Human rights virtually regained
Introduction for the first Young Middle Eastern Leaders column for ‘The Jerusalem Post’
Protesters in Manama react to sound grenade Photo: reuters
The Arab Spring was an uprising against oppressive dictatorship and corrupt
regimes that led to abuse of human rights and poverty. It is spearheaded by
young people, communicating and mobilizing on the Internet (primarily
Facebook). Its outcome is far from clear but what is obvious is that the
main agents of change in the region are young people organizing and
communicating on the Internet.
Israel had its spring of sorts, Israelis
occupying by the hundreds of thousands the streets and squares of our cities,
demanding social justice. What the socio-political effect of the tent-protest
movement will be, it is premature to define. Yet it is quite obvious that
the same forces working for change last summer will repeat the protest this
Based on these premises, I launched about a year ago, together
with Palestinian partners, a Facebook-based peace and cooperation movement,
YaLa-Young Leaders: a meeting place for the young of “Tahrir” and “Rothschild.”
Today, YaLa-Young Leaders is 66,000 strong from 16 Arab countries and Israel,
dialoguing on a daily basis, from Saudi Arabia to Algeria, from Egypt to
Lebanon, from Iraq to Israel and Palestine.
While YaLa is working
continuously to foster dialogue and cooperation we are also aiming for the
future – we intend to create this year an online academy in connection with the
best universities in the United States, providing good higher education leading
to employment, and promoting long-term, sustainable cooperation. The end goal is
clear – Change by the young, for the young. A sustainable peace.
purpose of this column is to give these young leaders a voice, starting today
with Khaled al-Jaser from Kuwait. – Nimrod Ben-Ze’ev, director of the
President’s Office, Peres Center for Peace
It was during the month of January,
2011, that the tyrants of the Arab world discovered or thought to have
discovered the power of social media but not that of the human spirit – the
powerful human urge for dignity, justice and freedom.
not just in the Arab world, took it upon themselves to fight with all of their
might the virtual world’s freedom of speech, of expression, of information and
of assembly, afforded by Internet-based platforms such as Facebook, Twitter,
Wordpress, Wikipedia, Google, etc. Freedoms they have hitherto sadistically
repressed in the real, physical, world.
Arabs, in particular, depended on
their government-sanctioned sources of information that were censored, distorted
and in most cases nothing more than pure propaganda. Take for instance the
following statement from an Arab news outlet website defining themselves as “a
publication that would uphold the highest standards of journalistic integrity
while remaining true to the principles of anti-imperialist struggle, progressive
politics, and freedom of expression.”
A news outlet with a mission that
includes “remaining true to the principles of anti-imperialist struggle” is the
kind of news outlet allowed by Arab tyrants, and can have various missions
depending on the methods and circumstance of the tyrant.
Arabs have also
been prevented from publicly congregating, whether for political causes or
simply to share ideas or express themselves – except, that is, in mosques (with
restrictions), a fact which partially explains the rise of male-dominated
political Islam in the aftermath of sustained revolutions planned, organized and
conducted by liberal, secular Arabs. It is through those newly-regained freedoms
that Arabs will be able to create a new, democratic and prosperous
The late Anthony Shadid – an undisputedly outstanding reporter
with a deep understanding of the Arab world – sums it up beautifully: “If the
revolts that swept the Middle East a year ago were the coming of age of youths
determined to imagine another future for the Arab world, the aftermath that has
brought elections in Egypt and Tunisia and the prospect of decisive Islamist
influence in Morocco, Libya and, perhaps, Syria is the moment of another, older
It was during the upheaval of the Arab spring of 2011 that I
created my Facebook and Twitter profiles. I wanted to be part of the Arab
Spring. I never thought that those two virtual profiles would take me so far
into the deep recesses of my consciousness.
Facebook and Twitter have
forever changed the way I read, write, interact and understand the world. Since
then I have been, or I think I have been, contributing to every single Arab
revolt in my own way – sharing news, writing about my feelings, participating in
awareness campaigns with fellow virtual friends in spreading the words of
humanity and its goodness.
I have also joined numerous FB pages
advocating in unison humanistic ideals, which I am proud to have been a member
of. My favorite is YaLa – Young Leaders, which strives to bring about peace
between Palestinians, Israelis and Arabs.
I personally had never
interacted or communicated with any Israeli in my life – how could I when our
two countries are in conflict because of the just Palestinian plight? I have met
honorable Israelis, Palestinians and people from all over the world at YaLa – a
most exciting human experience, I have to admit.
I believe there are
thousands of people from all over the Middle East and North Africa who have had
such a human experience, who have interacted and communicated with and got to
know the “other,” discovered, perhaps for the first time, our shared humanity.
It is this fact which makes me believe that peace in the Middle East is nearer
than we imagine.
The Internet and the social media(s) were tools Arabs
have harnessed to regain their unalienable rights, which then were manifested in
the revolutions they have ignited but have yet to master. Those same tools are
also breaking boundaries and taboos between Israelis, Palestinians and Arabs and
will hasten our desired outcome of a just peace in the Middle
Revolutions, counterrevolutions and counter-counterrevolutions are
history’s lesson. We may never see the ultimate outcome of the Arab Spring in
our lifetime but in the end I am sure Arabs of future ages will be proud of this
The following quote is as true now as when it was said, and
is an expression of an idea of which partially explains the Arab Spring and
gives hope that its future will be much brighter. In the words of James Madison:
“A popular government, without popular information or the means of acquiring it,
is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will
forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must
arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
The writer, is a
member of the YaLa – Young Leaders Online Middle Eastern and North African
Movement for change in the region.