I remember in early 2011 sitting here in California, reading through Twitter updates about all the protests going on in Egypt. When Hosni Mubarak was ousted on February 11th, I was in awe that I was a witness to a an event like that, albeit a witness from halfway across the world. I couldn’t even imagine what it would have been like to be there and be part of the movement that made it all possible.
In the latest addition to the I Speak for Myself series published by White Cloud Press, Demanding Dignity – Young Voices From the Front Lines of the Arab Revolutions captures the struggles that many went through while on these front lines during the tumultuous period known as the Arab Spring, which included aforementioned protests in Egypt. The narratives go beyond Tahrir Square though. Editors Maytha Alhassen and Ahmed Shihab-Eldin included representation from countries like Yemen, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Bahrain, and even Morocco.
There are tales of narrowly missed gunshots, of teargas, abductions, and torture, stories of people defying their governments to stand up for what is right. The craziest thing about these stories? These narratives aren’t written by spies, secret agents, what have you. They are citizens and they toppled governments.
However, as the reader notes the dates in some of these stories, it’s quite evident that once there is a change in regime, work still needs to be done. Bringing down an oppressive ruler is merely the first step. But, as Yasmin Haloui writes in her essay about Yemen in A Journey to Activism: “The revolution had transformed a nation from silent observers and objects of oppression into active subjects of change.”
One notable detail from these stories is the role social media played in these revolutions. A few of the writers would gather and mobilize based on information received through Facebook or Twitter, for example. One of the other writers would live tweet speeches and events, gaining many followers who wanted to find out what was going on. One of the girls would upload video commentary/rants on YouTube. The internet played a huge part in the Arab Spring, making one wonder if all this would have been possible, at this rate at least, without these tools. I knew that social media played a part but until I read these essays I honestly didn’t realize the full extent of the reach and influence of this media.
There are a couple of essays though that feel like they don’t quite belong to this collection, however. For example, the narrative written by the boy in Palestine about bringing a Model UN to his school felt out of place, especially since he wrote of watching what was going on in Egypt in the news and on the internet, which does not exactly constitute as being on the front lines. The sentiment is there though, that what was going on in many of these countries was inspiring to those who could only hope for it one day in their own homeland.
Other than that, Demanding Dignity – Young Voices From the Front Lines of the Arab Revolutions is definitely a necessary addition to the I Speak for Myself series. This set of essays enlightens the reader with first person narratives of a momentous period of time. Many of us weren’t there and beyond reading articles here and there, can’t really know what it was like to be part of the Arab Spring. This is our chance to read and be inspired.