If you are on twitter and following the Arab Spring news, you couldn’t have missed Andy Carvin - the journalist and senior strategist at NPR – who happened to be taking the lead since the start of 2011 in curating the news of the Middle East and North Africa. Andy Carvin (@acarvin) was this week in Beirut on a conference in the American University of Beirut (AUB). In an interview yesterday with The Daily Star, he expressed:
“Lebanon seems to have a Casablanca quality, where political refugees come to settle, but there’s a lack of an equivalent native class of activists. My connections within Lebanon are mostly political refugees: Syrians or Yemenis.”
He later tweeted (this morning) to say that some parts of the interview were taken out of context; he didn’t say the Lebanese online community is weak, but simply he didn’t know them. Anyway, I think the above quotation is still valid; we have not seen any main Lebanese ‘online’ participant in the AUB conference, and I am curious to know why a prominent online community organizer hasn’t come across the Lebanese online community. Here is my take, on the probable reasons:
1. No current Lebanese spring:
One obvious reason why the ‘impression’ of lack ‘digital activists’ in Lebanon exists is that the country is not experiencing any ‘spring’ at the moment (and will not in the near future – apart from this blog’s name). This makes its news pretty irrelevant to the mass of followers who are not necessarily experts or normally interested in that particular country or subject. Lebanon news is (currently) boring relative to what’s happening around us, and the carriers of any Lebanese ‘Breaking News’ will hardly attract any attention from outsiders. Having said that, I think there are loads of ‘nitty-gritty’ stuff that could interest foreign pundits and experts.
2. A lot of ‘freedom’ in Lebanon:
As strange as it may sound, but this could be a reason! The problems in Lebanon’s system and the its road to real democracy are inherently very different from all other Arab countries, whether they are experiencing an uprising now or not. Lebanon is not ruled by a totalitarian one party or dictator, although there are loads of them there – the former warlords! The Main Stream Media tend to reflect the people’s voices, and the people have reasonably easy access to them. So the main media is partly taking a role of activism although mostly motivated by their partisan inclinations. I note here the famous saying of the former Prime Minister Salim El-Hoss: “Lebanon has a lot of freedom, but not much democracy”.
3. A vibrant civil society:
If the term ‘digital activism’ exists, then it surely flourished during the Arab Spring in the autocratic regimes where the traditional ways of news reporting were suppressed or censored. In Lebanon, this is less a problem. You don’t need to go ‘underground’ to express. The existing environment of ‘freedom’ has cultivated a very vibrant civil society.
In a country of a population of 4 millions, there are hundreds of blogs, and more than 7,000 associations and NGOs. In Lebanon, you don’t need a license to start any association; you just need to ‘inform’ the Ministry of Interior who will respond that they are ‘aware’ of your organisation, which is then deemed established (without any required approval).
4. Slow internet?:
I am sure having one of the slowest Internet in the world is not hindering the blogging scene, but it can certainly have an impact on how the Lebanese twitterverse (which is not big in itself) acts. It’s near impossible to upload attachments instantaneously in Lebanon. With the recent introduction of 3G service this month, mobile broadband will be more affordable and spread among the population, and the twitterverse will attract more entrants. Lebanese ‘digital’ activists will increase, and Andy Carvin will find them in the due course. For now, they heavily exist but may be in a different social context that he hasn’t received.