Human rights virtually regained

Introduction for the first Young Middle Eastern Leaders column for ‘The Jerusalem Post’

Protesters in Manama react to sound grenade 370 (photo credit: reuters)
Protesters in Manama react to sound grenade 370
(photo credit: 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 summer.

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.

The 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.
Tyrants everywhere, 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 future.
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 generation.”
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 East.
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 Arab Spring.
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.