IWPR is giving activists on the frontlines of the “people’s revolutions” across the Middle East and North Africa an international platform to express their views on the dramatic events unfolding around them.
Since its launch in February, just days before the fall of the Mubarak regime in Egypt, IWPR’s Arab Spring initiative has featured scores of accounts of people who have been engaged in the political turmoil sweeping the Arab world.
Kacem Jlidi, a blogger and activist from the Tunisian city of Kairouan whom IWPR has featured a number of times, said that the project was allowing a wide range of views to be heard, giving an insight into events which went beyond straight news reporting and analysis.
“As we try to follow the field reporters and keep up with the breaking news on TV or listen to the updates on the car radio on the way to work or grocery shopping, we often get overwhelmed with the huge amount of news and we miss having a step back just to look at the bigger picture, trying to connect the dots in an attempt to understand the story,” Jlidi said. “To me the Arab Spring project is that step. It provides the general public with realistic and professional analysis coming from citizens experiencing events.
“The picture is given by people living and making the change themselves; people that for years were blindfolded and forced to shut up; people who once got harassed by the system and people who stepped onto the streets calling for freedom, calling for the winter to end. Views, reports and stories coming from such people have a lot to offer, compared to the same analysis given by neutral journalists simply interested in carrying the news.”
According to Mohamed El Dahshan, a journalist and development economist based in Cairo, who has contributed several pieces on his experiences during the Egyptian revolution, “there’s huge value in having firsthand accounts, as opposed to formulaic journalistic accounts.
“In my recent public talks about the revolutions and social movements in the region, I have come to realise that what seems to stick with the audience isn't the organised lists of reasons and repercussions, but the small personal anecdotes.
“Since the Arab world is a painfully misunderstood region… giving a voice to people on the ground - be they the hardcore activists or the accidental heroes - provides readers outside the region with a new image of the Arab world?”
Raed El Rafei, Lebanese journalist, and former IWPR editor, said that with the continuing unrest, “getting inside information on freedom movements could help to provide wider support from governments and non-governmental organisations for these movements. It is important for readers around the world to get a grasp of the degree of repression happening to smother freedom movements.”
The IWPR project has featured activists from Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, and covered countries where the impact of the Arab Spring have been less clear, such as Jordan and Morocco.
“Our aim with the Arab Spring reporting project is to provide an opportunity for a wide range of voices from across the region to be given an international platform,” said Arab Spring editor Daniella Peled. “We have featured those at the forefront of change in the region, as well as those in the diaspora following events with concern and hoping to play a part in the changes occurring back home. Ordinary people need to have a voice for those outside the region to fully understand the human impact of the historic changes under way in the Middle East and North Africa.”
Ibrahim Mothana, a history student at Sanaa university of science and technology in Yemen who documented his experiences working as a human rights observer, feels the project will also serve as an important historical record.
“As the uprisings expand to more countries in the Arab world, events becomes harder to track,” Mothana said. “This project brings all the contributions together providing a clear and wider overview of the events in one place. It will be an important resource to refer to and return back to as a real archive of the events.”
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