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Made in Libya: Blogger Ahmed Ben Wafaa

Ahmed Ben Wafaa is a science teacher who started blogging in 2000 in order to express himself on the state of things in his country and through his blog “Made in Libya” [ar] he succeeded in becoming a source of information during the Libyan revolution.

On his blog, Ahmed introduces himself as follows [ar]:

اسمي أحمد علي بن وفاء ، ليبي ، ولدت بقرية “أبوروية” في مدينة مصراته سنة 1981، أحمل شهادة بكالوريوس من كلية العلوم (قسم علوم الحياة). عندي شغف كبير بالتدوين – لكنه الكسل!

My name is Ahmed Ben Wafaa. I am Libyan. I was born in the village of Aburuya in Misratah in 1981. I hold a BS from the Faculty of Sciences (Life Sciences department). I am very fond and passionate about blogging but it is laziness [which prevents me from blogging more].

I interviewed Ahmed following many attempts to contact Libyan bloggers due to the weakness of means of communication in Libya nowadays. It took him a month to respond, he said, because he was unable to get access to a good Internet connection.

Photo of Ahmed posted on his blog “Made in Libya”.

GV: When did you start your activities on the Internet and what attracted you to the blogosphere?

أحمد بن وفاء: بدايتي مع الإنترنت كانت عام 2000، وقتها كان التدوين العربي يتعثر في خطواته الأولى، وقد أعجبتني فكرة أن يكون للمرء صفحة خاصة – خلال بضع دقائق – يعبر فيها عن أفكاره واهتماماته المختلفة (سياسية، تقنية، فنية الخ) بحرية، بعيداً عن جمود واحتكار وسائل النشر التقليدية.

Ahmed: My story with the Internet dates back to 2000. Back then, blogging in the Arab World was still in its first steps. I liked the idea of having one's own and private page where he can express his ideas and various interests (political, technical, artistic …) freely, away from the monopoly of mainstream media.

GV: Can you tell me a bit about the dangers that faced Libyan bloggers during [former Libyan dictator Muammar] Gaddafi's regime?

أحمد بن وفاء: كان التدوين عن السياسة أمراً شبه مستحيل لأن أي انتقاد تفسره الأجهزة الأمنية – ضيقة الأفق – كتهجم على رأس النظام (القذافي شخصياً) فيتم قمعه بشكل فوري، ومازلت أذكر ما تعرض له الصحفي ضيف الغزال عام 2005 حين كتب مقالاً على الانترنت ينتقد فيه الفساد والقمع الذي يتعرض له المواطن، فتم اختطافه وعثر على جثته لاحقاً وعليها آثار التعذيب (ومبتورة الأصابع) في إشارة واضحة لا تحتاج إلى تعليق!

Ahmed:Blogging about politics was almost an impossible thing because any criticism interpreted by the narrow vision of the security apparatus as an attack on the head of the regime (Gaddafi in person) and is met with an immediate crackdown. I still remember what journalist Daif el Ghazal went through in 2005 when he wrote a piece on the net criticizing corruption and oppression faced by people. He was kidnapped and his body was found later on with marks of torture (his fingers cut) in a clear sign that needs no comment.

GV: Everybody knows that the blackout in Libya and the banning of foreign channels to enter the country, made the bloggers the most important source of news during the Libyan revolution. Could you tell us about experiences which reflect this reality?

أحمد بن وفاء: بصراحة لم يكن للمدونات دور كبير أثناء الثورة لأسباب كثيرة ربما من ضمنها خشية المدون من اكتشاف هويته من قبل النظام، فلجأ معظمهم للكتابة بأسماء مستعارة والانتقال لمخاطبة الشريحة الأكبر التي تستخدم فيسبوك بالإضافة لسرعة انتقال المعلومات هناك وسهولة مشاركتها، وأذكر أنه في يناير الماضي قام بزيارتي صحفي اسمه عبد الله السالمي من قسم (BBC Monitoring) -وهو قسم مهتم بالحصول على الأخبار من مصادر إعلام المواطن كالمدونات وتويتر وغيرها – وأخبرني أن مدونتي كانت ضمن 3 مدونات ليبية كانوا يحرصون على زيارتها بشكل يومي أثناء الثورة الليبية، وأعتقد أن عدد المدونات النشطة أثناء الثورة لم يتجاوز 10 مدونات (من داخل البلاد).
وقد كانت مهمتنا في غاية الصعوبة بسبب سيطرة النظام على قطاع الإنترنت بشكل كامل وقيامه بقطعه على كامل البلاد بعد وقت قصير من اندلاع الثورة! مما جعل من دخولنا للانترنت (عبر وسائل بديلة) في غاية الصعوبة، بالإضافة لانشاء مخابرات النظام ما يسمى “بالجيش الالكتروني” الذي كان مهمته حجب واختراق المواقع وصفحات فيسبوك المؤيدة للثورة.

Ahmed:Honestly, blogs didn't have much of a role during the revolution for many reasons, like, for instance, the bloggers fear that their identity is discovered by the regime. So most of them started using fake nicknames or addressed the biggest segment which uses Facebook, in addition to the speed of information transfer on this platform and the easiness of sharing it. I remember last January, I got a visit by BBC monitoring journalist (a department which looks for information through citizen media such as blogs, Twitter and more), Abdullah Al Salemi, who told me that my blog was among three Libyan blogs they visited on a daily basis during the Libyan revolution. But I think that the active blogs during the revolution didn't exceed 10 (from inside the country) and our mission was really difficult because the regime had a complete monopoly and control on the Internet and it blocked it shortly after the start of the uprising. This made our access to the net (through alternative means) very difficult, in addition to the creation by the intelligence service of the regime to what was called “the electronic army” which was tasked with hacking sites and Facebook pages that supported the revolution.

GV: Gaddafi's regime fell and so did dictatorship. Did the situation change? Are bloggers safer now in Libya or there are still redlines and taboos which should not be crossed?

أحمد بن وفاء: لم تعد هناك خطوط حمراء أو تابوهات، وأصبح انتقاد الحكومة والسخرية منها بالكاريكاتير أو المقال أمراً عادياً، لكن الكاتب بات يخشى عمليات الانتقام الفردية بسبب عدم تشكل الجيش واستتباب الأمن في البلاد بشكل كامل وانتشار السلاح.

Ahmed: There are no longer redlines or taboos. Criticizing and mocking the government through cartoons or articles is something quite ordinary now. But the author now fears individual retaliation because there is still no army or security entirely in the country and there are still arms all over the place.

GV: How do you perceive the future of blogging and citizen media in Libya?

أحمد بن وفاء: متفاءل طبعاً، فقبل حقبة القذافي كان الدستور يكفل حرية التعبير وكانت تجرى سجالات فكرية ساخنة في عشرات الصحف اليومية قبل أن يختزلها القذافي في بضع صحفحكومية بائسة لا يشتريها أحد.

Ahmed: I am optimistic of course, because prior to Gaddafi the constitution guaranteed the freedom of expression and there used to happen intense debates in the newspapers on a daily basis before Gaddafi put an end to all this and started public newspapers which no body would buy.

You can also follow Ahmed on Twitter and on Facebook.

  • Alex22

    On
    May 10, 2013

    I congratulate the Libyan people for standing up against the government having
    members from the former Gaddafi regime.
    This is a very strong evidence that democracy can work only when people have arms in their hands.

    When the government and the establishment have all the arms it is impossible to do
    anything against them.
    I think, every constitution should ensure that only citizens have arms/guns, and the
    government should be prohibited to have guns.

    Viva Anarchy

    Down with the Left, down with the Right (political wings), we have had enough of you.

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