2011: the year of Facebook revolutions … some forgotten and ignored

Protestors from the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City. AAP

The occupation of Wall Street began in the deserts of Western Sahara and on October 15th it will spread to our Australian cities.

In El-Ayoun, Moroccan controlled Western Sahara, in the Gdeim Izik refugee tent camp, a demonstration was set up by Saharawis as a form of protest in October-November 2010.

Western Sahara has been occupied illegally by Morocco since 1975. The situation is similar to Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor.

The attack on Gdeim Izik

The UN is responsible for organizing a referendum, although Morocco has succeeded in derailing its implementation.

The former coloniser Spain, France, the US and the international community have also looked the other way.

The Moroccan government’s response to the Gdeim Izik refugee camp was swift and brutal.

While Polisario, the Western Sahara liberation movement, claimed that 36 Saharawis were killed, hundreds wounded and 163 arrested, the Moroccan government argued that only 2 demonstrators but 11 Moroccan security forces had been killed.

The only filmed representation of this occupation exists on Youtube.

The first shot of the Arab Spring

According to Noam Chomsky the Arab Spring began not in Tunisia but in Western Sahara at Gdeim Izik.

Kamal Fadel, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Front representative in Australia, argues that there were no journalists in the protest camp. The revolution wasn’t tweeted, says Fadel.

One week ago, on September 25, a peaceful Sahrawi demonstration followed violent and fatal football clashes between Saharawis and Moroccan settlers.

The demonstration was violently repressed by the Moroccan authorities and another Sahrawi was killed. In both Gdeim Izik and Dahkla, we can only try to reconstruct what happened through eyewitness testimonies and online media.

The Facebook revolution you haven’t heard of

Exiled human rights activist Aicha Dahane, who toured Australia earlier this year, has stated that because of extreme repression, the only media platform available to the Saharawis is online and Youtube and Facebook are the most popular.

And while there has been a Facebook Revolution in Western Sahara, as I argue here, it has been largely forgotten.

Gdeim Izik and Wall Street; Western Sahara and the Arab Spring: the relationship between events is beginning to resemble online mirror sites.

When the Wikileaks site was hacked late last year many others stepped up and reproduced the information trail endlessly by introducing their own sites. If 2011 is the year of revolutions the connections are often new, unexpected and exciting.

Dahane also spoke about the solidarity and sharing of food and possessions that was emblematic of the Gdeim Izik tent camp.

When the Net goes down

It reminded me of Ahdif Soueif’s introduction to the little gem of a book Tweets From Tahrir from cutting edge publisher OR books:

“Tahrir was a space of unity, pride, resistance, celebration, laughter, sharing, and most importantly ownership. This was the people’s space; our rules and our demands. We would not leave until justice was born.”

When the internet was blocked in Egypt social media was forced to take a back-seat. The action was now on the streets.

It was no longer simply viral. People could meet face-to-face while before they shielded themselves behind the internet screen. This is the place where Facebook becomes redundant.

From Harvard to the Sahara to the White House

While Facebook was founded in the mainstream American college circuit nobody could have predicted its radical role in Western Sahara and Egypt. If we trace the life cycle of Facebook we can say that it is now all grown up.

It’s now tired of the all night decadent parties as epitomised in the myth-making film The Social Network. It now wants to get political; or at least, organize its staff to do so.

Following on from the example of Google it now plans to encourage its employees to donate to a political action committee.

Facebook’s political action committee “will give our employees a way to make their voice heard in the political process by supporting candidates who share our goals of promoting the value of innovation to our economy while giving people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”

Facebook is functioning like any other corporation in Washington, employing its own lobbyists to promote what Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman call spin and flak, one of the filters used by the corporate media and its lobbyists to manufacture consent in industrialised societies.

Who needs who?

Openness, in Facebook’s definition, is a form of spin and a not too unsophisticated means of getting one’s own way.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is one of the most recent sustained challenges to corporate greed and unbridled corporate influence, including media monopolies.

“We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments,” argues the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City.

One of the current great ironies is that the Wall Street occupiers need Facebook as an information tool now more than Facebook, with its corporate lobbyists, needs them.

And when, like the Egyptian protesters in Tahrir Square, the Occupy Wall Street movement is consolidated on the streets Facebook could find it has become the corporate target.

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