs shows that media in the Arab world has and will continue to expose truths behind attitudes in politics of the Arab world and moreover, conflict.

IDF Blog Post

Arabic Media Internet Network Article

US Award Revoked from Egyptian Woman When Tweets Surface

Samira Ibranhim

Samira Ibranhim

The International Women of Courage Award has been revoked from Egyptian Women activist, Samira Ibranhim, due to her anti-American and anti-Semitic tweets. The award was supposed to be presented to her this Friday from Michelle Obama and John Kerry.

Ibrahim was one of a group of protesters who were subjected to forced “virginity tests” after being detained during a protest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in March 2011. She helped bring worldwide attention to the tests, which led to the military banning the practice last year. It was this as well as her being “a real leader in her country in trying to address gender-based violence and other human rights abuses” that she was initially selected as a recipient.

In July of last year, after five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver were killed in a bombing, she tweeted “An explosion on a bus carrying Israelis in Burgas airport in Bulgaria on the Black Sea. Today is a very sweet day with a lot of very sweet news.” As a mob was attacking the United States embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11 of last year, pulling down the American flag and raising the flag of Al Qaeda, a tweet on her account said: “Today is the anniversary of 9/11. May every year come with America burning.” The tweet was deleted a couple of hours later, but not before a screen shot was saved by an Egyptian activist. In other posts, she declared Saudi Arabia’s royal family “dirtier than Jews”, attributed all crimes against society to Jews and referenced Adolf Hitler.

“We became aware very late in the process about Samira Ibrahim’s alleged public comments,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. Ibrahim denied authorship of the tweets claiming her account was hacked, despite the fact that the comments stretch back several months. She later contradicted her excuse posting on her Twitter page (in Arabic) “I refuse to apologize to the Zionist lobby in America regarding my previous anti-Zionist statements under pressure from American government therefore they withdrew the award.”

My question is – why weren’t the tweets discovered earlier? Only 10 women were to receive this award – chosen from all over the world from all walks of life. With such a selective and honorable award, why wouldn’t the administation do a thorough background check? She should have never been one of the 10 honored in the first place.

The paradox of a human rights activist fighting for political progress, freedom, and justice, while spreading racist hatred is alarming but not unique in Egypt since many people grow up with daily exposure to harsh anti-Jewish, anti-Israel and even anti-American messages in the media, in religious sermons and from family. Many Egyptians are speaking out in Ibranhim’s defense saying she is not at fault for the views expressed on her twitter – Egyptian society is. Blaming “society” for a persons own concious actions and beliefs is a sad excuse for racism and hate. Isn’t an activist supposed to exempliy the complete opposite of this? Isn’t an activist supposed to fight for whats right and just? Fight for change in society? What would our world be if everyone believed anything their generation before them did?

This story should be a warning to others and opportunity to address prevalent hatreds and intolerance in the “new” Egypt and across the region. “Activists, reformers and all who are working for a more representative Middle East should seize this moment to confront the fact that after rejecting the values and policies of repressive dictatorial regimes in favor of liberal democratic freedoms, it is inconsistent and even absurd for “new societies” to hold fast to the prejudices and hatreds so prevalent for decades and so contrary to progressive values of tolerance, openness and coexistence.” Ironically, Samira Ibrahim didn’t apologize and still expresses hatred.

Egyptian Harassers Shamed on Facebook

According to, a Facebook page was created 5 days ago to expose sexual harassers in Egypt and has attracted more than 9,000 followers so far. The Arabic-language page called “Embarrass a Harasser, The Public Record of Harassers,” calls on women to post photos or videos of men caught in the act.

The idea for the page started when “the administrator and creator of the page was bothered by an elderly driver while she was stuck in traffic. The driver verbally harassed her for some time and she decided to expose him by taking his picture and uploading his photo on Facebook… The man’s photo went viral and reached around half a million viewers.” The man then contacted her threatening to file a slander case against her if she did not remove his photo which is why the site encourages video recording of harassers, as opposed to photos, so there is better proof of their behavior and the women will be better protected legally.

One photo, uploaded on March 15, shows a man on a female only subway carriage “annoying women with his stares”, according to the caption. In another photo posted a man is shown innapropriately grabbing a veiled woman with a caption refuting the misconception that a women’s clothing has anything to do her being harassed or not.

Exposing these men not only exposes the fight against harassment in egypt, but “may make women feel better seeing their harassers named and shamed on the internet.” “One girl told me she feels safer going out on streets after I started the page,” said M, the page’s creator, who asked to remain anonymous. It is diffiult for Egyptian women to prove harassment because Egyptian law states that any harassment report must be accompanied by at least two witnesses.

“The presence of Security Forces must be reinforced especially during rush hours and in crowded places; effective surveillance systems should exist to keep an eye on harassers and the amendment of the law is essential to guarantee suitable deterrent and punishment for those who pester women,” M said.

Back in 2010, a website called “Harassmap” was set up to chart country wide incidents “from catcalls to ogling, stalking and rape.” Then, in August 2012, the “anti-harassment movement” Facebook page was set up aiming to have sexual harassment made a criminal offense and now has more than 32,000 followers. The government backed National Council for Women began drafting a law after at least 29 women were assaulted by a mob on January 25th. This Facebook page is yet another effort to raise awareness of what women are subjected to daily and unites women in the fight against harassment.