Digital activism in the Middle East could be the most appealing topic to researchers who were fascinated by ‘blogging phenomena’ in mid 2000s and ‘Facebook strike’ in Egypt in 2008, also for journalists who made hundreds of interviews with Arab ‘cyber activists’, this is even an appealing area to western governments, as many of them decided to include sponsoring digital activists from the Arab world in its agenda
The title ‘ digital activist’ was not used that often before the great western attention to the Middle East in the years of George. W. Bush presidency to the USA. Now the term has been used in this context to express ‘the process of opposing a regime using the digital tools’ .Whereas in the cyber Arab world, activism means ‘online engagement ‘; the usage of the web to make a change, even if not political, for example those who covered the heavy rains on the Saudi capital on May 2010 using online tools (Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, maps and Youtube) to provide residents of Riadh with information on what to do and where to go.
As online activism is rooted to the ideological and religious background of their practitioners, it happened to have names flavored with these backgrounds, like ‘Digital Resistance’, ‘Online Jihad’ or ‘Keyboard Struggle’. which make is even more fascinating for journalists!
As a part of my study, I got to read a chapter of Alternative Media culture by Chris Atton, which tackles the use of media in social movements, by giving a bunch of examples the socialization of newspapers of 20th century green and lefty movements.
The interesting thing is that Atton draws three types of activists on the basis of their use to media (language, audience…), he call the one focusing in common people a counter expert, and the grass-roots engineers is one looking for grass roots groups and addressing them, while the third sort is a public educator. Meanwhile the tree types sound different, you would find them crossing when you try to sort out the type of activism of someone.
Though, I think Atton’s classification would be useful for me if I’m investigating certain movement’s intellectualism, as I should find out who was the grassroots engineer and who were the public educators, and who else besides me was the counter-expert, thus I get what the movement lacked or what audiences it succeeded to cover.
Alternatively, I would try to distinct their engagement or activism in three types, I claim this distinction is not restricted to the Middle Eastern activism they adopt:
This type of online engagement aims at provoking people’s anger, it depends on bringing the hidden facts of the offline world to the online one, even if it is shocking.
‘Anger investors’ do not expecting a quick ‘demonstration’ to this anger, they are just waiting for the an spontaneous action driven by the accumulative anger, and feel happy to see more people infected with anger, so ‘anger investment’ activists care in the first place about the number of viewers to their messages, and invite digital citizens to spread the word, by just clicking ’Share’ or ‘Retweet’ button.
Ex: Nawat Portal– Tunisia
Plane Boarding’ Activism
Such sort of activism is about getting people to take a specific action in specific time for a specific goal, it is more like an airplane, where all passengers should gather on the same to do the same activities till its arrival to the same destination
The passengers of this plane decide neither the path the plane will take, nor the program of their flight; they were only informed of them, and if they are in or out, the plane is to take off any way. The same happens when you invite people to a protest, a strike, a conference or whatever, you tell them an already made decision about time, venue, program and goals, you may explain more details and make sure all this information are clear, and the only thing you ask them to do is to board the plane you lead.
The dilemma over the efficiency of online activism in changing the offline circumstances, is all about the timming of asking people to board the plane, as none is to travel just for plane riding; people are not to take an offline action if they are not angry enough!
Ex: 6th April General Strike– Egypt
Decorating the New Room’ Activism
Let us imagine a boy moved into another country, he arrived with bags full of stuff from home, looked around and decided to paint walls of his new room with his favorite color, he unpacked and hanged on the walls the same pictures he used to hang before coming to this country. This process of making the new space looks the way we like is a kind of digital activism, which basically targets the virtual world.
With the philosophy of creating online what we lack offline, Arab virtual citizens are trying to change the way of their cyber sphere looks like they wish to see in the real world, making this change is the activism. Arabs are tailoring online things to be used only online, like processing a ‘Passport for the free Arab State of Palestine, announcing the United Arab Nation Republic, establishing in the Second Life a museum to show the Israeli brutality with Palestinians and call it Palestine Holocaust , such things do not exist in reality and far fetched, but became true virtually.
I’m an anger investor, and you, which type of digital activist are you?!