“This intifada is about the people of Syria, in the context of the population of the region, under the umbrella of the struggle of the people of the world. This intifada is about liberty in its totality, not simply to lay foundations for a subservient ‘moderate’, ‘civil’ state. If we are truly to be free, as a people, we cannot rely on the Western governments (solidarity with the populace of these nations is another matter). These governments have never cared about the Syrians during colonization and the dictators they supported, and despite the recent crocodile tears, they will never care about the Syrians now or later. This is one of the lessons in history that we must never forget.

Moreover, the groveling and praises of gratitude towards Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries for their ‘support’ of the intifada are vomit-inducing. These are countries that have worked to crush the courageous Bahrain protesters, have ignored the sentiments of the awe-inspiring Yemeni protesters, and have horrible track records in regards to how they treat their own population, among numerous other faults. If this is a true uprising about liberty and dignity, we cannot accept to deal with those that flaunt this and have worked as counter-revolutionary forces in this region during this volatile time of ours. They are not our allies.”

Influence & Freedom

“None of the MENA countries rank in the top 50,” according to the Reporters Without Border 2011-2012 ‘Press Freedom Index’.

This trend alone, calls for a conversation between media, civil society and emerging citizen journalists. For those who are wary of outside non-MENA based organizations judging MENA countries, I have an indigenous source too.  Here’s the sobering factoid: the Amman-based Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) conducted its survey on press freedom and found that only 2 percent of the 500 or so journalist said that they were entirely satisfied with the state of press freedom in the kingdom.

I needed to hear some good news, the bad is just so typical.

Somewhere between the optimism and the pessimism, the back and forth sentiments suffocate my need for a reality check.  I need to understand how people can succeed or inspire despite living in environments (like Syria, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey) that present challenges in expressing ideas, opinions, and limit media freedom.

How do people become agents of influence when media outlets determine when, how and who hears their narratives?  The who, what, when, and how determines impact.  If someone’s narrative impacts, then they represent influence. Right?

The good news is that Time Magazine announced its ‘Most Influential People for 2012’.  In particular, PITAPOLICY honed in on those from the pita-consuming region, listed below, and are among the ‘Most Influential’ (this is in no particular order):

  1. Ali Ferzat-Cartoonist, Syria
  2. Samira Ibrahim-Plaintiff, Egypt
  3. Manal Al-Sharif-Activist, Saudi Arabia
  4. Maryam Durrani-Broadcaster, Afghanistan
  5. Rached Ghannouchi-Politician, Tunisia
  6. Asghar Farhadi-Filmmaker, Iran
  7. Ali Babacan & Ahmet Davutoglu-”Neo-Ottomans”: Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Turkey
  8. Hammad bin Jassem bin Jaber al-Thani-Prime Minister & Foreign Minister, Qatar
  9. Ayatullah Ali Al-Khamenei- Supreme Leader, Iran
  10. Iftikhar Chaudry-Chief Justice, Pakistan

The terms “influencer” or “influential” connote a heavy judgment.  Simply put: Time’s yearly list not too far off from high school superlatives listed in a yearbook.  Ideally, my personal heroes would be counted among the 100.  However, in reality, whether we agree or not, the controversial exercise of voting “top 100 Influencers” provokes discussion.  On a less cynical note, the list inspires a discussion on what I would argue is the root cause for determining influence: Freedom of the Press.

Freedom of the press–or the limits imposed–pushes certain narratives forward for the less influential (audience) to accept or reject.  Conversely, the audience enjoys limited power through a feedback loop in repeating the narrative of the supposed influencer.  Each media outlet that picks up the narrative, and hits repeat, reproduces the cycle.  Voila: journalists turned bloggers note what’s ‘trending’ and repeat the narrative.  Twitter users, as many have argued, choose to amplify the narrative or amend the narrative.

Before you know it: Time Magazine puts a call out to its audience simplifying a year of initiative to about 100 or so top narratives.  In the end, the top narratives become influencers.  This may be good, if you are hero to a society. This might be bad, if you start applying relativism and algorithms to check on the list. This is one interpretation. Other interpretations are welcome.

The bad news is that Freedom House released its “Freedom of the Press 2012” report, which focused on the Middle East & North Africa region (MENA) entitled, “Breakthroughs and Pushback in the Middle East” compiled by Karin Deutsch Karlekar and Jennifer Dunham.  Specifically, the index assesses the 1) legal, 2) political, and 3) economic factors that influence print, broadcast and internet freedom.

Spoiler alert for the MENA region: more pushback is not necessarily a good thing in this case because censorship and press freedom still permeate many of the countries. When Saudi Arabia scores an 84, as it did this year, KSA didn’t earn a B- rating on its report card.  For this index, the higher the score, the worse the performance.

True, the “Breakthrough” highlights how “In 2011, Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt improved to Partly Free as media freedom expanded with the fall of longtime dictators.”  But I remember how a seasoned Egyptian-American journalist, Hanan Elbadry, worried out loud that self-censorship in Egypt has increased despite the revolutionary spirit, at a media panel in Washington, DC.  As internet and mobile phone use balloons in the region, many MENA governments are adopting new means for controlling technologies that facilitate media freedom.

This region’s media environment underwent huge improvements in 2011, but it remained the worst-performing part of the world. Libya (60), Tunisia (51), and Egypt (57), all moved from ‘Not Free’ to ‘Partly Free’. Great news: recently Juan Cole described

Image from Roibal.com

Tunisia is “now freer than the US”.   However, Bahrain (84 points) and Syria (89 points) both experienced declines in press freedom amid crackdowns on protest movements. Conditions in Iran are still extremely restrictive, with 42 journalists behind bars–the most of any country, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

On May 3rd, Bahrain revoked visas for an NGO (Freedom House) to conduct a site visit to follow up on previous recommendations.  The recommendations were not implemented.  Ironically, UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day celebrations began on May 3rd–in the MENA country of Tunisia.

I do not contest the report’s finding that MENA press sees a “significant net improvement”, but I see that for every Egypt moving forward in media freedom, there’s a Bahrain or two moving backward–and neutralizing the progress. Trends like this remind me that some of the top ‘Time Most Loveable Influencers’ in the region have been freely able to express themselves because they have emigrated from those environments limiting freedom expression, like Mohsen Makhmalbaf, amongother great filmmakers.Those who were not so lucky and paid with their livelihoods: the Assad regime took revenge on Political Cartoonist, Ali Farzat, by breaking his hands.

Others are able to express themselves in spite of the environment–like Hammad binn Jassem bin Jaber al-Thani, who literally influences media since he is part of the three factors of production mentioned above: legal, political, and economic influence.


Cohen’s movies clearly propagate stereotypes against Arabs and Muslims that increase western ignorance and subsequently animosity, specifically benefiting Israel. The marketing of his movies often target a segment of society with low IQ (which may have racist proclivities of their own) with this type of overgrown juvenile humor.

I have yet to see one Baron Cohen movie that picks on someone other than Arabs and Muslims. Sure he did a decent acting job in both Hugo and Sweeney Todd (good movie by the way), but it seems that any movie in which he stars, writes, and produces will do nothing more than advance stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims. He wins when his movies make a killing, but also when he sees his political agenda creep into the mainstream American discussion.

BY NABIL ⋅ MARCH 30, 2012 

A funny thing happened the other day. Michael Oren, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, tried to convince readers of the Wall Street Journal that the “only place in the Middle East where Christians aren’t endangered but flourishing is Israel,” while blaming Islam for the plight of Christians in the Middle East, specifically the plight of Christian Palestinians in the West Bank.

Now, I have a lot of issues with Mr. Oren’s pathetic attempt to explain the so-called “plight of Christians” in Palestine mainly because I am a Christian and I am a Palestinian, and I happen to live in the West Bank. I’ve worked closely with both Christian and Muslim communities in most areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and can tell you with absolute certainty that the Christian Palestinians are not suffering due to the actions of Muslim Palestinians. Last I checked, it wasn’t Muslim Arabs that spray painted “Death to Arabs” on our churches, or smashed the tombstones in our cemeteries.

Rather, Christian Palestinians are suffering for the same reasons that Muslim Palestinians are suffering, namely land confiscations, movement restrictions, checkpoints, home demolitions, crop razing, military raids, flagrant human rights violations, illegal detentions, violence and destruction perpetrated by settlers. There is a reason why George Habash, a Christian, founded the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and it wasn’t to because Muslim on Christian violence, I can assure you. In fact, although there are occasional incidents between Muslim and Christian shabab, they are quite rare. The majority of the time, Israeli settlers are to blame for violence against Christians; the Israeli authorities always claim to conduct “internal investigations” but you’ll never see anything come of them. Since the start of 2012, there have been many Israeli settlers’ price tag attacks against churches, Christian cemeteries and schools. One need not look further than Israel’s own Haaretz newspaper for Israel’s tolerance of Christians.

Christian Palestinians are suffering for the same reasons that Muslim Palestinians are suffering, namely land confiscations, movement restrictions, checkpoints, home demolitions, crop razing, military raids, flagrant human rights violations, illegal detentions, violence and destruction perpetrated by settlers.

In truth, Israel is the biggest perpetrator of crimes against Christian Palestinians while attempting to convince the world that it’s an inclusive Western Democracy. However, a true democracy is a secular democracy that doesn’t favor one type of citizen over anotherYet, Israel’s state-funded Rabbis often issue racist religious decrees referring to non-Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, as animals which are OK to kill; and it’s orthodox Jewish men in the Jerusalem, the holy city of all three religions mind you, have been seen spitting on, kicking and attacking Christian clergymen while the Israeli police constantly turn a blind eye. Let’s not even mention that all of the Christian Palestinians living in Jerusalem, Beit Hanina and other areas, are constantly under the threat of having their residency rights confiscated. According to Israeli law, they can be “residents” but not “citizens” and Israel can confiscate their residency anytime it wants. At the same time, anyone of the Jewish faith from anywhere in the world can come to Israel, become a permanent citizen and purchase property. Certainly these are not the actions of a state that protects, and is tolerant of its Christian populations, is it?

Perhaps Michael Oren was talking about Bethlehem city which has been effectively fenced in as a large open air human zoo, while its lands have been confiscated and added to one of 5 surrounding settlements? I’m sure he knows that 78% of Bethlehem Governorate has already been confiscated by the Israeli state. However, he did forget to mention that in his article.

Personally, I’ve worked closely with over 300 Palestinian grassroots non-profit organizations, including quite a few in Bethlehem. One that comes to mind is Wi’am, the Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center….which happened to be wedged between the

Image from the Electronic Intifada

Separation wall and an Israeli settlement. Wi’am plays a prominent role in advocating for non-violence, human rights, justice and secular democracy. However, like most areas Palestinian NGOs, its work is affected by illegal and unilateral annexation of Bethlehem’s lands, for “closed military zones” and settlement expansions that continue to suffocate Bethlehem governorate and restrict access to travel within the West Bank and Jerusalem. The latest target of Israel’s land annexation is Bethlehem’s Cremisan Monastery. Civil administration has already delivered that eviction papers and perhaps by the time you read this article, I’ll be a new tourist attraction in Israel’s guide to the Jewish state at the expense of its original Christian owners; ironic, considering Oren’s claim that Bethlehem’s Christian population under Israel grew 57%.

While Israel, the so-called Jewish Democratic state, continues to employ and fund racist Rabbis, turn a blind eye towards Israeli/Jewish settler violence against Christian holy sites, and continues to build facts on the ground to railroad the two state solution in favor of state expansions at the expense of both Christians and Muslims, the Palestinian Authority -a secular government made up of both Muslims and Christians – is working to secure the establishment of a Palestinian state through international diplomacy and non-violent popular resistance.

In the end, Oren can speak all he wants about how great Israel treats Christians; However, Bethlehem, Beit Hanina, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, Zababda, Aboud, Taybeh Jifna, Beirzeit and Ein Arkeek are Christian villages that are directly affected by the on-going Israeli occupation of Palestine. Until Oren speaks of this, his words are not worth the paper they were printed on.