In praise of progress generally, and blogging specifically

Last week, Eygptian blogger Wael Abbas (NB he writes in Arabic!) was credited by French newspaper Le Figaro with striking a major blow against oppression, thanks to three of the ubiquitous incidents of material progress a mobile phone with integrated videocamera, the multimedia internet and the unchanging nature of man. (Not credited by Le Figaro, but generally equally praiseworthy are Demagh MAK, and, in English,  3arabwy.)

In the example for which Wael is credited, Emad al-Kabir was arrested and released by the police. After complaining, he was arrested and violently  abused by the police, who used a mobile phone to film their exploits. Now the police are facing disciplinary action and al-Kabir looks unlikely to disappear (but see for a negative take on the same ‘disciplinary tribunal’ and an interesting discursion on Egyptian law re torture). They also cite the recent example of a woman appearing to confess to murder, hanging by her knees from  a bar between to chairs with her wrists tied to her ankles (an especially helpless position) and being beaten.

The ingredients

1                   A mobile phone

The cases I am highlighting here were all filmed on mobile phones. Most often (see point 3), the films were taken by the same police that perpetrated the violences. In the case of al-Kabir the film was circulated through his neighbourhood, apparently for its pedagogical value.

2                   The internet

Eygptian bloggers such as  the three  I mention  have distributed films like this on their websites and using them to try and

  1. bring the perpetrators to justice
  2. put pressure on the government
  3. attract wider attention
  4. protect the victims perversely enough, the first reaction of the Eygptian government is often to arrest the victims for, eg, resisting arrest. When the person in question is filmed being sodomised with a stick, that looks less credible.
3                   The unchanging nature of man

Man is as capable of both enduring and inflicting great pain and suffering as ever. As I believe this story illustrates sufficiently without further commentary.

The cake(s)

One thing this story reminds me of is that things easily dismissed as frivolous or superfluous luxuries in the rich world are often quite different in the poor world. One readily imagines (to pick a random moonbat) Clive Hamilton dismissing mobile phones in this manner, yet in Africa and the subcontinent, they are incredibly empowering and valuable tools which materially improve the lives of millions. I can imagineremember myself life without the internet and it doesn’t seem so big a deal. Yet look at what Abbas had to say when the BBC asked him to contribute to its Xmas quotes (listen here):


My message at the beginning of a new year is not to a person, but rather to a thing. My message is to this marvelous thing called the Internet. The Jinni that goes everywhere to everyone traveling through wires and cables and even through thin air. This jinni was the one to open the jar called mainstream media that we were kept in for decades. The jinni opened the jar and let us out once and for good, the jinni gave us unlimited freedom of expression – something we had never had  

And the bloggers are the most thankful of all for this bliss, especially those of the third world. But this jinni frightens some governments, because it made things get out of hand for them —   the time when they thought they had control over everything has come to an end, their control and censorship of the press and the air waves is over. And no matter how hard they try to put it back in the jar, it surprisingly manages to escape. Dear jinni, we are counting on you, to give our people the real picture, without distortion, without censorship and without hidden agendas, we are counting on you to expose corruption, negligence and violations of human rights. And grant us one more wish for the New Year, free Ayman Nour, free Talaat Sadat and free all the prisoners of conscience in Egypt and all over the world

 – Wael


The internet, clearly, is less dispensable to Wael than I considered to myself. To second his opinion of the MSM, I searched Factiva for ‘Egypt police torture’ over the last month, I find that the aggregators (Reuters  AFP and AP) have covered it, but only the French papers appear to have actually devoted any of their own staff time to it (that is unfortunately the limit to my linguistic ability!). The two honourable exceptions appear to be the Financial Times and the Geelong Advertiser(!). The staff time of western papers, as revealed by this search,  is concerned with the possibility of the CIA having ‘rendered’ suspects to the Egyptian police, etc.

Looking at Wael’s blog, there has been coverage on Guardian Unlimited and BBC News, but the former is ‘just’ an invitational  blog on the site, not part of the Guardian as such.

So I guess the second cake one might make from those ingredients is that the MSM is not particularly ‘right’ or ‘left’ so much as generally incompetent – and that we have blogging to thank for showing us this, and filling some gaps.

An interesting counterweight to that  is that the most western attention (according to Factiva) was excited by the interrogation of an Al-Jazeera journalist at the airport, and confiscation of her tapes – she had been investigating police torture in Egypt. MSM remains an integral part of a free world, which is why blogging will never replace it as such. But let’s hope it can get better.

If anyone knows of these stories being covered by Western media, I would be delighted to hear of it.


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