Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Now Is the Perfect Timing to Push the Borders of Freedom Further": Egyptian Students Publish "El Gornal" Newspaper Without Government Permission

via Democracy Now!
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: [Y]outh here have been critical to this revolution. A lot of people called it the revolution of the youth. While they first took to the streets... they were joined by all Egyptians eventually. And they are taking some of the boldest steps in this uprising, going forward...

[W]hat I am holding in my hand here is the first edition of a newspaper, that’s called "El Gornal," which means newspaper in Egyptian-Arabic, it just means journal, kind of our word for it. And they have printed it and are [also] distributing it online... But the reason they are printing it in addition to putting it online is intentionally to break Egyptian law which bars the printing and distributing of newspapers without permission. So [this] is Sanaa Seif, she is a high school student and I spoke to her about this paper.

SANNA SEIF: My name is Sanaa and I am 17. I’m in my last high school year. We thought that right now is the perfect timing to push the borders of freedom further. So, we thought, why not lets make a newspaper and lets not get permission for that, let’s just sell it in the streets. Its a very symbolic thing, we are not counting on it, we don’t have a big budget, but we want to force this, we want to have the freedom of expression. We want to force it further.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: So usually you have to have permission to print and newspaper in Egypt?

SANNA SEIF: Yes. That's the first time this will happen. So, we’ll see.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And what kind of paper is it? Describe it.

SANNA SEIF: Okay, -- its called "Voices of Tahrir," which is "liberation." We thought that the first copy has to be like each one of us after the experience of the revolution, has having something to say. So we called everyone we know, we called people from Tahrir Square, Alexandria, people who have been there doing something in this revolution. And everybody wrote something.

She went on to say, "[I]t is like a blog."

I didn't want to let her powerful and inspiring words end on that statement, without contextualizing it at least, because that last claim, alone among all her words, might feed I fear into the ongoing facile techno-utopian narratives of the west that the substantial education, agitation, and organizing that actually made the Egyptian Revolution possible can be dismissed in favor of vapid marketing and promotional discourse about facebook and twitter and cellphones and so on.

I know I have been something of a broken record on this point the last couple of weeks here, but none of these useful media tools on the own are the least bit revolutionary, of course, and indeed the prevailing usages of all of them are, in my view, reactionary in fact: promoting the ongoing subversion of public discourse by hyperbolically fraudulent, deceptive, superficial, and sensationalist advertizing norms and enabling the ongoing intensification of elite-incumbent corporate-military surveillance and targeting practices.

It is easy, of course, to see the force of the analogy of blogging to journalism to a young person used to expression in the blog form. Blogging has been from the first, after all, a form drawing on the journalistic column and the diaristic journal in more or less equal measure, without ever stabilizing definitively into either form and therefore becoming something rather different from either one.

But I do think it is more important to grasp, beyond this obvious if superficial analogy to blogging, what is truly groundbreaking in what "El Gornal" is doing, as Sanna Seif does when she comments on the symbolic force of printing "El Gornal" and "sell[ing] it in the streets" in particular. Even if one can point to other important, scattered examples of comparable efforts over the last thirty years, the feeling of the students that this is "the first time this will happen," a fledgling expression of a free press incarnated in ink and pulp and blood and distributed face to face, a new beginning connected directly to the Revolutionary moment, an unleashing of democratizing forces into the new post-Mubarak Egyptian world, seems to me absolutely right and truly important and profoundly inspiring.

2 comments:

Martin said...

It's amazing that there are places in the world where you can't publish a newspaper or pamphlet without government permission -- where information is the enemy of the state.

indeed the prevailing usages of all of [the new media tools] are, in my view, reactionary

It's true, once again, that technology is what you make of it, and can be used for oppression as well as liberation. We have a duty to make technology liberating. That's why I run Tor relays, of course. It's a small contribution to a widespread problem, but an effective one nonetheless. In fact, I logged into my VPS earlier today and noticed that about a dozen of the ~200 concurrent connections were from Iran.
That was just at that moment. Each week I may be helping hundreds of Iranians connect to the uncensored internet, read about the protests in other Arab countries, etc. That kind of knowledge is powerful, and it vindicates what I do.

Dale Carrico said...

We have a duty to make technology liberating.

Well put, and music to my ears compared to the self-promotional antics of "techno-progressive" futurology too often too eager to celebrate "liberatory technology," but without attending to just who is using just which tools to just which effects in technodevelopmental social struggles as they play out in the only future that matters: the open-futurity in present plurality opening onto what comes after from what we're after, peer-to-peer.