Arab Women in Revolution: Reports from the Ground

Part: 15

Journalist's Tweets Give Voice to Libya Uprisings

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sarah Abdurrahman, a 27-year-old U.S. radio producer, started a Twitter feed based on local contacts in Libya. In the early days of the uprising, when foreign media was mainly absent, it provided a crucial stream of communication.

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Women Marched for No-Fly Zone

On March 17 the United Nations Security Council voted to authorize a no-fly zone and other military action to protect civilians in Libya, enabling nations to intervene in the conflict. Following the U.N.'s actions, Feb 17 Voices sent almost two dozen tweets on the vote. Several thousand Libyan women had marched in Benghazi the previous weekend to demand such a no-fly zone to prevent the bombing of rebels, according to the AFP.

Shortly after the U.N. vote Libya said it would call an immediate cease-fire, but government forces have continued to fight. In response, this past weekend the United States and its allies launched air strikes to secure the no-fly zone, targeting Gadhafi's military infrastructure. The air assaults entered their fourth day on Tuesday.

Abdurrahman has been watching the situation closely. She works on the Feb 17 Voices project around her job as a producer for "On the Media" radio show for WNYC, a New York affiliate of National Public Radio.

She started the Twitter feed after being approached by John Scott-Railton, a doctoral student in urban planning at UCLA who started and runs a similar feed called Jan25 Voices about Egypt's uprisings, and now also contributes to Feb 17 Voices. He said as lead contributor to Feb 17 Voices, Abdurrahman's work is significant.

"The quality and impact of her recordings of calls are a testament to her professionalism and commitment to the struggle of the Libyan people," said Scott-Railton, who began contacting his many friends and close ties in Egypt to create Jan25 Voices in response to the Internet being shut off there. "Truly, Feb 17 Voices would not have been successful without her commitment."

Protests Lead to D.C. 'Newsroom'

Abdurrahman made her first calls to Libya the same weekend she attended a protest in Washington, D.C., in solidarity with Libyan revolutionaries.

After the protest, up to 30 friends and family members spontaneously gathered at her parents' house in the D.C. area, all on their laptops seeking and sending information on Libya. Abdurrahman said it looked like a newsroom, with two TVs blasting Al Jazeera and a laptop connected to CNN.

The Feb 17 Voices Twitter feed now has over 5,600 followers and her group works to ensure the authenticity of their tweets, trying to only post things they've heard from multiple unconnected people. Their Twitter feed has been used by Al Jazeera English and various news reporting blogs.

While foreign media coverage of Libya is constant now, Abdurrahman said journalists there remain limited in their sources and are being threatened and detained. (Four New York Times journalists who were held for nearly a week by pro-Gadhafi forces were released Monday; the Committee to Protect Journalists reports 13 other journalists are either missing or in Libyan government custody.) She said their Twitter feed is still able to provide on-the-ground accounts from within the turmoil.

Abdurrahman was born in Seattle to Libyan-born parents who were also dissidents opposing Gadhafi. She said her father hasn't been back to Libya since around 1980. Abdurrahman went on to study film as an undergrad and then earned a graduate degree in media studies, both at the University of Texas at Austin.

Her journalism training started when she moved to Boston in 2008 to intern and then freelance at WBUR, Boston's NPR member station. In December she moved to New York City to start her new job at WNYC.

As the conflict in Libya crosses the one-month mark, Abdurrahman said the challenge now is to keep people interested.

"Our main hope is just that people don't lose steam. I know news cycles get old and people don't want to follow the same story after a few weeks," she said. "But every single person that is dying, that's new, that's advancing the story. And it needs to still be told."

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Juhie Bhatia is the managing editor of Women's eNews.

For more information:

Feb 17 Voices Twitter Feed:
http://twitter.com/feb17voices

Feb 17 Voices Audio Clips:
http://audioboo.fm/feb17voices

Jan25 Voices Twitter Feed:
http://twitter.com/jan25voices

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