So, it looks like somehow, bizarrely, we managed to move to what looks like it might be the safest country in the Middle East right now: the one that’s already finished its revolution. I never would have thought it when we arrived. Back then there was a 6 pm curfew, our neighbors were out manning the barricades every night, and prisons were still getting broken into and emptied.
Of course, we’ve been haunting the news over the past few months, and especially lately, as the situation in Libya has gone from bad to worse to we’re not sure what. Many Egyptians voted for the first time in their lives last week. Most of the major Yemeni ambassadors deserted their president on his birthday yesterday, and he’s already fired the rest of the government. And now even Syria is in its fifth day of protests. There is too much to read, and too much to feel. It’s all too good to be true, and at the same time too scary to not seem like some surreal dream.
I get a little burnt out blogging every day about things that are so emotionally charged. But please know that I’m still thinking about all these revolutions. And I read a LOT of news. In fact, I thought I’d let you know exactly what I’m reading, in case you’d like to round out your own personal coverage of Middle East events. I take a global approach, since I’ve noticed that each region puts its own spin on what’s happening. For news from a U.S. perspective, I usually read The New York Times. I subscribe to the RSS feed for their international edition. Because my language of choice is English, my European news usually comes from the UK, in the form of The Guardian, which has also run quite a few insightful editorials on various aspects of the Arab revolutions.
But for up-to-the-minute coverage on Middle Eastern history in the making (and from the perspective of those who are making it), Al-Jazeera really can’t be beat. If you’ve never tried Al-Jazeera because somebody told you it was code for “terrorist,” please think again. Graphic coverage of US activities in Afghanistan and Iraq earned Al-Jazeera the ire of an American administration and military desperate to keep public support for their invasions, and suppress inconvenient footage. But far from being an Al-Qaeda outlet, Al-Jazeera is based in friendly Qatar, which is currently joining the U.S. in patrolling the no-fly zone over Libya. Al-Jazeera has been at the forefront of coverage of these grassroots revolutions. With its sympathetic treatment of the aspirations and views of ordinary people in the Muslim world, it is an important antidote here in the Middle East to the state-run media, which tend to be tools of the ruling dictatorships. And for us in the Western world, it provides invaluable insight into the motives and emotions of Arabs other than the despotic elite.
Which brings me to another incredible source of news about breaking events in the Muslim world: blogs. Online media were a powerful tool used by the grassroots activists who inspired the Tunisian revolution. In fact, a 33-year-old Tunisian blogger named Slim Amamou was brought out of prison after the revolution to become a cabinet minister in the new government. You can read his story here, or visit his blog (in French). Zeinobia, a young blogger from Egypt, just posted a wonderful account of the Friday referendum in Egypt on her blog, Egyptian Chronicles. Protesters across the region have used and are using twitter and facebook extensively to plan and coordinate activities, as well as to report on events. I personally am one of 66,000 who “like” the Syrian Revolution on facebook, although I confess that I rarely take the time to decipher its copious posts, which are all in Arabic. If you prefer your news in bite-sized chunks, there are always tweets. I have SultanAlQassemi in my RSS feed, and I particularly love how he watches important presidential speeches (in Arabic, of course), and tweets them in English, real-time.
Happy reading, and let me know if you’ve discovered any other great news sources.