UPDATEDI received an email today from an academic researcher asking about my thoughts of blogging and political reform. He quoted me in one of my posts when I said before about the blogging role in reform that "I didn't think it was of much importance, and I still don't actually". I actually think that thinking of blogging as a mean to political reform is absurd. Here is part of my reply that I emailed back, and then follows some positive thoughts about blogging:
I think the Internet is great, its a great medium of communication and propagating information, but not in reform or democratization. Real freedoms and democracy are built on the ground, not in virtual spaces. That would be asking too much from the Internet.
Blogging is even worse than the Internet. Its great that I can say whatever I want, but how will that democratize Egypt! Someone out there, in a different continent, will get to know how an Egyptian in a completely different culture and political sphere is thinking. That's nice, but nice, is as far as it gets.
Blogging, or the Internet, could be useful if the people doing actual work on the ground use it as a medium for communication, organization, and discussions --as a forum. But it cannot replace real forums, and real work for freedom and democracy. It facilitates, and that's all it does.
I personally love blogging, and I've personally always wanted to contribute to the development of Egypt. Would be great if I can do it through blogging/the Internet, but the only way I see such medias helping is through organizing the thoughts of activists. That's all. And so far, its not even close to being that.
The reasons why I started blogging are obvious, since I wrote them down. What triggered me to start this blog is what I wrote in my second post, because I was bit pissed at that person who contacted me regarding that demonstration, and couldn't let it out so elaborately elsewhere. I didn't think I'd keep blogging for that long, and I didn't think it'd turn into that. It kind of turned into an 'ahwa chat. A bunch of my friends still go to the real 'ahwa every night to play cards, and sometimes chat, and I've quit joining them long ago. But this is acting like a substitute now.
Soon after I wrote those first two posts, I was getting abit excited about blogging. I am a very goal-oriented person, which usually is the reason why I end up doing nothing, convincing myself that it doesn't lead to anything, and achieves nothing, so I'd better stop doing it! Anyway, so I thought this blogging media can be really useful, and if intellectually active people start getting into blogging, this might be pretty beneficial. So I started anonymously emailing the interesting people I know refering to a few blogs that I knew at the time to hopefully get them interested and have them hop on. I think they thought my email was spam and deleted it.
Just having such people blogging was not interesting enough though. But what I was hoping for is to have some kind of forum. Blogging blogging blogging, discussions discussions discussions, converging into actions is what I was thinking of. Some kind of a common place, where everyone may have their own blog to raise the issues, expose their thoughts, discuss, and potentially reach some common grounds for action plans.
A couple of years after I graduated from University, an email exchange with college friends turned into a forum between ourselves, discussing the future of our industry in Egypt, why its so screwed up, and how it may be reformed. We categorized the disucssions into topics, and tried to steer the discussions. I thought it was going pretty well, started inviting more people, but it just faded away so quickly, it was very dissapointing. I got so carried away (as I sometimes do) with the potential of that forum at the time, that I realized later how naive I was, and how most people didn't really give a damn about reform, or development or whatever. All they cared about was their daily job and getting paid well. Living in Egypt does that sometimes I guess.
In my little naive mind, I sometimes miss that discussion forum back then, and wish it had kept going for longer. In my little naive mind, I was hoping for something similar those first few days I started blogging, and I still think it could be interesting and maybe beneficial. I am however just satisfied by dumping my thoughts out, even if without a goal. Just wish this 'ahwa serves better drinks.
More thoughts communicated between the academic researcher that triggered this post and myself below (I hope you don't mind quoting part of your email here, which are pretty reasonable thoughts I may add).
As you can imagine, Americans love to think that a freer press and more widespread information and communication technologies lead to political reform and democracy, it´s their traditional liberal view of things: if it worked for us, why wouldn´t it work elsewhere? And there´s all this talk and blablabla now on the ways to democratize the region...just like a group of surgeons around the operating table, looking at the patient discussing how to cut the leg or implant a new kidney!!
So I say that we should look at the impact of the new media (satellite television, internet, blogs, cell phones ...) with a different angle, look at their impact in the establisment -probably for the first time in modern Arab history- of an Arab "imagined community" with the nascence of a vibrant and diverse Arab public sphere, or Arab mass audience...
More than to the link with political reform -which I don´t deny there is-, I am more interested in the individual and sociological impact, how they broaden the scope of the pulic sphere, how they allow for the emergence of new actors (pluralism and diversity were already there, but now it´s more visible, it´s even visible for a esterner like me who doesn´t even speak Arabic or Farsi!), how they fragment political authority and religious authority (www.islamonline.net !)... and all this, somehow, will have a political impact, yes, but we´ll see how. And here is where I would link this to what you said!
And my response:
No one can claim that there is full free press in Egypt, but the press here is quite free if you ask me. The opposition newspapers and others, have been criticizing everything that walks, and some of those criticizim's are without any basis too. It used to be that they can criticize/attack everything except the President and his family, but even that is changing now. He's been directly attacked lately, and in a constant manner.
Our press and journalists are corrupt in their own way too ofcourse, but I do believe that such openness in the press (to some extent), and especially a media channel such AlJazeera are doing alot in the way of change (reform or not I'm not sure) of the political givens.
But then when we come to new medias such as Blogging specifically, I find it totally incomparable to those traditional medias, atleast for the short term. You must've been monitoring the Egyptian blogging activities for example. No way can that be in any way leading to reform in Egypt! I'm not sure about Iran, there are alot of Iranian bloggers, and they seem to be quite organized, and that is kind of what I was talking about in my last post [up top] regarding that topic. What I'm saying is, it can be used in a productive manner for that reform direction, to facilitate the organization of thoughts, propagation of ideas and coordination, and passing all that to the outside world. But there has to exist 'reform' activists first, and they are the ones that should be using the new media to serve their needs better. Technologies (including new media) should be serving an existing need, not create a need of its own to serve. What I mean is, reform is a need that exists ofcourse, but if real reform activists do not exist, then the need does not exist.
The 'imagined community' is interesting, but its very scary. The Egyptian bloggers have kind of formed this 'virtual community' and its becoming very weird. But since we're talking political, it takes me to the main point, is that there has to be a real community first, or a real community that reflects that online presence.
The Islamic websites and forums are actually a very interesting phenomenan, and you are right in looking at that closely. They've been so opressed, and most of their channels have been shut out, that they have been able to successfully use the new medias to serve their needs. And it is in fact serving their needs well, especially those who's goal is a better Islamic education of other Muslims.
Like you, I am more interested in the individual and sociological impact, which I think is enormous, and I'm already feeling it, but I haven't figured out yet what to make of it.