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Touring Libyan Blogs: Summer, Diplomacy, Data Protection and the Right to Privacy

The sprawling summer days in Libya have kicked in fast bringing with them the beach season, which for me carries wafts of childhood holiday memories and funnily enough watermelons.

As expected there were a few summer related posts on the Libyan blogosphere. After all with approximately 2000 km of coastline it would have been strange if despite the relative continuing quietness of Libyan bloggers no one mentioned swimming or the beach in relation to Libya.

“[T]he typical Libyan day at the beach” says Khalid Jorni

“[..]would start at eight o'clock Friday morning, when the whole family would get up, load the car with everything but the kitchen sink, and head to Garaboulli beach, we would arrive at noon because we had to stop several times to buy fruits, corns, bread, meat, etc
The first nightmare would be unloading the car in the mid of a baking-hot day, carrying the fridge, gallons of water, big watermelons, etc, along the way from the parking to the hut through the burning sands would make you hate your life altogether.
Then starts the process of eating, each time you think you could escape to the water you would be called back to share a meal, until you feel nine months pregnant, then you would realize that the time of reloading the car and going back home has come.”

This humorous description is self critical but so true and runs perfectly in agreement with my favourite Libyan cartoonist Elzwawi. His renderings of the Libyan social scene are uber-famous. You can check his day at the beach caricature among other things here.

Beach time fun unfortunately brings also its share of victims. Khadijateri, who is married to a Libyan and has been living in Libya for close to twenty years, has chosen this as the theme for her Libyan summer activities post.

“Every summer you hear of people drowning, usually because the person was swept out to sea by a strong current called a riptide. Most of these tragic events could be prevented if people were educated on how to save themselves from these powerful water currents.”

Both Anglo-Libyan and Khalid Jorni mentioned that dual citizenship holder Mercedes Farhat who recently took the name of Asmahan will be donning the Libyan colours at the upcoming Olympics.

However while Khalid Jorni was wondering ” will the Libyan fathers who live in Libya allow their daughters to be seen half naked in public?!”
Anglo-Libyan correctly highlighted that although we are proud that Libya's flag will be represented by someone but Mercedes was NOT the first female ever – as press releases have been shouting over the rooftops – who will compete in the Olympics swimming category for Libya.
On the other hand to add to Anglo's list and answer Khalid's conjectures I would like to mention as an example the 2007 Special Olympics Libyan aquatics competitors Fathia Saad and Radia Wadi along with their coach Nabila Taguri. There are probably others it's just that the PR in Libya is not as good as in America. I'll wait for someone to dig up more info.

At this point the first part of my Libya round up is completed. However the posts I brought up have controversial multiple facets as well which were further developed in their comment sections. The next paragraphs I hope will be taken as constructive criticism and learning points. So apologies in advance to you all and do not take it personally.

(1) Khalidjorni’s cracking representation of a day at the beach was a narrative comparison between western and Libyan typical beach outings.

“This weekly trip to Janzour will soon be replaced by one, involving the whole family, to Garaboulli beach, [..] where I won't have to close my eyes while performing Friday noon prayer. I found it rather outlandish that those Caucasians at Janzour beach don’t get hungry! […] food is not a basic part of those people's vacation, they spend the whole day staring at a novel or a magazine while tossing and turning on the sand, I think that’s what they are really hungry for, sunlight, they don’t even spend much time swimming!”

This immediately divided the comments into several broad camps: the you- are -retarded -if –you- don’t- act -like -the –westerners, the expected (Libyan) women-are-oppressed –cooking-all –day –at –the beach line and the this-is-our culture camp.

(2) Then he put up several photos of the relaxing tourists. Now, if I'm at the beach abroad I'd rather be asked before someone decides to immortalize me for posterity. I mean it is OK to be accidentally part of a photo when you are visiting museums, famous buildings and such because most people will be shooting the same thing. And even at the beach if a group of friends are taking a photo together and a stranger gets in the frame is fine but having a gallery full of strangers does not seem right it kind of infringes on their privacy. I would not like a photo of me and my family at the Garabouli to appear on a blog unless I permitted it.

This reminded me of another great post by Khalidjorni which also gave me some concern. He spoke about the gigantic construction field that Tripoli has become. But he also broached the Gargaresh sewage polluted beach which was obviously still used carelessly by Libyan children.
Raising civil awareness is fantastic and needed and pictures are certainly better than a thousand words but posting some of the children's photos even with their own consent does not seem right to me. The numerous photos of the scantily clad tourists and the close ups of the children constitute a clear encroach on privacy. I'm surprised no one mentioned that.

(3) Khadijateri's post though full of useful information about the riptides that endanger Libyans annually and probably good intentions also stirred up the same kind of trouble pitting Libyan vs foreigners.

“I always have found it weird that most Libyans have no idea how to swim, especially since Libya has such a long coastline on the Mediterranean Sea. Many will tell you ‘I know how to swim!’ and you find out that their idea of swimming is moving their arms and splashing about, all the while their feet are still firmly planted on the bottom. That is NOT swimming.”

In response to the above intro a snippet from a commenter was “Stop being so derogatory of our people“.

Yes we Libyans do not like criticism but the message could have been conveyed differently rising above pettiness to achieve greater impact and save more Libyan lives.

In my opinion diplomacy, tact and avoiding stereotypes is more productive both when blogging about Libyans and non-Libyans.

On the other hand I don't really know what the status on data protection and privacy laws is in Libya but there must be a way to market Libya without those types of photos and there must be a way to show social defects without compromising children identities. That is the next step I hope to see in internet journalism.

Obviously from comments and posts we have seen that many Libyans in Libya (female and male) do know how to swim and enjoy swimming, belying statements to the contrary and despite formal swimming lessons not yet being part of the national school physical education curriculum.

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  • Fozia

    Update from Fozia 10/7/08

    Unfortunately Khalid Jorni’s blog is no longer available for viewing up as he recently deleted his account.

    We hope to see him back again and I am glad we managed to capture some of his spirit in this roundup.

    Maybe he can count this as a message to plead with him to reconsider his decision.

    Fozia

  • Pingback: ZEITGEIST / Go, Look: Libyan Cartoonist Elzwawi

  • http://khalidjorni.blogspot.com/ Khalid

    Hi Fozia,

    You make it sound like the tourists were photographed in their bedrooms by a hidden camera!. While in fact they were in a public place and appeared looking at the camera and smiling..

    However, there are only two cases in which you can say a picture was taken without obtaining prior permission: (1) if you were there by the time it was taken, (2) if the people who appeared in it or the photographer who took it said so. Otherwise you should take a minute and inquire before you pass judgments, criticism is more that welcome, assumptions no.

    As for your update: I actually deleted my account on July the 4th, that’s five days before your post was published!, and here are a post by Benghazi Citizen and several related comments were published on july the 4th, (i.e. before your post was published, on July the 9th), and all are talking about me quitting blogging.

    All what I am asking you to do: is to inform your readers that your post was published five days after I had deleted my blog, and you released the news about me deleting my blog six days after I had truly deleted it.

    Sorry for being straight to the points, but your delayed dates lead the readers to think that your “criticism” caused me to delete my blog, which is not true.

    Have a nice day.

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  • Fozia

    Dear Khalid,

    Thank you for the comment. I am not sure that my post in any way indicated that you have deleted your blog because of me. My post was made last month but I do not have control of when it gets released because of the queuing process in Global Voices which is why you saw it published on July 9th instead of June 29th.

    My message came when I clicked on the links on July 10th and realised that you had deleted your blog which is why I released an update to pre-empt someone saying that I am writing about a non-existing blog.

    There is no malice involved as I am one of your most ardent fans. Apologies if you assumed otherwise. Plus in Global Voices there is no place for this type of behaviour as this is not a personal blog. I am trying to bring attention to talented Libyan bloggers and showcase Libya and not the contrary so why shoot oneself in the foot ?

    As for your note regarding the photos taken, a careful reading of the post would have made it clear to you that there was no offense meant and any criticism was of the constructive type, as in “let us look at data protection laws and let us think about that for Libya”.

    Thank you for the links provided and allow me to join my voice to Benghazi Citizen and the others and ask you to reconsider your decision to stop blogging.

    Yours sincerely;
    Fozia

  • http://khalidjorni.blogspot.com/ khalid

    Hi

    Cheers, Fozia, not in a hundred years would I think that you bear anyone any malice, your posts have always articulated you as a sincere supportive person, and a devoted professional journalist..

    It was Global Voices’ problem, not yours, they really need to get their acts together and provide better service, they cannot be that slow in 2008 .

    I thank you for clarifying what happened, and apologize for any misunderstanding

  • Fozia Mohamed

    Dear Khalid,

    Thanks for your understanding.

    To avoid further misunderstanding I would like to stress on the professionalism of GVO which is giving us a podium to make our voices heard.

    During the said period there was the Citizens Media Summit as a result of which a little backlog was created. Since I could not know that you were going to stop blogging I did not realize that my post would be so time-sensitive.

    This is all an unfortunate set of circumstances and no one is at fault.

    Wishing you all the best,
    Fozia

  • http://www.anglo-libyan.com/ Anglo-Libyan

    salam sis Fozia,

    every time I try to include your page’s link on my new favourite blogs link it reverts to the main Global Voices URL, I am not sure why!! I never had this problem with the old list!

    As always I like reading your analysis, first class :o)

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