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Censorship not silence
In this postmodern world where so much is accessible via new media the importance of physical presence has been downplayed writes guest blogger Rebekah Palmer

Reports on the recent Egyptian protests have often used the following joke printed in a Jordanian newspaper:

'Why do the Tunisian youth demonstrate in the streets, don't they have Facebook?’

It seems that in this postmodern world where so much is accessible via new media the importance of physical presence has been somewhat downplayed. There are vast libraries of academic debate on whether new media has replaced older traditional forms or whether it works alongside it though not many examples can summaries the argument like the Egyptian protests appear to. But what if the leaders of the country you call home censor statements made using new media?

The opposition began on the internet- particularly on social networking sites. However as the government became aware of this resistance they began to block access to certain sites and mobile phone networks before completely banning access to the internet across Egypt. What’s more this censorship seemed to push the activists away from new media and on to anything accessible that they could continue to utilise to broadcast a collective voice. Some articles even report that people carried stones which they had carved messages into.

The way in which the protesters found innovative and original ways of not allowing the internet censorship to end communication illustrates that new media technology is not the only statement of relevance. Nevertheless social networking played a major part in the initial construction of a group- giving what was, in the beginning, a minority an outlet to grow and become a Your browser may not support display of this image. majority. Debatably this may not have been possible without the internet as social networking sites and the internet in general can provide vital anonymity for one to ‘test’ their opinions out on the world and gather support before becoming ‘active’.

Further to this Arabian governments remain tough on defiance of the set censorship. On March 2nd Qatar arrested a young man named Sultan Khalifa al-Khalaifi for using a blog to criticise the government. Although this was Qatar’s first official arrest for online content it is not the first Arabian country to make arrests for similar ‘offences’. On the contrary the first known arrest for such a cause was a man named Zouhair Yahyaoui from Tunisia after he created a poll on his online magazine asking Tunisian web-surfers to vote on whether they believed their country was ‘a republic, a kingdom, a zoo, or a prison.’ He was convicted in 2000 and released in 2003; though he died just two years later aged 36; the debate continues as to whether prison conditions attributed to his subsequent death.

Such cases have become models for some Arabian bloggers to begin drafting their own ways of continuing to be heard by the West without being caught by their own governments and consequently young innovative bloggers are writing in second languages. Other strategies used seem to be avoidance of ‘buzzwords’ that the government could search for as well as employing false names.

Though, despite the danger of imprisonment and harsh sentencing some Arabian bloggers actively reject the offer of anonymity. There have been many recent stories about the number of people, who had once been anonymous, coming forward and revealing their identity as a means of inducing further solidarity in the protests.  Anas Qtiesh, for example, wrote from Syria between 2005 and 2009; he justifies his decision to publish under his real name: ‘It was a hard choice between safety and credibility. I was inspired by other Syrian bloggers who blogged under their real names.’ Your browser may not support display of this image.

It would appear, therefore, that debates over the relationship of power between new and old technology have been overarchingly answered by the reality of the Egyptian political protests. An entire generation of internet users are not only continuously inventing ways of defying censorship and transforming the limits of communication but they are using this to pave their own way to revolution.

Rebekah Palmer is a young writer based in Hull.

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