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Archive for February 27th, 2011|Daily archive page

Yemeni Journalist’s Program Allows Facebook & Twitter Access Despite Government Blocks

In Science & Technology, World Revolution, Yemen on February 27, 2011 at 11:45 PM

Walid Al-Saqaf’s alkasir is an unsung hero in the recent political overhaul in Egypt and the Arab world. Alkasir–meaning “circumventor”–is what has allowed many ordinary citizens to access Facebook and Twitter and share vital information despite government blocks.

“Given that the Arab world is suffering from political censorship, there is a strong need for this in the region,” Al-Saqaf tells Fast Company.

The site uses a “split tunnel” technology to help people access blocked websites and map censorship by verifying filtering of websites around the world. And part of its grassroots success is that it only focuses on blocked sites for ideas and opinion-sharing. And it feeds off of word of mouth. “I didn’t carry out formal marketing and that was intentional. I wanted people to investigate and find out on their own,” says Al-Saqaf.

The site evolved out of Al-Saqaf’s own experiences of censorship in his home country of Yemen. His site, is an open platform for Yemeni websites to voice their opinions, and the government blocked it after it started making room for dissident voices.

“I was a victim of censorship and I still am. The government blocked my site in 2008 and they didn’t give any reason for it. I believe it got blocked because it didn’t filter out any dissident content,” says Al-Shaqaf.

“My website became a platform for all voices, regardless of background or affiliation. I only had a small portion of dissident content, but I was seen as promoting dissidence,” he says.

And, “Instead of negotiating, they all of a sudden blocked it. And then they started negotiating, after they blocked it. The President’s media secretary, Abdo Borji, told me ‘We don’t like that your website has content that is against the national government of Yemen.’ They said ‘You need to block this list of websites. After that we won’t censor your website anymore.’ I said not only will I remain neutral, but I gave him the gift of Alkasir. I said ‘Hey, if you ever need to access a site that has been blocked, use this.'”

Timing was key, too. “People in Egypt were in a panic,” Al-Saqaf says. “They didn’t know what to do and they would email me saying they were so thankful. For some websites, you can’t even use proxies. But people would download this program and then they would be able to access updated reports.” And once people found out about the service, they would then tweet about it, which helped to spread the word.

And in Yemen specifically, though the tension has not yet exploded as it has in Egypt and Libya, he continues to promote from afar.

“Since the revolutionary atmosphere has built up in the region, I now aggregate thousands and thousands of Facebook posts that are calling for peaceful protests against the oppression. I opened a window on our homepage that displays a banner in Arabic that says ‘this is a revolutionary portal.’ When you click on it, it displays videos, pictures, and posts that all call for the end of the Yemeni regime.”

“I’m quite optimistic given the wave of change in the region,” says Al-Saqaf. “Libya’s regime is on the verge of collapse. Even if Yemen’s regime doesn’t fall, it’s giving concession after concession and releasing more activists, so I don’t think they’ll attack protestors. I hope they seek ways to surrender peacefully and not lead the way of Ghadaffi.”

Protestors are calling for the resignation of Yemeni’s long-standing dictator, Ali Abdallah Saleh.

“There are many corrupt apparatuses and they need to be tried fro their crimes against the people of Yemen,” says Al-Saqaf.

For the future, Al-Saqaf plans to expand Alkasir to be able to accommodate a range of web service access, including VOIP. So if Skype gets blocked, for example, Alkasir provides a way to access it.

He also finds other ways to use Alkasir. “I use it for research and maps, too, as the service identifies blocked sites. In that way it serves as a source of knowledge for scientists and academics and at the same time it empowers activists,” he says.


On Thursday, February 3rd, 2011 at 12:00 PM EST (GMT-5) AccessNow hosted a live streamed online symposium entitled: The Middle East, the Revolution, and the Internet.

Symposium participants included:

Frank La Rue: United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
Marietje Schaake: Dutch Member of the European Parliament
Jillian York: Harvard University Berkman Center
Tarek Amr: Egyptian Digital Activist on Global Voices
Walid Al-Saqaf: Yemeni software developer and journalist
Mohamed ElGohary: Egyptian Activist
Aasil Ahmad: Democracy Activist
Brett Solomon: Access (Moderator)

Tunisia’s New Interim PM Beji Caid Essebsi

In News, Tunisia, World Revolution on February 27, 2011 at 10:22 PM

Beji Caid Essebsi is now the interim PM of Tunisia. Here is his biography posted on the French Wikipedia. (It can be translated with Google)

What will likely be most focused on in the world is this:

[He] rejoined the government as Minister Delegate to the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs on 15 April 1981 , he held the position until September 15, 1986 . During these six years, he faces several crises, including the arrival of Palestinian fighters – driven out of Beirut – at Bizerte in 1982 , the bombing of the headquarters of the PLO in Hammam Chott (south of Tunis) by the army Israeli Air ( Operation Wooden Leg ) in 1985 , not to mention the constant mood of Muammar Qaddafi . The high point of his career as head of the diplomacy of Tunisia remains the vote on UN resolution condemning the Israeli aggression against Tunisia

His last appearance in the media, was on Nesma TV, a few days after the flight of Ben Ali on January 14, 2010.

He is referred to as Kingpin Essebsi. If you click on the individual whom he is the great-grandson of (Ismail Caid Essebsi), it seems he comes from family with a level of aristocratic roots in Tunisia. It is unlikely this works for the revolution, but this should be understood: This is a transitional government. The revolution may have to settle for a techno- or aristocrat and then push for elections to be sooner. They may be better off focusing on getting open, free and fair elections and ensuring those elections are held and that the interim PM does not keep power past July.

Massacre in Aden After Hundreds of Thousands Protest in Yemen

In World Revolution, Yemen on February 27, 2011 at 9:50 PM

Hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters converged on squares in Sanaa in Yemen on February 25th, and protested throughout the day. Facebook pages for Taiz City and Aden indicated that thousands of people were protesting in those cities as well.

The security forces opened fire in the afternoon in the al-Mu’alla district as more than 1,000 protesters chanting “peaceful, peaceful,” and carrying posters reading “peaceful” stopped about 100 meters from a line of approximately 100 military, police, and other security forces, the witness said. President Ali Abdullah Saleh had two days earlier promised to prevent clashes at anti-government demonstrations and protect the rights of protesters to assemble peacefully.

“Two days after President Saleh promised to halt all attacks on peaceful protesters, there is more bloodshed,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Other countries, including The United States, the United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia, need to press Yemen to stop these senseless and illegal attacks.”

At least one security officer stepped out and opened fire with a military assault weapon without giving a warning, the witness told Human Rights Watch. He said the gunman wore the gray uniform of the National Security Bureau. Police then immediately opened fire, shooting both into the air and straight at the crowd, and also fired teargas at the protesters, the witness said.

List of all the dead and wounded from the February 25 massacre in Aden

Amnesty International has issued a press statement accusing Yemeni security forces of blocking injured protesters from accessing hospitals.

WLCentral Yemen Revolution Updates

Mohammed Ghannouchi Resigns Amid Tunisian Protests

In News, Tunisia, WikiLeaks, World Revolution on February 27, 2011 at 5:12 PM

Tunisians have once again marched through the capital Tunis after the Friday prayer demanding the resignation of interim PM Mohammed Ghannouchi, a long-time ally of the ousted leader.

It was the biggest rally at the Kasbah Square since Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia last month after being toppled by weeks of unrest.
The embattled interim government has promised elections by mid-July, but the crowds marched down the capital’s avenue chanting: “Ghannouchi leave.”

Later police fired tear gas and warning shots as they cleared the demonstrators from in front of the Interior Ministry .

The crowds also staged a sit-in in front of the state TV station, calling on the managers and directors of the station to resign. The protesters were complaining that the state TV had not changed its pro-regime policies!

Reuters reports that hundreds of journalists and technicians from Tunisia’s state-run television broadcaster have gone on strike over what they said was continued government censorship of their dispatches.

Witnesses told Press TV some protesters were injured when police fired warning shots at the crowd in front of the Interior Ministry, which some estimates said was 100,000-strong.

Protesters are complaining that the interim government and the commissions set up to manage the transition are not representative and are not conducting their work quickly or transparently enough.

Tunisian Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi has announced on state TV that he is resigning, a key demand of demonstrators who have again taken to the streets in recent days.

At least three people were killed in clashes between hundreds of protesters and security forces in Tunis on Saturday.

Mr Ghannouchi is seen as being too close to former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who was toppled in an uprising last month.

Related Links:

A Cablegate Farewell to Tunisia Interim PM Mohammed Ghannouchi

Tunisia’s New Interim PM Beji Caid Essebsi

WLCentral Tunisia Revolution Updates

Guantanamo Prisoner #746: Saad Iqbal Madni

In Guantanamo, News, Other Leaks on February 27, 2011 at 3:55 PM

Guantanamo prisoner #746

Saad Iqbal Madni is an Islamic scholar from Pakistan who spent five years in Guantanamo Bay.

He was released in 2008 – he says without charge – but has been under house arrest in Lahore since then.

Under anti-terrorism legislation, all former suspects returning to Pakistan are automatically placed under restrictions when they return.

Saad’s ordeal began a few months after 9/11, during a visit to Indonesia.

He says he was bundled onto a plane in Jakarta in January 2002, and then flown to Egypt.

From there he was transferred to Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, and moved again in March 2003 to Guantanamo Bay.

He claims he was humiliated, tortured, and abused every step of the way.

The CIA has declined to comment on his claims, and the US Defense Department has told us that detainees are treated legally and humanely, and torture has never been used in Guantanamo Bay.

BBC Correspondent Orla Guerin went to meet Saad to find out about his life in Lahore now, his years in prison, and to ask what he was doing in Indonesia.

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