They were sitting where they always sit: at the far edge of the makeshift, roadside cafe on the outskirts of of Sidi Bouzid — the small, economically marginalized town in central Tunisia where in December 2010, a young street vendor lit himself on fire and changed the world. There were about 20 of them. Some wore long flowing robes and black skullcaps; some wore jeans, t-shirts, and Yankees hats; nearly all of them had thick beards. My friend had called in advance - they must have known I would be coming. As I took my seat in the circle, they all beamed at me. “Welcome, welcome! We are honored!” said one tall youth with glasses and a jovial smile. Another swiftly handed me the cup of ice cream he had ordered for himself, declaring that it was a gift.
"From now on, when you sit with us, you will be brother Michael!" added another. We were all in our 20s no longer boys, but still learning how to be men. They accepted me unconditionally. For the next two weeks, they welcomed me into their world. Nevertheless, we are different. I am an American. Their hero is Osama Bin Laden.
Read more. [Image: Anis Mili/Reuters]
Like it or not, this is the year of the Islamist.
Fourteen months after popular uprisings toppled dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, Islamist political parties - religiously conservative groups that oppose the use of violence - have swept interim elections, started rewriting constitutions and become the odds-on favorites to win general elections.
Western hopes that more liberal parties would fare well have been dashed. Secular Arab groups are divided, perceived as elitist or enjoy tepid popular support.
But instead of the political process moving forward, a toxic political dynamic is emerging. Aggressive tactics by hardline Muslims generally known as Salafists are sowing division. Moderate Islamists are moving cautiously, speaking vaguely and trying to hold their diverse political parties together. And some Arab liberals are painting dark conspiracy theories. […]
Months after gaining power, moderate Islamists find themselves walking a political tightrope. They are trying to show their supporters that they are different from the corrupt, pro-Western regimes they replaced. They are trying to persuade Western investors and tourists to trust them, return and help revive flagging economies. And they are trying to counter hardline Salafists who threaten to steal some of their conservative support.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
TUNIS — Last November, dozens of young Arabs lined up for the chance to meet him. When he spoke of his struggles and triumphs, they hung on his every word. And when only one of the 50 attendees was chosen for training, some of the young Arabs grew frustrated and complained of being excluded.
A jihadist back from battling Americans in Afghanistan? A recruiter for al Qaeda’s North African affiliate? A Hamas member looking for volunteers to attack Israel?
No, the visitor was a Tunisian-American eBay executive who has worked for Apple and Oracle, and founded two Silicon Valley startups. His audience? Young Tunisian entrepreneurs and programmers who dream of turning this city into the Arab world’s Silicon Valley.
"There is a lot of potential," Sami Ben Romdhane, the eBay executive, told me in a telephone interview this week. "I don’t see any difference between students who are graduating there and students who are graduating here and in Europe."
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
Taken less than a year before, the photo captured the ear-to-ear smiles of the leaders of several autocratic regimes. At the center of the photo stood Gaddafi, smiling and resplendent in his golden-brown robes and trademark sunglasses.
To his far left stood then-Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, laughing, and looking for all the world like he was invincible. To his right stood then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, with Gaddafi’s elbow jauntily on his soldier.
The rebels don’t like it when you call them rebels. That’s Qaddafi’s term, they say, and prefer Reagan’s: freedom fighters. This matters only for public relations purposes, because among themselves, members of anti-Qaddafi militias don’t speak English, but rather Arabic and Amazir — the Berber language — and call themselves thwar, which roughly means revolutionaries. Fair enough, it’s their war.
In April, the thwar based in Libya’s desert interior attacked a border crossing 300 kilometers southwest of Tripoli; found it inexplicably lightly-defended; and seized it, opening an escape route to neighboring Tunisia. Over the next month, more than 60,000people drained from Libya into Tunisia, according to Kamel Derich of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, who runs that agency’s efforts near the crossing. Three refugee camps, one run by Derich’s UNHCR team, one by the government of the United Arab Emirates, and one by the kingdom of Qatar, housed fewer than 10,000 Libyans, he estimated. The majority found private shelter with families in Tataoine, a rural town on the edge of the Tunisian Sahara.
"It is a Muslim obligation," said Ehmansouva Naouifel, a clerk in Tataoine’s city Commerce Department, while shopping in a grocery store downtown. "We wish to help, but also, you must help." Since March, Tataoine families have been hosting the 60,000 of more than 400,000 Libyans who came to Tunisia since February, often in spare rooms vacated by family working abroad in Europe.
Read more at The Atlantic
[Images: Libyan refugees cross the border into Tunisia / Reuters]
As protesters in Tahrir Square faced off against pro-government forces, they drew a lesson from their counterparts in Tunisia: “Advice to the youth of Egypt: Put vinegar or onion under your scarf for tear gas.”
The exchange on Facebook was part of a remarkable two-year collaboration that has given birth to a new force in the Arab world — a pan-Arab youth movement dedicated to spreading democracy in a region without it. Young Egyptian and Tunisian activists brainstormed on the use of technology to evade surveillance, commiserated about torture and traded practical tips on how to stand up to rubber bullets and organize barricades.
They fused their secular expertise in social networks with a discipline culled from religious movements and combined the energy of soccer fans with the sophistication of surgeons. Breaking free from older veterans of the Arab political opposition, they relied on tactics of nonviolent resistance channeled from an American scholar through a Serbian youth brigade — but also on marketing tactics borrowed from Silicon Valley.
Read the rest at the New York Times
Joshua Foust ponders the course of the Middle East’s revolutionary wave:
The protests in Tunisia and Egypt share many similarities. Both have been largely spontaneous, driven by mass frustration with the regime and gentle encouragement by activists. Lacking any charismatic leadership or sense of planning behind them, both have been the very definition of “people power,” or a mass movement in the streets. Egypt’s protests have been so grassroots that Michael Walid Hanna, a fellow at The Century Foundation and TheAtlantic.com contributor, lamented Thursday that the lack of opposition leaders was “really felt.” With no coordinated messaging about the protests, he said, what leaders there are have seemed disconnected from the protesters in the street.
Yemen is different. In Cairo the anger on the street, the hatred for Egyptian President Mubarak, is palpable. In Yemen, there is anger, to be sure, but it is focused on specific issues within President Saleh’s system of rule. Unlike in Egypt, the opposition is organized by Yemen’s many dissident parties, which have practice at spreading their messages and at rallying people into the streets.
The news yesterday evening that Egypt had severed itself from the global Internet came at the same time as an ostensibly far less inflammatory announcement closer to home. Verizon, the telecom giant, would acquire “cloud computing company” Terremark for $1.4 billion. The purchase would “accelerate Verizon’s ‘everything-as-a-service’ cloud strategy,” the press release said.
The trouble is that Terremark isn’t merely a cloud computing company. Or, more to the point, the cloud isn’t really a cloud.
Among its portfolio of data centers in the US, Europe and Latin America, Terremark owns one of the single most important buildings on the global Internet, a giant fortress on the edge of Miami’s downtown known as the NAP of the Americas.
The Internet is a network of networks. But what’s often forgotten is that those networks actually have to physically connect — one router to another — often through something as simple and tangible as a yellow-jacketed fiber-optic cable. It’s safe to suspect a network engineer in Egypt had a few of them dangling in his hands last night.
Read the full article here.
Amid a stream of violent images from the Middle East and North Africa, a moment of calm in Tunisia.
The Tunisian government tried to steal the entire country’s Facebook passwords. The social networking giant’s security team opens up, shedding light on the revolution that could become a parable for Internet activism.
It was on Christmas Day that Facebook’s Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan first noticed strange things going on in Tunisia. Reports started to trickle in that political-protest pages were being hacked. “We were getting anecdotal reports saying, ‘It looks like someone logged into my account and deleted it,’” Sullivan said.
For Tunisians, it was another run-in with Ammar, the nickname they’ve given to the authorities that censor the country’s Internet. They’d come to expect it.
In the days after the holiday, Sullivan’s security team started to take a closer look at the data, but it wasn’t entirely clear what was happening. In the US, they could look to see if different IP addresses, which identify particular nodes on the network, were accessing the same account. But in Tunisia, the addresses are commonly reassigned. The evidence that accounts were being hacked remained anecdotal. Facebook’s security team couldn’t prove something was wrong in the data. It wasn’t until after the new year that the shocking truth emerged:
Ammar was in the process of stealing an entire country’s worth of passwords.
Read the full article here.