Mauritania: “Facebook is at the Center of the New E-Dissent”
[This interview was conducted in French]
Nasser Weddady is Mauritanian and lives in the United States (US). Since the Tunisian revolution, those who follow North-African/Middle Eastern current affairs on Twitter know him by his username – the very influential and widely followed @weddady, who is about to publish in the US, a book of reflections and testimonies on the Arabic-speaking world and its uprisings.
But what about the citizen media of Weddady’s own country, Mauritania, where the Arab Spring also catalysed dissent? The following interview was conducted during a conference in Tunis, Tunisia.
Nasser Weddady, at radio tunisienne studio, Tunis, October 2011 – Photo courtesy of Carribeanfreephoto (CC BY)
Global Voices (GV): Even though the country and its 3 million inhabitants are often left out of the picture, Mauritania is also experiencing protests and rising dissent.
Nasser Weddady (NW): The dissent reflects a deep unrest in Mauritania, a feeling of powerlessness that is increasingly transforming itself into “e-anger” and street protests. This culture of dissent had been dead for two decades; today, however, strikes are happening on a day-to-day basis, in all sectors. Each of these actions in itself might seem trivial from the outside, but Mauritania is actually at boiling point. As for social media, in Mauritania, it’s currently happening through Facebook, which had 34,000 members in Mauritania in late 2011 – a remarkable figure for a country with low rates of Internet access. There was also actually a Mauritanian blogosphere but this was undermined by the 2008 coup. Apart from ‘Canal H’ [fr] – which is a discussion blog and which remains a barometer of public opinion – the blog is no longer really the format that corresponds to the evolution of the Mauritanian blogosphere. It's Facebook. We see that more and more youth movements, such as the protesters of 25 February, 2011, who took to the streets in large numbers, were originally born on Facebook. Facebook is at the center of the new e-dissent.
GV: Which Facebook pages, blogs and Twitter accounts should we follow with regard to Mauritanian current affairs?
NW: On Facebook, the page of the 25 February movement [ar, fr], which backed the February 2011 protests, Mauritanie Demain (Mauritania Tomorrow) [ar, fr], Touche pas à ma nationalité (Don't touch my nationality) [fr], which protests against the ethnic discrimination that took place during the census, the ‘Journal Facebook' private group, which has over 10,000 members, the Takadoumi.com blog [in Arabic, French and English]. On Twitter, you can follow @Tahabib, who is a French-speaker, the two bloggers Ahmed Jiddou (@Ahmedj85 [ar]) and Mohamed Abdou (@Medabdou [ar]), and Dedda Cheikh Brahim (@Dedda04) [mainly in Arabic].
Mauritanian dissident humor: “The best cologne these days is tear gas” Photo-reel from the “Mauritanie Demain' Facebook page
GV: How would you assess Mauritanian Internet activism relative to the other online movements of the Arab-speaking world?
NW: Young Mauritanians have seen how the Internet has been used elsewhere in the Arab world and are trying to get connected, to learn the techniques of Internet activism and to share them. We are seeing more and more Photoshop graphics, banners, videos. The transformation of the Mauritanian web is clearly the product of the Arab revolts. We are also seeing more and more Mauritanians on Twitter – that’s my pet project. Twitter is important because it's fast and because it's an open network, unlike Facebook. It lets Africans and Mauritanians get in contact, because we also have that dimension to Mauritania: you look to Sub-Saharan Africa just as much you do to the Arab world.
GV: Has the government put in place any surveillance or censorship measures?
NW: We had the case of Hanevy Ould Dahah who was arrested and sentenced to two years imprisonment because of his website, which was disturbing. As for censorship, they tried for a day and it wasn't effective. But it is clear that, more and more, “they” are getting worried. Sudanese telecommunications companies, Moroccan ones, they’re out there – it's not difficult to imagine a scenario where the government would try to buy the expertise of such cyber-censors.
GV: Following the Tunisian revolution, you were able to meet, face-to-face, the Internet activists of all of the Arab countries. How would you describe their current state of mind?
NW: The Internet activists have done an outstanding job, and I particularly salute the Libyans and the Syrians, their incredible courage and ingenuity, the Tunisians, who are the masters in the field, and the friends of Bahrain. We feel, at once, a sense of success that ended a general depression – caused by the stagnation of the Arab world, by the bolted-on authoritarian regimes – together with the feeling of having done something historic; and anxiety, because we realize that the counter-revolution is under way, and that the international community, which has praised the Arab revolutions so much, could once again accommodate new powers that do not measure up to our current expectations. But nevertheless, there is a sense of regained pride because, since September 2001, being Arab and Muslim was a heavy burden. We regained our own self-respect because we did something historic and we were not found wanting.
Written by Claire Ulrich