Field Project: Challenging New Media and Civics Education Paradigms {Work in Progress}

I recently completed my Master’s field project proposal, which consists of a literature review and plan around new media and global citizenship education. The project will materialize as a set of curricula and/or website activities geared toward educating youth in America around the ways digital storytelling shapes our perspectives of global issues. I intend to develop the curricula over the next few months, and it should be completed by December 2013.

A brief summary about the project is below. You can download the full version (30p) here: New Media Literacy Project. I welcome feedback and encourage you to read it!

Title: “Challenging New Media and Civics Education Paradigms: A Space for Critical Media and Postcolonial Frameworks”

Purpose of the Project: A supplemental form of critical learning whereby students actively participate in sharing stories, posting critiques and engaging in dialogue around current events and social causes. The goal is to foster global citizenship – a frame of mind that is globally aware and read to take action on issues both at home and abroad – and to develop critical thinking skills by empowering young adults to share their stories and feedback about the worlds in which they thrive – both online and offline.

Theoretical frame: The predominant frame is a concept knowns as the “White Savior Industrial Complex“. Coined by the author and poet Teju Cole in March 2012, it posits that Western media contorts, essentializes and oversimplifies developing or “Third World” countries’ problems in an effort to portray dominance. In this view, drawn from postcolonial theory, European-driven perspectives of the Global South are the representative and normative understanding of the world; moreover Third World problems are frequently viewed from an outside-in lens under the framework of humanitarianism. A good example of the White Savior complex is the KONY 2012 campaign, TOMS shoes and Charity:Water. (Full disclosure: I am not trying to condemn or vilify global humanitarianism; in fact, I have contributed to both Charity:Water and other large-scale campaigns in the past, and own a few pairs of TOMS shoes. The main theme I am attempting to shine a light on is white privilege – the power, wealth, and politics that surround it. For context, I will restate the argument that Mr. Cole put forth in his article: “Those who are being helped ought to be consulted over the matters that concern them.”)

Statement of the Problem: Globalization and the rise of social media, as a result, have shaped the contours of this White Savior narrative with greater impact – and ease: stories of “the other” are now circulated at warp speed across social networks, purporting “the other” as objects rather than subjects. Education programs may use KONY 2012 as a teachable moment, but many if not most fail to reach beyond traditional media literacy programs in identifying the power structures behind these types of events. New media programs, while beneficial in separating fact from fiction, do not routinely apply critical literacy and postcolonial frames to issues of global import like KONY 2012. And while successful civics engagement programs use new media projects to empower youth in oppressed communities, they lack the “global citizenship” framework to raise consciousness while critically examining new media’s role in shaping their perspectives.

Signficance of the Project: The ongoing effort to combat misinformation and distill truth in a 24/7 news cycle is daunting, and educators and parents lack the resources and time to be able to effectively implement these strategies. Moreover, they also lack the tools to guide critical discussions of privilege and power within these current methods and pedagogies. In addition, global activism campaigns target youth through aggressive marketing and storytelling tactics; by capturing the zeitgeist of the movement, these campaigns make it difficult for parents and educators to join the conversations or guide the discourse. In effect, social media campaigns’ stickiness and rapidity of scale make challenging the discourse in real time almost impossible. Furthermore, the essentialization that occurs in global charity and humanitarian campaigns makes for an increasingly difficult concept to unpack, especially given that these “global citizen” movements entice young people to “make a difference” through lending their voices to the causes they care about.

GOAL of the Project: This project aims to go beyond both the current new media literacy paradigms that largely focus on digital literacy as a tool to combat misinformation or distinguish fact from fiction and the civic engagement processes that urge youth to become agents of change without negotiating the broader worldviews they bring to the causes they champion. This project advocates for a marriage of the two paradigms within the greater themes of critical literacy and postcolonial studies from Cole’s White Savior theory. Be re-centering the frame from one that propels the West to be the agent of change towards a more inclusive model, this way of thinking can guide youth in understanding how their privilege reifies the current discourse around global causes. In turn, the process of changing these paradigms can empower youth the change the worlds in which they live.

Egyptian Women of the Arab Spring: A Social Media Revolution (Conclusion)

Conclusion

As Egypt struggles to define a new world order through these elections and beyond, it is important to embrace the historicity and narrative of the people’s struggle for rights over the last century, in particular for women. Women have recently taken to new forms of expression and mobilization – namely, social media tools – and have solidified their presence on the streets of Cairo and in the international media circuits.  Their narrative is now being told in a more personal, reflective and raw way than ever before. Asmaa Mahfouz’s 2011 video rallying cry is analogous to Hoda Shawaari’s brazen public act in 1923: figuratively and literally, these women unmasked themselves to the world in a moment of rebellion and fortitude.  These personal stories are what make a revolution: the deaths of Mohamed Bouzazi and Khaled Said, the abuses and struggles of countless women in the streets, the broken arm of blogger Mona Eltahawy, all depict a tragic –  and yet amazingly powerful – new movement for youth. New media systems capture and depose of terabytes of data every second, and yet in this overwhelming mountain of bits and bytes, we can see a clear story of what it is like to be a 21st century woman and man struggle to gain a better future. Their collective stories shape a movement, and will continue to as long as we have memories to contain them and servers to share them. What becomes of a movement, and women’s struggles to define a new path within, it is still unclear. I am hopeful that these stories, and the indefatigable spirit supporting them, can create a new paradigm for women in Egypt and all those who are watching.   

Egyptian Women of the Arab Spring: A Social Media Revolution (Part 3)

Discussion

What role did women play in igniting, creating and sustaining change in the January 2011 revolution in Egypt?

As detailed in the description portion of this paper, women in modern Egypt come from a long lineage of feminist, equal rights and reform advocates, despite continual opposition from autocratic or Islamist parties in a culturally patriarchal society.  In 2011, it became apparent just how important women were in pushing the revolution. Despite harassment and arrest risks, women joined the ranks of men to create the largest uprising in over 30 years (Krajeski, 2011). They blogged and were entrenched in a tech-savvy, sometimes underground, culture (Rubin, 2011). They fought arrest, wrote slogans and chants, confronted police and stood strong among the masses for the 18-day period of protest in Tahrir (Carroll, 2011).  Over 20% of the protesters in Tahrir were women – mostly young – and Facebook pages abound with photographs of women participating in the struggle (Mortada, 2011).

The movement itself was portrayed by the media as being single-minded: get Mubarak out, and usher democracy in, where new paradigms can be created (for youth, the working class, and for women). The single-mindedness – in action or in perception – does not mean women weren’t invested in bringing their rights to the cause, however. It just means the protests in Tahrir weren’t geared towards one “specific group”, according to an interview with Amal Abdel of the New Woman Foundation (Carroll, 2011).  Women were recognized as participants in a larger cause, and their voices were swallowed into the undulating collective cry of the masses.

According to an interactive interview with renown feminist thinker, activist, and former prisoner of the Mubarak regime, Nawal el-Saadawi, “there is no democracy without women” (Al Jazeera English, 2011), and it was absolutely a “women’s revolution”, despite it not being named as such by the media (Rubin, 2011). She claimed the 2011 revolution “washed away” the discriminations that were imposed by the “patriarchal, capitalist, racist” regime of Mubarak (Al Jazeera English, 2011). It is without question that women were instrumental in igniting and sustaining the revolution that began on January 25, and that women and men alike marched in a common cause for freedom, dignity, and human rights. Whether these men and women can implement women’s rights in a post-revolution society is still a question of concern for many.

What role did social media play in facilitating this movement both on and off the ground, and specifically how were women using new media to engage in the conversation and planning of the revolution?

As was detailed in the previous description section of this paper, women utilized new media outlets to engage in discourse around the revolution and to call others to action. Asmaa Mahfouz, called by some the “Leader of a Revolution”, uploaded a video to her Facebook page that did not mince words; through her viral video she provoked women and men to join her on January 25 for a “Day of Anger” (Morgan, 2011).  She pleaded a “simple message” that everyone “demand [their] fundamental human rights”; moreover, she provoked “whoever [said] women shouldn’t go to protest” to join her and “have some honor” (Jardin, 2011). This 4-minute video was the catalyst for the January 25 uprising, and is one of many examples of how new media facilitated the movement, both on and off the ground.

The other large example is the Facebook page, “We are All Khaled Said”, a fan page dedicated to the young man brutalized by police before the January 25 protests began (Facebook, 2011). Initially credited to an anonymous online activist, it was revealed weeks afterward that it was the creation of a Google executive, Wael Ghonim, who was coincidentally arrested and tortured by the state police over the course of ten days during the revolution (Kirkpatrick, Spreading revolution: an interactive timeline, 2011). Wael was heralded as a “new hero” and has been profiled in the Western media as the champion for the Revolution 2.0 in the Middle East (Kirkpatrick, Spreading revolution: an interactive timeline, 2011). His story fits nicely with the internet-activist-turned-hero narrative, but what about the women involved? Asmaa’s video is primarily mentioned on blogs and articles written (or co-written) by women, yet Wael’s story is profiled and amplified both at home and abroad by the media. Perhaps because the revolution was largely leaderless, having this particular person represent the people could be what Western media was after all along.  Wael’s hero portrayal doesn’t necessarily negate women’s role in furthering the movement (nor does it downplay their internet activism), but it certainly doesn’t help in augmenting women’s equal representation in what has become the aftermath of a people’s movement. He is hailed as a hero, but there is no heroine, so it seems; it’s not proportional. Even media coverage of women activists has been small, according to Amal Abdel of the New Woman Foundation, and so attempting a gender-filtered framework for analyzing the revolution seems quarantined to those already working within it (Carroll, 2011). The coverage recently has been limited to the harm or injustices inflicted on women in the media; the most recent report details the violent assault of a female blogger in the “second round” of protests this month (Parvaz, 2011).

Nonetheless, the role of social media is impressive, and has facilitated a people’s movement in a hyper-accelerated timeframe with very savvy activists.  Men and women utilized social media to engage in dialogue, plan protests on the ground and expose human rights violations to the international community; without the prevalent use of cell phone video, texting and real-time updates through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, this movement may not have caught fire so quickly. In an age where information is power and spreads awareness – one can now easily see how “the other” lives – it is impossible to negate the role that media plays in shaping the new narrative of its people.  According to one study of new media in the revolution, almost 90% of Egyptians possessed a cell phone, and upwards of 33% of online activists in Egypt using Twitter were women (Islam, 2011, p. 6). No longer did the state or media elite control all information; it came from activists and civilians alike, and in waves. Raw video content showcased multi-faceted points of view, including: mobilization footage, citizen commentary, political punditry, and (very popular) “soundtracks” to the revolution (Islam, 2011, p. 22). This newly dubbed process, called “cyber-pragmatism”, helped spur nonviolent civil disobedience and ushered in a new way of galvanizing the people’s movements; furthermore, the unmasking of anonymous bloggers, starting with the video tactic of Asmaa Mahfouz, instigated the revolution even further: it helped build capacity and encouraged people to join in solidarity, since they knew they would not be alone in the fight (Graham-Felsen, 2011).

In another light, Mubarak’s attempt to stop all action by blocking the internet only pushed activists further to keep moving. The blackout (visualized below in Graphic 1A) is another way of showing how terrorizing a nation by censorship is no way of stopping people from mobilizing. In fact, it proved the opposite, as Graphic IB shows Western media joining the effort to help reconnect with Egypt during via satellite, SMS and other means of technology: proving that there are always loopholes to internet censorship (Olson, 2011).

(Graphic IA)

GraphicIA-ArabSpring

Visualizing Egypt’s Internet blackout. (2011). Mashable. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2011/01/28/egypt-internet-graphic

(Graphic 1B)

GraphicIB-ArabSpring

Social Media and Unrest in Egypt. (2011). HootSuite. Retrieved from http://images.hootsuite.com/newsletter/unrest_egypt/HootSuite_Egypt_Infographic.pdf

Where do women fit into the new paradigm of government in Egypt, and how are they focusing on bringing women’s rights into a democratic society?

Problematizing the first two points of discussion is what brings me to the third and (for now) final question, as the possibility of augmenting and reshaping women’s roles in a new society is largely contingent upon how women are viewed through the lens of Egyptian culture. The fact that there are women protesters and activists is not new; women have been fighting for equality and gender rights for almost a century.  Moreover; new media and new faces of youth activism continue the same discourse. According to Amal Abdel, women of the post-revolution are “being ignored” (Carroll, 2011).  The question is not, “are women participating in, and important parts of, a new media-facilitated revolution?”  This question has been answered in the previous pages and is a resounding, “yes”. The issue is now tied to how they can change the system, given that they have been largely acting within it as long as women have been mobilizing.

There are setbacks to the advancements women foresaw while protesting in the street: the interim government’s Constitution referendum in March 2011 omitted women from being cabinet members. Potential political campaigners like Nawal el-Saadawi (who, while attempting to run for President of Egypt against Mubarak in 2005 out of “principle”, was harassed by the state police and ordered to stop campaigning), are subjected to the patriarchal suppression by the state with no recourse (Al Jazeera English, 2011).  Despite gains in workplace and education rights over the past century, women only constitute 20% of the labor force in Egypt, and less so in the political sector (The Economist, 2011).  The 1981 ratification of CEDAW still holds little ground, as women continue to be harassed and subjected to domestic and culturally-sanctioned acts of violence like Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) to this date (Amnesty International, 2011).  Thus, like many of the countries who have ratified CEDAW and proclaim that the rights of women are synonymous with human rights, the Egyptian stance is thinly veiled. Even the quota system in parliament has been deemed ineffective, as the newly created 64 seats went to members of the ruling party in 2011; it has since been removed to accommodate an amendment to an existing law that mandates each party to have at least one woman on its list of candidates, which has yet to prove fruitful (Amnesty International, 2011).

The recent furor and protests in late November 2011 in Tahrir invoke the frustration and rage from only ten months earlier; however, the current climate pairs the faltering military power with embryonic promises of a democratic order, as Egyptians await a fresh round of parliamentary elections.  Some women go so far to say that even if they do win in the upcoming parliamentary elections, it “won’t break Egypt’s formidable gender barriers” (Nelson, 2011). Yet, a woman, Buthayna Kamel, has emerged as the first woman in history to run for president and stands for what the activists are seeking: “freedom, diginity and social justice” (Zohney, 2011). The results of her campaign could turn around a country that has been subjected to the same patriarchal and hegemonic power structures since colonialism. The act of putting a woman in power does not necessarily equate to longstanding and systemic change, but it does represent the possibility.

The causes women need to fight now and in the transition period are multitude; they are not just political, but also aim for women’s rights to be incorporated and implemented into Egyptian culture on all levels: across class, race or religious lines. Without proper representation, however, the results of all of the organizing, mobilizing and protesting that has been a part of women’s movements over the past century will be deposited into the same narrative, as history repeats itself. Women will continue to fight in the same roundabout way without breaking the power structures that have kept them in place for centuries. According to one source, it’s more than just elections, it’s about a new paradigm (which I agree with): “nurturing high caliber female politicians” and “changing the stereotypical images of women”, both of which are not overnight successes achieved by one video blog (Zohney, 2011).  The long term, systemic changes require a new way of thinking.

A compounding problem in the reshaping of society for women’s rights in Egypt is the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood as a premier opposition party. The Muslim Brotherhood does not recognize key gender issues in society, such as FGM; its 2008 ban happened to be a result of Suzanne Mubarak’s platform during her husband’s rule (Sharma, 2011). Moreover, some women representatives of the Brotherhood go so far as to claim that the ban of FGM was a Western agenda put forth by NGOs in Egypt, and is no different than the concept of plastic surgery (Sharma, 2011). The combination of a potential Muslim Brotherhood rule and the desire to abandon all residual memory of Mubarak’s legacy (the good and the bad) could prove fatal for important women’s rights issues, in particular FGM. The impending results of the parliamentary elections will shine a light whether a path for women’s rights in Egypt will be created for the long term.

Egyptian Women of the Arab Spring: A Social Media Revolution (Part 2)

Women and Leadership

Brief history of women’s movements in modern Egypt

The crystallization of the January events and the flow of action during the Egypt revolution create a neatly bookended movement when viewed through the lens of 21st century media; it happened quickly, forcefully and with adept use of propaganda and activist tactics that solicited international attention and support throughout. But people’s movements are not new in Egypt, however, in particular those of which women were at the forefront. In the 1919 revolution against colonial British rule, Egyptian women and men – across class, party and religious lines -joined together in a common cause that was the dawn of Arab nationalism.  Women even held their own demonstrations for the first time in modern history during that time (Egypt State Information Service, 2011). Through acts of civil disobedience and protesting, rural and urban workers opposed to colonial hegemony achieved independence and sovereignty from Britain three years after the first protests began (El-Shakry, 2011). The 1919 revolution was not quick like that of 2011 (it took over three years, compared to three weeks) but was galvanized by a strong women-backed labor force, with little use of technology other than the telegraph (El-Shakry, 2011).

As a result of the 1919 revolution, Egyptians saw the creation of a new government, replete with parliament and constitution, and yet few gains for women in regards to rights outside of polygamy and education (Arab Human Development Report, 2006, p. 124). The grounds were laid for fomenting women’s rights, however, as women pushed forth to create positions in government and leadership as a result of their role in the 1919 movement.  In a defining moment of the times, a leading feminist and founder of the first women’s organization, Hoda Shaawari, threw off her veil in public as an act of rebellion against patriarchal constitutional laws (Rubin, 2011). She went on to spearhead and lead women’s organizations until her death in 1947. Officially in 1942, the Egypt Women’s Party was founded and focused on bringing equal voting rights to women and a greater presence in politics (Egypt State Information Service, 2011).

Post World War II, CEDAW and 2011

Post World War II in Egypt brought larger gains for women in political and private spheres, including the rise of women professionals in law, medicine and education, and the increased awareness of women’s issues in the region (Arab Human Development Report, 2006, p. 126).  However, after the 1952 military revolution that deposed King Farouq, the new regime called for the dissolution of women’s organizations; they converted the previous organizations to charitable associations which were subservient to the ruling party’s agenda (Arab Human Development Report, 2006, p. 126).

The new constitution of 1956 granted women the right to vote, and what followed were similar laws that allowed equal positions for men and women in the public sector as well as greater guarantees to working women (Arab Human Development Report, 2006, p. 138).  Continued military rule, the rise of nationalism, as well as a strong Islamic culture, kept women’s organizations from really flourishing in the following two decades; however, The United Nations Decade of Women that began in 1975 presumably injected a new energy into women’s movements (Geunena & Wassef, 2003, p. 29).

In 1981, Egypt officially ratified, with reservations, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); the reservations covered family and children issues pertinent to Sharia and nationality laws existing in Egypt.  On paper, Egyptian women’s rights portray a secular society with advancements for women that are unlike those in other Middle Eastern countries; however, this is not the case in actuality.  Despite CEDAW, laws for women’s protection for cases around domestic violence, harassment and divorce have not been instituted at a state-wide level, primarily due to conflicts with culturally-accepted Islamic Sharia laws (Geunena & Wassef, 2003, p. 37).

After the dawn of a new century, women continued to exercise civil disobedience in response to abuses of power, and it appeared the government was helping shape new laws to enforce equity. In 2006 and 2008 respectively, women held labor strikes against structural adjustment programs and neoliberal policies sanctioned by the World Bank (Cornish, 2011). In 2008, the government officially criminalized Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a longstanding “tradition” within Egyptain culture that is practiced on upwards of 91% of all women between the ages of 15 and 49 (Clifton & Feldman-Jacobs, 2010).  And in 2010, the People’s Assembly (Parliament) created a new quota that mandates 64 new house seats to be filled by women, a jump in 1,500% in representation from previous years (Hill, 2010).

With the rise and fall of Mubarak, there is an even greater demand for women’s rights to be equated with human rights. With educated, tech-savvy young women and men as the groundswell of the Tahrir Square movement, there is an opportunity for a new paradigm to be created outside of the long-held, state-controlled system. And yet, despite multiple revolutions and incremental gains for women’s rights over the last century, the institutionalized and culturally-sanctioned Islamic perceptions of women’s roles in society still reign strong over women’s progress in Egypt (Geunena & Wassef, 2003, p. 41).

Egyptian Women of the Arab Spring: A Social Media Revolution (Part 1)

Timeline of the Revolution

Mohamed Bouazizi and the Tunisian domino effect

On December 19, 2010, it could be said it was a day like any other, except for one man in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. On that date, a young fruit seller named Mohamed Bouazizi performed an act of self-immolation after his fruit cart was seized by government officials for lack of a permit (Reuters, 2010).  Fueled by anger at a suppressive government and frustration with high unemployment, one man’s act of protest triggered hundreds of protesters in the streets.  After violence erupted and protesters were killed, the government vowed to “punish” protesters and crack down on the revolt (Borger, 2010).  The unrest spread quickly: less than one month after Bouazizi’s act, Tunisian president  Zine Ben-Ali fled the country, effectively ending the authoritarian government he controlled for over 20 years (Chrisafis & Black, 2011).  The large, unemployed, and educated youth population, with access to 21st century communications (email, texting, internet) helped push the movement forward at a high-speed rate – and the whole world could watch, share and spread the movement across transnational channels in real time (Islam, 2011).

The Tunisian revolution was a catalyst for regime upheavals across the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA), and holds a strong place in history as it is a symbol of civil disobedience and people power in the 21st century. Tunisian women were heavily involved in the revolutions and its aftermath (Cole & Cole, 2011). To deny the shared narrative of the MENA Arab Spring revolutions and the domino effect of the Tunisian revolt would be unfair, but the focus on Egypt is a prominent one, as it represents the largest Muslim country and, moreover, has the potential to be an exemplary model for women’s rights worldwide.

Unrest and a call to action in Cairo

Within four days after the ouster of Ben-Ali in Tunisia, Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei warned of a “Tunisia-style” uprising in Egypt (Shenker, 2011). Protesters in Cairo began mirroring Mohamed Bouazizi with acts of self-immolation.  Meanwhile, a young man, Khaled Said, was beaten to death by police in nearby Alexandria.  Immediately following his death, anonymous activists – later found to be the work of a Google executive – created a Facebook page entitled “We Are All Khaled Said” (Facebook, 2011), which galvanized collective action online.  Similarly, another online act – which brought together online and offline protests – came from a young woman named Asmaa Mahfouz, who recorded and uploaded a YouTube video on to Facebook calling on protesters to gather on January 25 in Tahrir Square (Jardin, 2011).

This video, which went viral – it has over 130,000 views on YouTube and has been shared across the channel, as well as translated to English from Arabic – calls for people to “take a stance” and not “be afraid” to protest the regime of Hosni Mubarak, and demands that human rights be upheld (Jardin, 2011). A departure from the anonymity of social media (a tactic that was used in the Iranian revolutions of 2009 by using alias Twitter profiles), Asmaa unveiled herself as the poster child for the Egyptian revolution.

She used new media tools – video, Facebook, YouTube – to incite others to protest en masse, show solidarity and enact change. Her transparency and rallying cry was accessible to those in Cairo and the world beyond: an unpredictable snowball effect. The term “viral” is often associated with the unexpected or surprise information or idea that passes quickly from one person to the next; within hours it can cross borders, languages, and media channels: it catches fire and can have a shocking or inspirational fallout as a result.

Asmaa’s video led to the January 25 day of action in Tahrir Square, whereby tens of thousands of protesters – at least one-quarter of them women- gathered to chant, yell, and cry for their crippling economic and status to come to an end (Otterman, 2011). The largest people’s movement in 30 years, the Tahrir Square protest is now written in history as a tectonic shift in how democracy in demand can happen at rapid speed.

Government response and the internet blackout

With the tens of thousands protesting and cell phones serving as video recorders, the new media push to spread information was undeniable. Live streaming from blogs, Arab channels such as Al Jazeera, and Western media outlets allowed viewers worldwide a glimpse at the demonstrations, as well as the opposition’s attempts at securing power by any means necessary. The Egyptian government, in retaliation, issued crackdowns by the state police and many were killed (Beaumont, Shenker, & Khalili, 2011).  In a series of efforts to suppress online organizing, Mubarak blocked all access to the internet on January 27, an “unprecedented” event in internet history (Smith, 2011). The internet was halted, but the protesters continued (Lavrusik, 2011).  This event caused even further scrutiny of Mubarak and his abusive power tactics, across the MENA region and the world, culminating to the final breaking point of the old regime (Banks, 2011)

Mubarak’s fall and its aftermath

On February 11, after a series of failed attempts to suppress or appease the protesters and establish control, Mubarak officially resigned (Banks, 2011). The preceding 18 days of action, full of death, anger and strife, came to an end; Egypt, along with the rest of the world, erupted. The fall of a dictator was only the “first phase” (Otterman, 2011), however; the hard work of the men and women had led to this monumental force, but the aftermath would materialize in perhaps even more unpredictable ways. Since the revolution was largely leaderless, the issues surrounding power and control post-Mubarak – be it by the military, the Muslim Brotherhood or an opposition-party leader – were not calculated into the revolution’s strategy. What remained was unclear, and uncertainty grew amongst Egyptians (not to mention the US, Israel, and the rest of the Arab world) on where the next step would take them (Shadid, 2011).

As I write this, a new wave of protests has erupted in Cairo, as the disgust and frustration with the military-controlled interim state has reached a tipping point; the military’s attempt in appeasing the protesters by appointing a Mubarak “protégé”, Kamel el-Ganzouri, has been met with equal fervor and anger to the protests in January. The youth are especially disillusioned  with the 78-year-old’s post, as they feel it is just another wheel in the cog of the same machine that has controlled the government since 1952 ( (Kirkpatrick, From U.S. and Tahrir Square, pressures converge on Egypt’s military, 2011). The democratic elections of parliament have just started on November 28 and will, for the first time in almost sixty years, present the option of creating a civilian-backed government that generations of Egyptians have never seen (Kirkpatrick, From U.S. and Tahrir Square, pressures converge on Egypt’s military, 2011).

Egyptian Women of the Arab Spring: A Social Media Revolution

I wrote a paper in December 2011 around the role of social media and women’s involvement in the Arab Spring as part of my graduate class at USF: “Gender and Globalization”. Following are portions of my paper in a series.

Introduction

This paper will analyze Egyptian women and their role in the 2011 Arab Spring revolution. Through problematizing historical systems and current structures, I will attempt to examine the way new media is shaping women’s movements and facilitating women’s rights in a predominantly patriarchal, Muslim society.

I am fascinated by the role of new media in people’s movements, specifically, the new narrative that it helps us create as global citizens. As stories are told in real-time, truly understanding who is writing our own history is a challenge, as tweets, updates and posts fade into the folds of blogs and are lost behind the scroll of endless pages. The use of new media in people’s movements began in 2009 in Iran, and has continued at an even stronger rate since, in particular in Tunisia and Egypt. The role women had in the Arab Spring uprisings – both on the ground and online – was particularly powerful in Egypt, and is backed by a history that has supported women mobilizers in previous periods of unrest. Examining the unfolding of a 21st century people’s movement while attempting to understand a new media narrative is why I chose to do research in this area.

Within the context of this paper I will also be providing visuals – charts and graphs – to illustrate the way these collective points of action – tweets, posts, searches – tell a greater story.

Statement of Purpose

In this paper I would like to address the Arab Spring protests in Egypt through the lens of women’s movements and the rise of social media as a conduit for action and solidarity throughout the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA). I will be answering the following questions: What role did women play in igniting, creating and sustaining change in the January 2011 revolution in Egypt; what role did social media play in facilitating this movement both on and off the ground, and specifically how were women using new media to engage in the conversation and planning of the revolution; where do women fit into the new paradigm of government in Egypt, and how are they focusing on bringing women’s rights into a newly democratic society?

With these questions in mind, I will be touching on the history and context of the Arab Spring revolutions, starting with the Tunisian revolt in early January and ending with the ouster of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in late January. I will examine the role history played in women’s movements and progression of women’s rights leading to the Arab Spring, and address the actions of women and their real-time organizing via social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. My conclusion, largely topical, will focus on the recent events in Tahrir surrounding the current transition government and women’s roles in post-revolution Egypt.

#DML2013 Debrief: Reflections on Digital Media and Learning Conference (part 1)

DML Conference

I have to say the first thing that struck me after arriving at the Digital Media and Learning 2013 Conference last week in Chicago was its lack of pretension. It was a very well organized setup, and no-frills –  the $75 entry fee meant no swag, except for some free publications in book and pamphlet form (which are by the way really great), and no corporate sponsors with their flimsy handouts and gimmicky promotions – a sign that it was going to be a really authentic experience. It turned out to be much more than that: intimate, inspirational, and validating, I came away from it feeling full of new ideas and questions.

This post is the first in a small series about the conference –  what I learned and what questions remain.

Overall Theme – Democratic Futures: Technology as Catalyst for Social Change
Called “Democratic Futures”, the conference brought together a diverse cabal of folks in many different spheres of education to discuss how young people can be agents of change in their communities and beyond. It was definitely an activist-centered conference, and technology was just the layer on top of it, the catalyst. I quickly realized that there were 3 distinct camps present in both the audience and speaker groups: 1) the research and technology folks who were pushing innovation both in and outside the classroom (still, very little product placement involved); 2) the educators, higher ed or below, who may have been more traditionalist in their approach to technology uses (citing often the “protectionist” approach to safeguarding youth online; and 3) the social justice organizers and students themselves who were clear agents of change in their communities. At times I could sense the tension between the three camps, since they each had their own vested interest in how technology could or could not work for them. The bottom line: technology is not a savior, and should not be an excuse for involvement, not scapegoated for when things fail. It should help you get from point A to B, to express yourself, to empower your community, to get your message across. The dominating hype is not going to die down anytime soon, so we need to be the ones to recognize and counteract it with our own stories.

Keynote by Ethan Zuckerman MIT Center for Civic Media: “Beyond the Crisis in Civics”
Ethan Zuckerman’s talk was the most anticipated of the conference, not just because he was the keynote but also because he is widely known for his activist work in the US and abroad. What I took from his talk is summarized below:

In our heavily mediated world, we should be focusing on agency rather than “traditional” civics participation. Gone are the days when being a civically-minded person meant you would have to write your congressman or newspaper – the internet allows for a sliding scale of engagement as well as new forms of participation: from signing an online petition to remixing a political ad to creating a story about your own community’s struggles, there are more ways to “practice civics” than ever before. We should also reinterpret how we view “authentic” participation; while we are accustomed to movements like the Arab Spring, where a critical mass indicates “true” mobilization, we should also think about how that can be met via different means, with different outcomes. A spectrum of involvement has been created as a result (see picture below). Yet, because of new media’s rapid “spreadability”, we often have to evaluate after the fact: the slow swell does not play out well on YouTube. But questioning that impact is becoming more important: Was Occupy successful? Or the Arab Spring? Other examples are more clear: KONY2012 was a success in terms of its campaign goals, but the bottom fell out quickly afterwards.

Matrix of Civic Involvement

Follow up questions:
What constitutes success if ultimately we are just recirculating old ideas of activism in new forms? New media complicates this frame: because online campaigns are trackable and “achievable” (they can scale at a much faster rate than offline), they change our understanding of success. When does a click represent more than a symbolic action?

For the full Keynote presentation and writeup far more in-depth than mine, please visit the Center for Civic Media’s blog.

Charity Capitalism and Citizenship

Charity Capitalism – not a new idea, but certainly generating big buzz this year. From TOMS, to Starbucks, to the awful Five Hour Energy – everyone is trying to “do right by doing good”. Well as the saying goes: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”…

As much as the media leads us to believe that we can “vote with our wallet” and “make a difference” by confronting complex global issues with small consumerist actions, the whole concept of Charity + Capitalism subverts power, dilutes critical reasoning and most importantly, normalizes Whiteness. Charity Capitalism is nothing but White Privilege with a price tag attached. You get something for giving something – not your time or skills, but your money. And where does that money actually go? I doubt many can answer that. You feel good about helping a child or a starving farmer, but what do they get? Do they have a say? Not really. They aren’t the agents, here – it’s YOU (You, the one with the money and power, not them). This is what White Privilege is all about – validating the subject (who is in this case the donor, not the receiver), because they carry the power, the words, the money, the fame (Hello, Live 8, or Charity:Water, or, ugh, KONY2012).

I like what Phil Baumann wrote on the subject: consumerism and capitalism don’t lead to good citizenship. He’s right, for many obvious reasons, one which I mention in my piece on the White Savior Industrial Complex (the core of which comes from Teju Cole‘s piece in the Atlantic, which is a must read).

It’s about privilege. Not just economic – it’s white privilege. Why white? Because those in power are predominantly Western and white (this is apparent across pretty much all of international development agencies – the IMF, the World Bank, USAID, NGOs, etc). How do children in Peru feel about their TOMS shoes, which wear out after about one week of walking across dusty, rainy and snowy terrain in the Andes? We don’t know –  all we see are smiling kids with their brand new shoes. Sure, some kids don’t have shoes, and having an extra pair can’t hurt. However, I doubt they feel empowered because they got new shoes from China. (And by the way, the leather sandals they usually wear, despite being open to cold weather, are much more durable, and not to mention, locally made.)  But to the consumer, it’s a great feeling – “I made a difference!” “I am a good person!”. (Full disclosure: I own 2 pairs of TOMS shoes, and they are very comfortable, but I don’t agree with their model). Charity Capitalism distorts this whole idea in many new and perverse ways because it plays on people’s emotions, and when you add money to the mix, it’s extremely volatile.

While Charity Capitalism desensitizes citzenry and erodes capitalism, as Baumann suggests, it also disempowers those at the receiving end, especially in the “developing world”. How do Colombian farmers feel about the fair trade $4 Starbucks cup you’re drinking? It’s not important, remember – it’s all about YOU and your empowerment, your agency, your voice (otherwise, you won’t care – it’s interest convergence, exemplified). Digital whiteness, and the continuous majoritarian form of storytelling that suppresses those in need while validating privilege, is what makes Charity Capitalism even more pernicious and threatening. It’s largely invisible, and rarely talked about.

Read Cole’s piece (and mine 🙂 ), watch Zizek’s RSA animate video, and you’ll soon see why humanitarism + social media + Western capitalism = a recipe for disaster.

The “White Savior Industrial Complex” – Lit Review – Conclusion

Conclusion and Future Studies of the White Savior Industrial Complex

The above cited literature and empirical examples of the White Savior Industrial Complex provide a global picture of the true nature of international aid and Western postcolonial humanitarianism in a new age of social media and Web 2.0. Research on whiteness, postcolonialism and Western imperialism is broad and reaches back to the mid-twentieth century, with the works of Fanon, Foucault, Bhabha and Grimes being cited most often in the literature that was compiled for this topic. Due to the narrower and more contemporary nature of new media’s influence on the White Savior complex, these works were not utilized in this literature review.  A classic treatment of postcolonialism and poor economics would likely contribute to a deeper, more philosophical approach to the theme, yet these topics are foundational in understanding the basis for postcolonial whiteness and its derived discourse.

From the research in this literature review, the articles by Hughey, Zhang, Davis, Rideout, Jessie, and Cole, touched on “digital whiteness” in ways that other researchers did not. They examined how “the Other” was portrayed or suppressed while the West’s image was augmented, and they explained how codified imagery and visuals aided in the solidification of the White Savior myth. By describing the issue of the “voiceless Other”, they alluded to the need for counter-narratives in framing global issues like poverty, while reifying the fact that global issues are indeed complex and not reducible to the common Master/Native binary frame. While Cole is in fact from Nigeria and can use his personal stories to counteract those in the media (as he did in his Atlantic piece), it is not clear whether the remaining authors are from the areas about which they write, nor if they have personal experiences with people from those areas. What is necessary to dismantle the myth of the White Savior Industrial Complex is the employment of counter-narratives to combat naturalized digital whiteness; additionally, these counter-narratives must be shared by those who have lived experiences of them. Research on the ills of foreign aid and the White Man’s Burden should not only be written by White men; moreover, they need to provide the avenues through which media can disseminate these narratives in the same methods that the current myth is being propagated. Gaps in the research include participatory research (aside from Cole) and lack of understanding around the “viral” factor of new media such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. For every new NGO, there exists an account each for Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest: multiple media outlets with the potential for exponential message saturation.  These movements cannot be ignored nor neglected. As new media spreads throughout the world, so does the ability for those who were voiceless to have their voices heard. The Arab Spring is a good example of the movement being “owned” by those participating in it. The Western media attempted to augment their role and involvement, and while Western tools were used to amplify online voices, the movement was successfully crafted by and for the people in the Middle East. While certain themes from the movement have been lost over time, the movement itself is a representation of the types of counter-narratives that can be employed by giving those in need the tools and access in order to share their stories. The hopeful outlook on social media’s world penetration, and the subsequent narrowing of the “digital divide” is that one day, the Western narrative would cease to exist, revealing a more democratic, empowered, self-sustaining, multi-faceted  and representative world narrative in its place.

The “White Savior Industrial Complex” – Lit Review – Part 6

Empirical Examples – Pleasure Principle, Agency and Empowerment

The following are example Tweets or Facebook (social media) posts that exemplify the West’s fixation on “making a difference” by empowering itself through oversimplified calls-to-action while simultaneously omitting participation from “the Other”. Organizations such as the United Nations Development Project, Kiva.org, Toilet Day.org and Global Citizen are cited as examples of the one-way dialogue that is perpetuated, at a very low cost and very large scale, to the masses in the West. By perpetuating the myth and glorifying the West, these pernicious examples of codified whiteness do not help the intended recipient. At best they are bits of knowledge about commonly cited world issues, and at worst they are coercive tactics that subvert power in order to continue to promote the West’s postcolonial agenda.

UN DevelopmentTwitter Post (2012)

undp-twitter

 

 

 

 

Kiva.orgFacebook Post (2012)

kiva-fb


 

 

 

Toilet DayTwitter Post (2012)

toilet-day-twitter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Global Citizen – Twitter Post (2012)

global-citizen-twitter