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May 2, 2007

The Next Step


It has came to my attention that the reasons of my quitting were not clear for some people, which is probably due to the fact that I didn't exactly elaborate on why I did what I did or what it means. This is an effort to remedy that. This is not me coming back to blogging though: this wasn't me crying wolf or a publicity stunt, so fans and haters, don't raise your hopes up or don't get disappointed, respectively. This is a clarification, more than anything.

1) While it is true that I am currently in the States , it doesn't mean that I have "escaped" Egypt or have no intention of going back. On the contrary, come next week I will be gracing the Cairo International Airport with my fabulous presence again. I have no intention of letting those goons get me out of Egypt so easily; If I am to leave it will be on my terms, and not theirs. Me traveling to the US right after shutting down the blog was purely coincidental: the trip was planned for months in advance and the decision to shut down the blog was more of a spur of the moment decision. In retrospect, it probably would've been better and smarter- or at least less rumor inducing- to do this after I came back from the States, but alas, what's done is done. However , to make it clear once and for all, I maybe down, but I am not out.

2) I have stated two reasons for quitting, and the majority of the people took the first one and ignored the second one, even though for me the second one was one of the major reasons for doing what I did. The truth of the matter is, the secuirty situation and intimidation aside, this was a protest, my way of telling the Egyptian blogosphere that we need to focus. That we now have the media attention, the people's admiration or at least interest, and the "zeitgeist' is ours if you will, so it's time we use it wisely. Blogs actually allowed the world to listen to us, so now that we have this tool, the question is : what do we have to say exactly? It's personally depressing to see that very few, handful really, from those who command the attention, have anything to contribute to the debate, and even those are censoring themselves now. I am not saying that we should take ourselves too seriously, or start going on ego trips over our importance and role and believe that we are leaders and influential, but there are things to be done that we can easily do. At the end of the day, a blogger is purveyor of information: we can supply people with the information and the lessons they need to affect change and reform. Just think about it: None of the things we are demanding or calling for are exactly new. There has been countless civil rights movement, democracy movements, nonviolent activism movements, very successful ones, all over history and all over the world. We should learn from them. We should provide their lessons to the public, think about how to apply their strategies to our situation, and see which things that they did are applicable to our situation and which aren't. We are not inventing anything new here: the knowledge is available and many amongst us know it already. Maybe it's time to share it.

And even if you do feel disheartened about the apathy or the lack of interest or activism on the part of the average Mo in Egypt, well that too needs to be examined and worked on. Let's face it, the average Egyptian is scared of political reform, and shies away from religious reform, so how do you get them involved? Well, there is still social reform, and they have shown keen interest in that. Take the anti-sexual harassment protest for example: For the first time ever you have had a protest that included foreigners, AUC students, regular University students, Hijabis, liberals, alongside your run-of-the-mill activist. Finally, something we could all agree on: Let's capitalize on that. The question becomes: Why did the campaign stop? Why didn't it go forward? We should've. If you draw the people in using social reform, than sooner or later they will become interested and active in political and religious reform as well, because it is all connected. That's an example of how to reel them in. And it can be done, easily. But do we do it? Nope! Some of us were too busy picking up cute AUC girls at the protest instead. It's shameful. It's time for us to stop being distracted about such things and focus: All of those people could've been mobilized , and instead the opportunity got wasted. We shouldn't allow this to happen again.

3) That being said and thus out of way, I am not saying that first reason is irrelevant either: Our security situation is dire, and not only in Egypt, but rather all across the middle-east. Bloggers have been intimidated by the authorities in Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Syria, Iran, Bahrain, just to name a few. It seems like the period of hope and reform that the bloggers of those countries have pushed for and represented in the past 2 years is now coming to an end, with the authorities more and more focused and intent on shutting us up, using everything from intimidation to imprisonment. And we have no defenders, no one to protect us, or champion our causes or lobby for our rights and safety. There used to be the Committee to Protect Bloggers, but that went defunct due to lack of funding, media-pressure- only strategy and too large of a scope: To champion the causes of every single persecuted blogger all over the world takes incredible time and effort. Not to mention they relied heavily on the media, and the media is selective of which stories to publish and which don't, and even when they do mention it, there is heavy doubt on how effective the media is as a pressure tool against repressive regimes. But it's the only tool we had, and god bless them for trying in the cases in which they did. God knows that without the media and the pressure they applied, Alaa probably would've stayed a lot longer in jail. So don't get me wrong Media, it's not that I am ungrateful, thanks for all you have done, but it's starting to be not enough, and the Abdel Karim case has proven that so far.

So what now? What's the solution? Well, here is what I am proposing:

I am proposing creating an organization that deals with championing the causes of blogger and freedom of speech in the middle-east, at least as the first step, since it seems that 90% of the cases of blogger intimidation and oppression comes from this region anyway. This new organization / committee / coalition / whatever would exclusively bring focus to our causes, champion them and push for our protection. It would do so by utilizing a strategy that doesn't only rely on bloggers and the media to pressure governments. This new coalition would include 1) prominent bloggers from the US on both sides of the political divide (cause one of the few things that I think the left and the right can agree and co-operate on is the importance of free speech), who will bring light, focus and attention of the American public and the media to the plight of those bloggers, and help mobilize their readers to start letter campaigns and pressure against those governments who do oppress bloggers, 2) prominent bloggers from each and every middle-eastern country, who will provide us with the news of who is getting arrested or persecuted, and help mobilize their local blogosphere and media to come to aid of those who are being persecuted, 3)Human rights organizations and interest groups, local and international ones, to help with the legal, physical and moral support for those imprisoned or charged with crimes due to what they wrote, and 4) Members of American and Europeans Think Thanks and Interest groups, who will help with spreading the word and lobbying their respective government or the select lawmakers who do care about freedom of speech to apply pressure on our governments to leave us the hell alone. This way we would cover all fronts and apply pressure from everywhere: The Media, the blogosphere, both legally and physically on the ground , internationally through lobbying governments and lawmakers, and not to mention, most importantly, through the campaigning of the thousands of caring people world-wide that do give a damn about our freedom and spend their time and effort writing e-mails to our embassies and their government respresentitives, forwarding letters and informing others, and raising money through online donations to support those bloggers affected and in need. If something like this gets created and gets operated correctly, the playing field would be drastically changed in favor of the side of the middle-eastern bloggers, and eventually persecuted bloggers everywhere. It would eliminate a huge part of the worrying associated with blogging and would stop people like me from quitting, and even eventually get me, and others like me who quit, started on blogging again. Such an entity is essential, necessary and its time has come.

Pursuing such an organization this would be the logical next step, for me, for us, to take. This will be my focus in the few remaining days I have here in DC: How to make such an organization real. If you are interested, if you think this is a good idea and would like to help, or have suggestions or ideas or input to help improve or facilitate this, please contact me and let me know. I am all ears, and open to all suggestions.

To risk sounding cliché and trite, let's light and candle instead of cursing the darkness.

We can do this!

The Sandmonkey

PS: I am overwhelmed on the incredible amount of love and support shown in the blogs all over, the comment section of my previous post and all over my Inbox. It's really humbling, and in many ways depressing, because my decision has seemingly caused a lot of people pain and that was the last thing that I wanted to do to any of you. You have my love and sincerest apologies for any grief or disappointment my decision has caused any of you. Thank you so much for your kind words and your best wishes. I honestly do not know what I could've possibly done in my previous life to deserve such fantastic readers, but I must've been a freaking saint or something. Anyway, hopefully, if this works out, One day you will find me ranting over here once again.

Here's hopin!

Posted by Egyptian Sandmonkey at May 2, 2007 10:08 AM

Here's to many more rants, sooner rather than later!

Posted by: Abdul at May 2, 2007 8:10 PM

It's good to see you here, Sam! (Thanks, Richard!)

I can understand your reasons for stepping back from the blog, although I hate that you're doing so. I know it has to be frustrating to risk your own hide when there's such fear and apathy in others. I think you've got exactly the right idea with wanting to move forward with this project. Maybe that fear and apathy in others will be lessened somewhat, once they feel secure in knowing there are more people willing to stand up for them. And you're right--it HAS to be an international effort, or else it'll be too easy to silence it.
I don't know how you do it, dude; it's a lot of hard work with only hope to go on. I'm glad you're getting a break, a bit of time away from it all. Have a great time in DC, and stay outta trouble! ;-)

Posted by: Beth at May 3, 2007 3:36 AM

All of your friends here in the U.S. and elsewhere, Sam, will continue to support you, and it goes without saying that you are surely in our prayers. We look forward to the "next project."

Beth, good to hear from you.

Posted by: Richard at May 3, 2007 10:14 AM

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