HarassMap Achieves More Than Just Crowdsourcing Data

It’s basically impossible to ignore the obvious major drawback of crowdsourcing: the unreliability of the data it gathers. Taking HarassMap as an example, it’s not a far stretch to image fake or otherwise untrustworthy incidents being reported. This is not to say that in Egypt (and worldwide really) sexual harassment doesn’t exist, because it very much does, this is only to point out that the idea of crowdsourcing incidents like this is not completely reliable. What I personally love about this project isn’t the data at all, but rather the fact that it’s managed to do the impossible. HarassMap, against all odds, has managed to inject sexual harassment and the maltreatment of women in Egypt to the forefront of social discussion. This in itself is monumental. I was shocked and angry and completely dumbfounded when I read that victims often didn’t even report their abuses because cops, the very institutions that we would think of to go to in times of crises not only didn’t defend their rights and privacy, but they were the ones abusing them as well. I became terrified thinking about the prospect of living in a society where the rights of women are so far removed from social norm that even the law enforcement was harassing half the population with abandon. When you fall that low in terms of your place alongside other genders in society it becomes nearly impossible to reclaim yourself. When you matter so little that 99% of you can be sexually harassed and still nothing is done about that horrible injustice, it’s terrifying. Personally I would’ve given up faced with those odds. And that’s why I love HarassMap so much. That’s why I love so much what they were able to accomplish. Using their greatest strengths, their numbers, their connectedness via cellphones, victims and their supporters alike are able to shed a light on this very real issue. When they were turned away by the institutions that are supposed to protect them, they found the strength and the will in each other to address the issue. There’s just something so powerful and inspiring and respectable about how these women have fought back against their oppression that I admire completely.

HarrassMap

HarrassMap’s, located in Cairo, has a goal to put an end to the harassment and assault of women in Egypt. Changing attitudes are needed to spark an end to the violence. HarrassMap wants to get people involved so that they do not just stand by and let the violence happen, they aim to denormalize this harassment. “Take it, share it and let’s start a global conversation to end violence against girls”. I found this group consisting of 12 women extremely interesting. The campaign was launched with self-funding to target bystanders and witnesses of this harassment. Their audience is the general public, which in my opinion is an extremely difficult audience to reach out to and attract attention. Luckily the group is getting help from funders such as the Global Fund For Human Rights, but I cannot imagine how difficult it was when the group initially launched their campaign. Encouraging everyone to create a movement that fights against sexual harassment and violence is an extremely difficult task, especilaly in a place like Cairo, Egypt. I can assume that half of the population (most men) do not care for this movement as it is not affecting them or day to day lives. I can also assume that women who have not experience sexual harassment and abuse do not have the mind set to actively support the women who have been harmed. I wish that we lived in a world where we could ask our neighbors to be watchful guardians and speak up when there is anything suspicious going on, but we do not. I think HarassMap’s goal is excellent, but it a bit unrealistic. Out of fear, many people probably do not want to speak up about the harassers actions against their victims. I do believe that in order for Egypt to put an end to this problem the government needs to become involved to create an atmosphere where harassers face consequences (jail time, social consequences) when they harm women. I am amazed that the country has tolerated this type of abuse, and has not built safe areas for people of all genders. Harassment and sexual abuse is clearly an issue that has been under established and forgotten. I do hope that this organization has made progress with their campaign.

On Madamasr.com, the articles detailing the Shura Council case and the No Military Trails for Civilians movement pierce right to the heart of the issue of inequality in today’s Egypt. Whereas Herrera’s article detailed the evolution of the “wired generation” in the past two decades and how it contributed to the earlier revolts and the ousting of Mubarak, the articles about the Shura Council case give insight into the corruption that lingered in Egypt even after Mubarak’s ousting.

I could list the egregious civil rights crimes committed by the Egyptian government against its own citizens, but it’s shorter to instead start with the fact that many citizens are  being tried and convicted in military courts, because it explains how the government gets away with every other crime against its own citizens. First of all, to try a civilian in a military court is a huge civil rights violation in itself. The US equivalents are the people held at Guantanamo Bay, stuck in limbo in horrible conditions, while they wait for a trial that may never come. US lawmakers constantly argue over whether to try these detainees in civilian or military courts. Military courts, in these situations, are viewed so badly because they basically function as faux-justice courts where none of the normal proceedings of fair practice or judicial law actually need to be upheld. This holds true for both the US and Egypt, but if anything the Egyptians have it much worse.

It’s fitting for the Egyptian government to have citizens tried in faux-courts because the Egyptian government is a faux-democracy. They have an elected president and a prime minister but half of the time that president (it’s now Sisi) is put into power through a military coup and the other half of the time he’s elected in rigged systems or without running against any opposition. Under this semi-presidential, semi-tyrannical government, the military and police force are given the power to bring any civilians to military trial, under pretty much any charges they see fit. There is no system or precedent to say that a person guilty of any charge, talking back against an officer for example, should face x number of years. The judged make it up on their own, and sometimes a citizen can face years of prison for a “crime” that another walked for. This system is inherently oppressive, and it’s undermining not only democracy but the human rights of Egyptian citizens.

 

 

How Egypt and the U.S. Can Help One Another

As I mentioned in class on Thursday, the fact is that social media and digital technology as a whole carries an altogether different weight in certain regions of the world. In the United States and certain parts of Europe where we can enjoy more liberties than say Egypt and other countries in the Middle East, social media and digital technology has achieved a level of trivialness to it. A large portion of media exists primarily a entertainment for the masses. In countries like Egypt, these same technologies are more of a tool to fight back against authoritarian military rule. Where we post videos of us and our friends standing still while Rae Sremmurd’s Black Beatles or paste the Jordan crying meme over anything we can, the digital generation of other countries post horrifying evidence to injustice. The digital generation of other countries create movements, an unofficial network, a system of resistance where it can only exist. The digital world is a safe haven in countries like Egypt. Don’t get me wrong, all across more privilege countries social media and the digital plane are being utilized to galvanize the masses. Especially recently, places like Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr have been used to organize movements like the Women’s March, Black Lives Matter, and the Occupy movement. There are two things you can say about this:

The first would be that these movements are all fairly new considering when countries like the United States were first introduced to social media. This fact can be both concerning and comforting. It is concerning because it speaks to a sort of devolution of society. It seems as if more and more problems arise everyday. Every time you look at your phone a new social injustice threatens to further divide our society. But one can argue that all of these social injustices have always existed only now with the blazing fast interconnected network that is social media and the digital age, every single indiscretion is at the mercy of being highlighted and magnified and rallied against. And that’s why the fact that so many movements are popping up in the digital realm is comforting. Because people are finally beginning to understand how to use social media and other digital outlets as ways to unite and inform and fight for what is right and just. Because the internet is no longer just a place to find memes or porn or other nonsensical stuff. Because online you can find support from people you’ve never even met. All of these reasons are why things like Black Lives Matter are important and comforting.

Which brings me back to the youth of the digital age in places like Egypt. Since their inception Twitter and other social media platforms have been tools utilized by the citizenry of Egypt to fight back against the military rule. Because of this these societies have been learning how to use their digital advantage for much longer than other more privileged places. Like I said, in Egypt the capabilities of Twitter matter much more than in some parts of the United States. The power of digital technologies is not only more valuable but it has been explored more by the youth and the oppressed. It is because of this fact, the fact that the youth of Egypt have been fighting their fight for years and years in the digital realm, that the studies and research on the impacts of digital technologies on the new generation should focus in places like Egypt. Not only that, but that countries like the United States should both pay close attention, and work vehemently with digital warriors of these regions to fully explore the revolutionary power of new technology.

The Digital Age & Youth

With the Digital Age, youth is becoming more powerful in the sense that their opinions and problems are being spread globally. This global spread is creating a strong basis for youth in countries in North Africa and the Middle East. With social media the youth can speak on political issues and humans rights. People living in repression have the ability to express their views on their unjust conditions regarding politics and economics. According to Linda Herrera it is important to understand the youth connectivity and unemployment in places such as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) compared to that of North America and Europe. It is vital to get a global perspective and take into account the third-world countries that are suffering the most. By looking at the Digital Age from a global stand point an individual can achieve more and possibly help spread equality. When we look at areas such as the Middle East and North Africa we can see a large distinction between the Digital age in comparison countries such as North America. I think that our problems in America are minimal to those in places such as Egypt. For example, in 2011 students in Egypt used social media to vocalize the dissatisfaction with corrupt teachers and administrators.  The SCAF (government) in Egypt created most of this uproar that caused a revolution because the people were unhappy with the “ruling regime”. During this revolution youth communicated using media such as Facebook to protest and disagree with their government. “Compared to previous generations, youth coming to age in the digital era are learning and exercising citizenship in fundamentally different ways” (Herrea 334). These different ways include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. What I find remarkable about the digital age is the youth, students in particular, can learn and connect with each other to create a more fitting global society. Through social media students can understand each other in ways like never before. Although there may be difference in class, ideology, geography and gender, the digital age is bringing our youth together like never before. “…as youth around the globe develop common behaviors and attitudes stemming form their interaction with new media and communication tools, we can speak at some levels of global youth culture” (Castells 2007). This phenomena is amazing and will shape our world positively for a brighter future.

Understanding Egypt’s Current State

From someone who had just started learning about activism in Egypt, it is a little bit hard to believe that the 2011 revolution’s success only lasted that long. Herrera’s article helped me understand this a little bit. It went into depth about how the ‘wired generation’, or simply the youth, was able to mobilise the revolution through the internet. The article also pointed out the limitations of the wired generation – in relation to going backwards after the revolution – short attention span and lack of long term planning skills.

Herrera raised an important question: “Does our generation possess the skill sets, vision, resources and organisational know-how necessary to build and sustain the type of democratic and just society it values?”

From Egypt’s current state, its clear that the youth is able to voice their ideologies alright, but they were unable to take the leadership role themselves, and now they are unable to overthrow the regime because it has become more repressive than ever. Its government had issued highly restrictive assembly laws that banned public protests back in 2013. In the following year, Egypt’s current president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi gave the military even more power than they already had by placing all ‘public and vital facilities’ under military jurisdiction – this means that since protesting is illegal, civilians will be trialled in military court for doing so, which is what has been happening in Egypt for the past few years.

Before the 2011 revolution, it was police brutality, but now its the military. As shown in so many cases, they can arrest and hold people up to years without ever giving them a trail, they can torture people into confessing or they can trial them without following due process. Military court also does not have a different set of rules for juveniles, making it dangerous for anyone and everyone.

Going back to Herrera’s question about the new generation’s ability: I think it has been repressed before it could mature, and is being led into wrong directions.

Defeating the Past by Embracing the Future

The youth’s greatest advantage over the oppressive systems that it finds itself in, is the understanding and ability to quickly embrace new technology. The youth often lives in a separate world and the youth of today find that world in the digital realm. the young people of today who are disgruntled and unsatisfied by their governments more likely than not can find refuge in the internet. They can also find a means to fight back. Because the media is relatively new, things like social media and there outlet are dominated primarily by young users. It is here that the youth can organize to topple old institutions and practices. The youth shapes the future. The youth alone can correct the injustices of older generations.

To reduce Khaled Said to nothing more than his imperfections is incredibly irresponsible in regards to fighting the injustice that very much exist today. The same can be said when people insist that Trayvon Martin was a thug. There is absolutely no crime that could warrant the murder of unarmed civilians by veteran police officers who are trained specifically to detain not kill. Especially not when much of the socio-economic factors that push individuals into tough lifestyles are created by the forces that so eagerly label them as “thugs” and “hoodlums”.  To accuse individuals of wrong doings as some sort of justification for their murder is to brush away and hide the actual fact that women, minorities, and other groups face very real oppression.

The beautiful thing about the We Are all Khaled Said movement is that it is not the only movement. Khaled Said can stand for torture and abuse. Eric Garner can stand for unnecessary police brutality. Sandra bland can stand for the neglect, corruptness, and unfairness of the jail system. As many injustices as take place in this new age of technology, thats how many movements will pop up. WAAKS does not have to encompass every single problem but rather serve to galvanize the youth and justice seekers to take a harder look at their society and find the other problems. The WAAKS and other Egyptian youth movements may not work perfectly but they do work. Especially in a country where freedom of speech is not granted to all, that’s saying something.

In order for the youth, the generation of tomorrow, to defeat the socio-economic and political oppression of the regimes of old, they must embrace the technologies and possibility of the future. The youth must constantly look for ways to stay ahead of the curve. To reinvent itself. The youth must always adapt and continue to fight for a better world by leaving the world of yesterday. The only way to leave the world of yesterday is to live in today and tomorrow. And by fixing our todays, the yesterdays of the future become a source of pride not shame.