Bloggers provide a different take on events within Iraq
CAIRO: Mohammed, an Iraqi blogger, came to Egypt to participate in a seminar and talk about his blog and his success in voicing his opinions through it.
Full of hope, he talked on and on about freedom and development in his country. Naming his blog Iraq the model, he makes no secret of his positive feelings about where his country is heading. But after all the positive talk, he acknowledges the difficulties his country is facing, and says, We re just paying the price of freedom.
Mohammed is a 37-year-old dentist at a Baghdad hospital. He wasn t politically active during Saddam’s era, when his only activity was writing his thoughts down on pieces of paper that he would later hide, in fear of getting caught by Saddam s police.
After the war, however, he couldn’t contain his eagerness to voice his opinions. Right after the war, he heard about blogging from a friend of his. He started a blog the following day, along with his brother Omar, a 26-year-old dentist.
We were isolated from the rest of the world for 35 years [of Saddam s rule] by a terrifying wall, says Mohammed.
His incentive to open a blog was that he wanted to give the rest of the world an accurate picture of what was happening in Iraq. He thought the media had not been successful in doing that, covering only explosions and violence.
Change has a lot of positive sides, and I wanted the world to know that side as well. The media only covers the negative side of the situation, and not all in good will, says Mohammed. I wanted to write about the situation from my own point of view. An Iraqi citizen going through the state of change, saying he didn t just want to express what he thought, but more importantly what he felt.
The picture is not entirely bright though. Because of the security situation, Mohammed and Omar decided not to reveal their identities publicly. They only stated their first names and that they live in Baghdad. Their caution turned out to be warranted, as they received death threats via e-mail.
Even with getting death threats, the success of their blog made the two brothers and some friends who care about Iraq start pondering the next step: bringing freedom of expression to more people. They opened a Web site that hosts other blogs for free called Friends of Democracy. Their idea was to create a free space for free expression and to create a network of people who are interested in the same topic. They describe their Web site as their virtual home and have Arabized it to remove the language barrier to free online expression.
The organization was established before the first Iraqi parliamentary elections in January 2005 to promote democratic culture and to encourage people to vote.
Friends of Democracy is also a registered non-governmental organization (NGO). Mohammed himself does not write there, but only moves things. They have invited people to open their own blogs on their Web site, creating a network throughout Iraq.
If the organization, which is based in Baghdad, wants to hold an activity in another city, they search online through their network for activists who have similar ideologies and who live in that particular town to organize the event.
Yet again, the saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention, has proven accurate. The online network has succeeded in providing some protection from the dangerous highways of Iraq, since members don’t have to travel from town to town to organize events.
Mohammed says his optimism is not a result of having had it easier than other Iraqis. Two members in Friends of Democracy were killed on a highway. They were journalists returning from Baghdad to Babel when they were stopped by what he jokingly called the patriotic resistance and were killed.
Talking about his experience in both his blog and Friends of Democracy, Mohammed says, Despite the tough situation and the challenges, by using technology, we were able to overcome the difficulties and we have established an effective network to push the democratic process and guarantee freedom of expression in Iraq.
Visit the sites at www.iraqthemodel.blogspot.com and www.fodhome.friendsofdemocracy.net.