Egyptian Leopard Reveals Spots

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

Our old friend ex-Field Marshal and current Egyptian presidential candidate Abdelfatah Al-Sisi just recently gave a very revealing television interview to leading Egyptian journalists. I found out via a mention on German radio, but it was hard then to find some corresponding printed article about it, whether in the German press or elsewhere. Ultimately it was the Neue Zürcher Zeitung that came through (where few others did), and my admiration for them extends to their revealing headline, Sisi warns about freedom of expression..

The piece states that the interview was in fact for a “private TV broadcaster” (what – closed-circuit TV or something?), and of course it was conducted in Arabic, so that helps explain why it almost slipped by European attention. No doubt the good ex-Field Marshal wishes that it had: I usually don’t like to include extensive quotations, but the two first paragraphs just state things so clearly.

The Egyptian presidential candidate Abdelfatah al-Sisi warned of the dangers of too much democratic freedom. In a talk with news-editors he called upon them not to insist too much on freedom of expression or other rights, for national security could thereby be put in danger. Egypt cannot be compared with stable Western lands, and a full democracy is an “idealistic” goal that possibly can be attained in 25 years, the former military chief said . . .

Sisi demanded that the approximately 20 editors of Egypt’s biggest newspapers not “scare” people or supply “skepticism.” The press should contribute to people getting behind the “strategic” aim of “protecting the Egyptian State,” he stipulated. According to his assertion, there should be “a balance between practice and freedom and national security.”

Well, there you have it! More dictatorial dumbing-down of discourse here, straight from before World War II, if not earlier. Don’t scare the people with your freedom of expression! Full democracy is still 25 years away!

Does that latter mean – something that has been cited before in an Arab electoral context – “one man, one vote, one time”? The article does acknowledge Sisi’s promise during the interview to step down if Egyptians ever rose up against him – oh sure, but the over 1,200 death sentences recently imposed on regime opponents would seem to argue against this. (Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi apparently made the same “I’ll step down” pledge when he was elected president.)

In light of that interview, it is refreshing to see the following from Al-Arabiya’s English twitter-feed:

Sisi
The linked article is of course also in English, and raises the question as to whether Egypt’s media landscape (or its population) is really as immature and in need of protection as the general asserts. It seems two Twitter parody accounts – one for Al-Sisi, the other purporting to represent his only rival in the presidential election, Hamdeen Sabahi – are going at each other with wild comic abandon. I’d love to give you a flavor of the repartee, but unfortunately they are in Arabic.

It is also interesting from the Al-Arabiya piece that the two parody accounts initially were @Alsisiiofficial and @HamdeenSabahi – too close to reality for someone, for they both quickly switched to the more truth-in-advertising handles @AlsisiParody and @HamdeenParody. Was that official pressure already? Whether it was or not, you know that Al-Sisi would shut them down – or at least the Al-Sisi parody account – immediately if he wasn’t in the middle of trying to fool all of the people all of the time in a presidential election campaign. You can be sure that, once he is elected, he’ll be in contact with the right officials at Twitter to do so.

The Al-Arabiya piece at least reports one recent tweet from the @AlsisiParody account in English (everything here is [sic]):

Those who will elect @HamdeenParody re-tweet this tweet…so I can jail you all once I become a president

Ain’t that the truth though?

UPDATE: The English site of Al-Arabiya has come through with an excellent piece about the interview(s) entitled Sisi’s electoral interviews: Was he a man or a marshal? The consensus among the interviewers – but not 100% – was “Yes, here we have someone just waiting to be a dictator.”

And let me give you the final paragraph:

This interview, and others to follow, will be the means by which Sisi’s program is made public, Mughazi [his campaign spokesman] added. “Sisi’s electoral program won’t be printed, but will reach the people through a series of interviews since interaction is always more effective,” he said. [Former president from the Muslim Brotherhood] Mursi “had a printed program that contained big dreams, none of which came true. Sisi, on the other hand, is a man of action.”

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Despotism That Can’t Laugh At Itself

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

While writing that previous post on the refugee camp in Jordan for Syrian exiles, the thought suddenly occurred to me: “What ever happened to @Syrianpresident? I haven’t heard from that guy for a while!”

Now, by no means do I mean the real Syrian president, that former opthamologist turned child-torturer, inveterate public liar and chemical-weapons aficionado, Bashar Al-Assad – I wouldn’t be interested in communications coming from his office, on Twitter or otherwise. Rather, where was the parody account under that Twitter-handle that for quite a while after the Syrian rebellion broke out (caused, you’ll remember, by the police simply shooting down marching demonstrators) brilliantly skewered the murderous pretentions and absuridites of the ruling Syrian elite? Al-Assad’s current ludicrous scheme to run for re-election while otherwise busy with an ongoing project of having his own citizens butchered, up to 4 million of whom have therefore left the country, would alone provide endless material to work with.

It’s easy enough to enter into your browser http://twitter.com/Syrianpresident. Result: Account suspended.

I wish I could give you some screen-shots here of the excellent observations and wise-cracks whoever was behind that parody site produced, but I didn’t think to do that at the time. And now that is quite impossible, because once you get “Account suspended,” that’s it – down it goes down George Orwell’s classic memory-hole. The result of a decision from a private company, let it be noted – an arbitrary decision. (more…)

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Conduct Unbecoming a Guest

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

The current sojourn by German President Joachim Gauck in Turkey has turned out to be far from your garden-variety Head-of-State visit (quite apart from the strange paranoia against mobile telephones exhibited by security services there that I tweeted about earlier). These sorts of occasions tend to be scheduled quite far in advance, but in this case you wonder just how far ahead – before the Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan started to see videos pop up on YouTube implicating him and those around him in corruption, before he started to get all sorts of nasty back-talk on Twitter, for example? Before he went so far as to ban – or to try to ban – both YouTube and Twitter in Turkey, for example?

Yes, before all those developments, you’d have to think. But the show must go on, and Gauck is a trooper for Germany. Let me hasten to add: not THAT kind of trooper for Germany, not at all, really rather a trooper for Truth and Justice. I am serious, he was a civil rights activitist in the former East Germany, which is one of the most unpleasant, pain-inducing job-descriptions you can come up with. But this also means that, although Gauck easily agreed to fulfill his previously-scheduled duty to visit Turkey, he did not intend to shut up about what he found there.

And so we have this:

Gauck in Turkey
“Erdogan rejects Gauck’s criticism.” Mind you, this is while Gauck is still in Turkey.
And the situation is rendered even more awkward by the fact that Prime Minister Erdogan is just one of a pair of Gauck’s official hosts for his visit, the other one of course being Turkish President Abdullah Gül, once almost as politically close to Erdogan as a brother, but now clearly worried about the anti-democratic direction his prime minister is taking the country. (And in addition, completely dismissive of Erdogan’s attempted Twitter-ban – an attitude he communicated via a tweet from his presidential account.) (more…)

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Mohammed El Bada-Bing

Saturday, July 6th, 2013

It’s Revolution 3.0 in Egypt now – things are hot, and extremely uncertain! Dead and wounded are falling everywhere, much of the Sinai is in open revolt against the new (temporary?) military regime, and in general no one has much of a certain idea about what is to happen next.

At least there has been some slight technical progress, reported by the Italian Huffington Post.

HuffPoIT_Tahrir

“Twitter returns to Tahrir Piazza” – sorry, “Square.” But it’s a truism that social media has long been a key driving force behind the Arab Spring generally, certainly behind the revolution in Egypt whose first notable accomplishment was the toppling of the long-entrenched Mubarak regime back in February of 2011.

The problem for outside observers, of course, has been language. These folks prefer to address each other in Arabic, including via social networks. Those who are non-conversant have been limited to whatever the main social network protagonists have been willing to post in English, which too often has been merely by way of after-thought.

The point of this piece is that that has now changed. Oh, they’ll still write mostly in Arabic, but most tweets (at least) will now have an English translation provided by Microsoft’s Bing Translator. According to the HuffPoIT reporter Francesco Bisozzi, this initiative has been provided by Twitter itself, in effect using accounts affiliated with the Egyptian Revolution as a trial for this technology. OK, it’s Bing and not Google Translate – clearly, monetary and power-play considerations played a role in the choice here – and often you get the sort of funny-sounding text that such machine-translation is still known for, but it’s clearly a big step forward nonetheless.

So check out some of these Twitter-feeds that Bisozzi mentions. Warning: some are from the “bad guys” (e.g. ex-President Mohammed Morsi’s cabinet – boo!). Just be sure to click “Expand” and you’ll get Bing’s translation.

There’s Wael Ghonim, whom many considered as the catalyst of the Egyptian Revolution with his “We Are All Khaled Saeed” Facebook page: @Ghonim

Prof. Pakinam El Sharkawy, Assistant to the [former] Egyptian President for political affairs (a lady, but this gal still didn’t do such a good job, eh?): @Dr_pakinam

Ahmed Shafik, former fighter pilot, former Egyptian Prime Minister (under Mubarak), and Mohamed Morsi’s head-to-head opponent in the second round of the presidential elections in June last year: @AhmedShafikEG

And finally the star of our show, Nobel Prize winner and former International Atomic Energy Agency head Dr. Mohammed El Baradei: @ElBaradei

It’s true, Dr. El Baradei hasn’t tweeted much lately – not since 28 June, at this writing – but he’s a busy man these days. Plus, he might be headed for something even bigger:

Stratfor_Tahrir

Bonus benefit from this HuffPoIT piece: It appears that “to tweet” in Italian is twittare! Io twitto, tu twitti, eccetera . . .

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Thaw in Pyongyang?

Monday, April 16th, 2012

Kremlinology is not dead – it has merely left the Kremlin and moved East. Especially now that a previously unknown twenty-something is apparently in charge of the North Korean dictatorship, a similar industry of analysts has sprung up to read between the lines of pronouncements and events there to try to figure out that regime’s basic motivations in the face of overwhelmingly uniform, Nazi-party-rally-style public demonstrations.

Now Kim Jong Un has deposited a hefty clue to his mind-set, in the form of his first-ever public speech on the occasion of celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the birth of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung. The German newsmagazine Focus sees encouraging signs here, as outlined in its (unsigned) article Kim Jong Un – a new leadership style for North Korea?

True, true, Kim did not use the occasion to announce any new policies. Indeed, he took pains to emphasize his country’s long-standing “military first” policy when it comes to public expenditures. Yet a certain Paik Hak Soon, from the South Korean think-tank the Sejong Institute who is quoted extensively in this piece, claims nonetheless to see in Kim’s speech and elsewhere signs of a new openness in the North Korean leadership. After all, the regime also acknowledged the failure of its rocket-launch last Friday, which in itself was unprecedented. Plus, what foreign observers within the country as there are have reportedly picked up other signs of a thaw, including bigger markets and more widespread (though still tightly controlled) mobile telephone use.

By themselves, these indicators given in the Focus article do not seem too convincing to me. Plus, the world is still awaiting an expected North Korean nuclear test, and we’ll see how the outside assessments of that regime change after that happens. As is often the case these days, though, these observers could just go to Twitter to find the signs of more North Korean openness they are looking for – most particularly to the @KimJongNumberUn account, where the country’s young Supreme Leader lays out the sort of dilemmas he is facing for all to see:

Etiquette question: if your rocket fails do you still have to feed the scientists? Askin for a friend.

@KimJongNumberUn

KimJongNumberUn


He even offers occasional glimpses into his country’s culture, such as with his #NorthKoreanPickupLines series:

How’d you like a one-minute ride on my rocket? #NorthKoreanPickupLines

@KimJongNumberUn

KimJongNumberUn


Admittedly, there are also persistent rumors that this Twitter account is not actually genuine.

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Hang On To Your Googlers!

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

It’s good to be Google! Most of the Western world may be struggling with various degrees of above-average unemployment, but one much remarked-upon news item of late concerned the Mountain View, CA powerhouse’s awarding a 10% across-the-board pay-rise to all employees, together with a one-off lump-sum gratuity of $1,000. One aspect of that move’s appeal was how much of a throw-back it seemed as a personnel measure, far-removed from today’s HR environment where bonuses going only to those identified as the company’s true high-achievers, not to every employee, are more the norm. Yet a few analysts could still see the logic in this approach (including, for example, this commentator on the Atlantic website).

Writing in Le Monde, Marion Solletty takes yet another cut at what this latest move by Google means:

. . . the star of Silicon Valley feels itself under threat. Its vital forces, the engineers who fine-tuned its mysterious algorithms, are leaving it. With the eye of a connoisseur they have watched the sparkling rise of the new stars of the Web, the social networks. And they respond to the call of the bold.

Search, and text ads, and YouTube videos: all that is just so yesterday, man, just so . . . 2008, you know! And then following directly comes the anecdote of Cedric Beust (with a suspiciously French name!), a six-year Google employee who now has left to join LinkedIn.

What goes around, comes around. According to Solletty, Google first stocked itself with quality personnel by raiding the leading Internet-related firms of its own period of skyrocketing growth. Now it’s the turn of others, including especially Facebook, whose employee total has gone from 1,000 to 1,700 within the past year (although it has had its own top-level defections), or Twitter, which has tripled from 100 employees to 300 in that same period.

Ironically, Google’s latest salary-move did cost it one employee. The internal company message announcing it (“CONFIDENTIAL: INTERNAL ONLY”), and lauding employees as “the best in the world,” was soon leaked to an industry blog so we could all savor the message, at least vicariously. But he who did the leakin’ was fired.

UPDATE: It’s worse for Google than we thought! TechCrunch now has this piece about a Google engineer threatening to leave to join Facebook and getting $3.5 million in stock to stay!

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E-Novels for E-Readers

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

France remains one place where they take literary culture – and so its central element, the novel – seriously. People still read there. But that doesn’t mean that that country remains immune to the steady march of progress, which these days can only refer to consumer electronics and telecoms. In the French newspaper Le Figaro, Margaut Bergey surveys some recent innovations that threaten to redefine the very nature of what we mean by literature.

In part, the value-added from Mme. Bergey’s piece comes simply from the specifics she provides. I had vaguely been aware of a novel having been published wholly via Twitter, but didn’t know anything more specific. Turns out it was called The French Revolution, by Matt Stewart, and, sure enough, just over a year ago (starting on Bastille Day 2009, appropriately enough) it was “published” in the form of 3,700 tweets. Here’s that Twitter-feed’s site, but by this point you (together with me) are a bit too late: that particular collection of tweets constituting the novel is no longer available, so you’ll have to buy it from Stewart’s site here. (more…)

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Twitter = Pedophile-Paradise?

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

I’m sorry, but some of the “old media” over here on this European continent just don’t get it when it comes to Twitter. A current example is the Flemish newspaper Gazet van Antwerpen with its brief piece “Twitter is a pedo-paradise”.

At least those quotation-marks are in the original title, as if to show that the Gazet editors aren’t quite ready to fully endorse that opinion. Still, the first paragraph reads in its entirety: “The social-networking site Twitter is a cost-free and easy hunting-ground for child-molesters, experts say.” Their proof? One “on-line conversation” between a pedophile and his 13-year-old prey as published in the English newspaper The Sun – one that is thoroughly banal (13-year-old: “Are you trying to seduce me?” Pedophile: “No, not at all. I just want to more more about you.”) besides coming from a source of little more use to the general public than as an exhibitor of “Page Three girls” and none at all when it comes to factual presentation. Oh, and let me add: besides constituting but one instance (an “anecdote,” in scientific parlance) of alleged evil behavior, and one whose use completely misinterprets the Twitter’s technological essence at that. Yes, it is possible to use Twitter to send an “@reply” to communicate directly with someone – but then everyone who subscribes to you can read the message, and anyone can find it afterwards through search. And it is also possible to send a “direct message” to someone, that no one else can read – although that’s only when the two parties subscribe to each others feed, and tell me how that is possible in a case of pedophilia other than after the child-molester has already gained his victim’s confidence through entirely other means!

But what Twitter is really all about is not one-to-one communication, but rather broadcasting – it’s basically a broadcaster of 140-character-or-less messages. In this light, it’s ridiculous to paint it as some potential tool for pedophiles. This article is simply brain-dead, looking to attract attention through the cynical spreading of rent-an-expert pedophilia alarm. And that’s sad, among other reasons because presumably plenty of people (Belgians who are Flemish, mostly) read the Gazet van Antwerpen and believe what they find there, and so will come away with a mistaken negative impression of what has proven to be quite an innovative and useful communications tool.

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Twitter for the Peace Prize!

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

That’s right: someone has publicly put Twitter forward as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, citing the impact of its supposed assistance to the protest movement in Iran against the results of the 12 June national elections. That someone is Mark Pfeifle, formerly Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor to George W. Bush, and he does so in an opinion-piece in the Christian Science Monitor (in English, of course). Although I have dealt with questions of Twitter here recently, I was unaware of this editorial until I was informed of it today by this German website intern.de. (And how did I find out about intern.de? Hey, you’ve got to let me have a few professional secrets!)

Naturally, I leave it to you, dear reader, to examine Pfeifle’s article itself as you may wish. Intern.de, though, has some reservations about it, like Pfeifle’s assertion that Twitter was mainly responsible for the emergence of the story of the assassination of Neda (Neda Agha-Soltan), who basically became the lead-martyr for the Iranian opposition’s cause. I also rather believe that it was YouTube, if anything, that figured most largely in spreading the news and horror of her killing. Pfeifle also conveniently ignores the very substantial defects to Twitter that emerged during those days of Tehran street-demonstrations, such as the sheer volume of “tweets” to be digested (221,000 per hour at their height, it says here) and the related problem of a high “noise-to-signal ratio” (i.e. it was difficult to glean out useful information – much less anything that could be verified – from that flood), as the audience for the “#iranelection” hash-tag eventually was even treated to tweet-advertising piggybacking on that tag from a UK furniture company! The intern.de blogger also detects a high level of sheer PR content in Pfeifle’s piece, whether it’s trying to spin for Twitter or for Mark Pfeifle himself. I agree, but again, you can go off to the Christian Science Monitor site and judge for yourself.

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Twitter vs. Geschnatter

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

It’s interesting to see happening now in the on-line German press a vigorous discussion of that latest of modern-day philosophical questions: Of what use – if any – is Twitter? Granted, the Germans are probably coming around rather late to this subject, and you’d also have to think that their attention was attracted to it by the role Twitter played in the recent street demonstrations in Iran. But Fabian Mohr, writing in Die Zeit (Twitter: The media revolution that is not one), does provide some thoughtful arguments about this recent micro-blogging craze.

Now, as you might expect he has been driven to take up his pen by a spate of recent “What’s it good for?” attack-articles, such as in the Süddeutsche Zeitung (by Bernd Graff; the title is pretty untranslateable – Tschilp, tschilp, bla, bla – and yes, part of the caption under that picture up-top of the two parrots cuddling asks “whether these two have rather more to say [i.e. that’s interesting than Twitter-tweeters]?”), and even in his own Die Zeit (by Jens Uehlecke: Stop with the chatter [already]!; Geschnatter basically = “chatter”). One rather perceptive point he makes is to point out the parallel between reactions to Twitter among many journalists (“highly hysterical”) and the reception that weblogs met with when they first came into prominence about five years ago (wasn’t it about then?). (more…)

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