Arab Women in Revolution: Reports from the Ground

Part: 9

Arabic Twitter Stars Come Face-to-Face in Cairo

Thursday, January 26, 2012

After a year of courageous digital leadership, female activists from the Middle East and North Africa--some of them Twitter superstars--met in Cairo last week. It was a chance to meet face-to-face, savor revolutionary success and weigh setbacks.

Maria al-Masani, Manal al-Sharif, Dalia Ziada and Danya Bashir at Change Your World Cairo conference.CAIRO, Egypt (WOMENSENEWS)--When hundreds of women who are active in the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa met here last week to assess their use of digital media and technology, a20-year-old Libyan named Danya Bashir summed it up.

"I couldn't have done this without social media," Bashir told an audience at the Change Your World Cairo conference. "The world would not have known."
During the Libyan uprising Bashir employed Twitter, the micro-blogging technology that transmits 140-character instant messages around the Web, to update journalists and activists around the world who couldn't cover the NATO-backed popular uprising due to the severe dangers of the situation and travel restrictions imposed by then-president Moammar Gadhafi.

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Bashir jokingly said she used to “spam” her updates to Egyptian-American media activist Mona Eltahawy, National Public Radio's Andy Carvin and Arab commentator Sultan al Qassemi. Such recipients--who send dozens of tweets daily and boast tens of thousands of subscribers--amplified Bashir's reports by resending them to their own robust social networks. 
Eltahawy, who last November sent out Twitter messages just after being assaulted by Egyptian security forces during a demonstration, wasgreeted like a celebrity by many who only knew her from Twitter. A former Arabic editor for Women's eNews, Eltahawy delivered the opening remarks of the gathering, with her hands still bandaged from the beatings.
"The power of women is in their stories," she said. "They are not theories. They are real lives that, thanks to social networks, we are able to share and exchange."
The meeting, which was conducted in Arabic and English, was co-sponsored by the business and human-rights program of Yahoo!, the Sunnyvale, Calif., web giant, and Vital Voices, a Washington-based women's advocacy group. Planners intend it to be an annual gathering and hope to hold similar meetings in Southeast Asia, Latin America and the Middle East next year. 

Revolutions and Crackdowns

Some of the women's stories this year have been about successful revolutionaries. One of the most notable is Yemeni journalist and human rights activist Tawakkul Karman, awarded a Nobel Peace Prize last year for her role in inspiring the democratic uprising in her country.
But severe crackdowns on pro-democracy activists have also beset countries, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen, where political rights and civil liberties have constricted in the past year.
Maria Al-Masani, a blogger and human rights activist who founded the online Yemen Rights Monitor, said she worries about the durability of gains made by women who defied home-bound traditions to take to the street.
“Women's participation was valued during the revolution, but now, as top government positions are awarded, a female voice is seldom heard,” she said.

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