A perspective on the role of major tech corporations in fueling repression.
Although issues of domestic surveillance and discrimination faced by Arabs living in the United States became more prominent after the attacks of September 11, 2001, MERIP has been covering them continuously since the organization was founded 50 years ago. Pamela Pennock surveys how MERIP has written about issues of surveillance, struggles for justice and solidarity in the Arab American community. Forthcoming in the Fall 2021 issue “MERIP at 50.”
Egypt’s President Sisi has acquired sophisticated technological capabilities to block internet activity, passed restrictive internet legislation and now surveils users and censors content on a scale never seen before. Much of this has been facilitated by Western allies who have been more than happy to sell potentially repressive technologies to the authoritarian regime, emboldening Sisi’s attempts to eliminate freedom of expression in Egypt.
In the past few years, pro-Israel groups have mounted an escalating and concerted effort to set the contours of scholarly debate about Israel on American campuses. This fall, two such organizations, the AMCHA Initiative and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, are lobbying Congress and the Department of Education to punish Middle East studies centers that present alternatives to staunchly pro-Israel viewpoints. The lobbying campaign demands that the Education Department stop federal funding to these centers under Title VI of the Higher Education Act or engage in intrusive oversight of the departments to assure the prevalence of viewpoints more sympathetic to Israeli government policies. The Higher Education Act is up for Congressional reauthorization this year.
While senior Iranian and US officials are planning bilateral talks over Iran’s nuclear research program, the Iranian and world media are distracted by other issues: young women who post images of themselves without hejab on Facebook, and a video of six well-heeled youths dancing to Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy.” The gyrating youngsters were arrested and compelled to issue an apology on state television for what authorities said was a “vulgar clip” th
From the Green Movement in Iran in 2009 through the Arab revolts that began in 2011, social media have held center stage in coverage of popular protest in the Middle East. Though the first flush of overwrought enthusiasm is long past, there is consensus that Facebook, Twitter and other Web 2.0 applications, particularly on handheld devices, have been an effective organizing tool against the slower-moving security apparatuses of authoritarian states. The new technology has also helped social movements to tell their story to the outside world, unhindered by official news blackouts, unbothered by state censors and unfiltered by the traditional Western media.
Is it happenstance or harmonic convergence that the first reports on the Wikileaks cache of State Department cables hit the newsstands alongside stories about the fresh political salience of “American exceptionalism”? Something about the content of the diplomatic missives and, more to the point, the furor over their release in November 2010 seems peculiar to the United States.
What species of envoy but an American, at the early millennial stage of evolution, could wire the following from Madrid?
Post-Revolutionary Iranian cinema has attracted critical attention abroad while constituting a vibrant focus of cultural, narrative and technical experimentation at home. In the politically restrictive context of the Islamic Republic, film has become one of the key ways that sensitive topics are broached in civil society. One of the most important topics is the social and juridical situation of women, including the enforcement of legislation over women’s hejab, which refers to modest dress but can also mean modest decorum.
The press has played a crucial role in advancing Iran’s emerging reformist agenda. Following the initial wave of attacks on the reformist press, which culminated in the closure of Jame’eh and Tous in the summer of 1998, a second crop of independent dailies appeared in late 1998. These papers exposed Intelligence Ministry agents’ involvement in the political assassinations of reformist intellectuals and activists in late 1998.
Upon hearing a Dutch diplomat recite a dismal litany of statistics indicating the current social and economic plight of most Middle Eastern states, a Jordanian academic heaved a sigh. “This is a triple tragedy,” she said. “Not only are the figures bad, but they have to be collated by foreign agencies while governments in the region keep people in the dark.”
Dear Dr. Saidi Sirjani:
For almost 20 years now, I have known and admired you and your writings. Whatever your detractors may say, Ali Akbar Saidi Sirjani cannot justly be accused of partisanship. I have known you as a fierce critic of Mohammad Reza Shah’s insufferable pretensions and intolerance of dissent, and later as an equally sharp thorn in the side of the Islamic government. May the nib of your pen never be blunted!
John J. Fialka, Hotel Warriors: Covering the Gulf War (Woodrow Wilson Center, 1991).
John R. MacArthur, Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War (Hill and Wang, 1992).
Jacqueline Sharkey, Under Fire: US Military Restrictions on the Media from Grenada to the Persian Gulf (Center for Public Integrity, 1992).
Gaza Ghetto, a documentary film about a Palestinian family in the occupied Gaza Strip by MERIP editor Joan Mandell and Swedish filmmakers Pea Holmquist and Pierre Bjorklund, premiered in Stockholm in November 1984. In January 1985, a Palestinian theater company in Jerusalem, El-Hakawati, purchased a copy and screened it for the press. The theater then presented Gaza Ghetto to the Israeli Council for Censorship of Films and Plays, as required of all films before public screening. On February 6, 1985, the council for censorship banned the film in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Israeli lawyer Avigdor Feldman appealed the ban on behalf of El-Hakawati on April 15, but a lower court upheld the decision.
Meron Benvenisti, Israeli Censorship of Arab Publications: A Survey (New York: Fund for Free Expression, 1984).
About July 20, 1983, a BBC television news crew filming outside Istanbul’s Metris prison found itself confronted by difficulties which, one of the crew said, he had never experienced even in the Soviet Union. During a subsequent flurry of messages between the crew, the British Embassy in Ankara, and the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the crew learned that they were supposed to work with a Turkish plainclothes policeman permanently at their side (or if they wished, following at a distance). The Foreign Ministry also indicated that the crew might have had an easier time had they not chosen to be accompanied by the present writer, the Ankara stringer for the BBC as well as for other newspapers and broadcasting organizations. The message was duly relayed to the crew.
Most readers are only too familiar with the litany of harassments endured by Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, from restrictions on personal freedoms to attacks on institutions and confiscation of land. Nonetheless, for the purposes of building campaigns to support Palestinian rights, and for a dearer understanding of the workings of the occupation, it is worth focusing on particular violations that are significant both for the victims and for that much-evoked phantasm, “world public opinion.”