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Flickr Filtered in Iran,UAE: Resistance February 17, 2007

Posted by publicpolitics in Censorship, Information policy, Middle East, Political Technology.
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Internet users in the United Arab Emirates and Iran discovered some time ago that their access to Flickr, the popular social networking-photo archive site had been blocked yet again, for the third time. In the UAE, the major Internet service provider, Etisalat, is the responsible party. But dedicated photojournalists and ordinary users alike may have a new technological countermeasure, a free Firefox extension called Access Flickr that is the brainchild of Hamed Saber, an Iranian with a technical bent, an ingrained opposition to Big Brother, and a belief that “no one has the right to censor anything for me”.

In a Global Voices interview with Sami Ben Gharbia, Saber said that he was unaware of any similar Firefox extension specifically designed to circumvent censorship. The idea was to create something similar to Tor, but more accessible. Saber says that the tool is “so simple.. not sophisticated and powerful like Tor.” It sounds easy enough:

 

This extension just substitutes some parameters in HTTP request header
before sending it, and after receiving the response, again it
substitutes some other parameters in the HTTP response header. The
source code is not encoded, and the extension is open source, anyone
can read the simple source code!

Source: globalvoicesonline.org

Other forms of resistance to internet filtering in Iran ( Filtering Country Study) and the UAE( Filtering Country Study) are spearheaded by the Open Net Initiative. Because the technology is simple, the obvious solution for the censors is to block the extension- and what will Saber do if that happens?

He’ll just develop another “bypassing way.”

With people like Saber in the world, we can all take heart. We are , collectively, smarter than they are.

Related Link: Freedom for UAE Flickr Users Petition UAE

Tags: vs | users | Filter | Extension | Community | Citizens | access | United Arab Emirates | Technology | saber | Middle East | Iran | internet | hamed | Flickr | Africa

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Israelis Crush Aqsa Protest: New Intifada? February 10, 2007

Posted by publicpolitics in Middle East.
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Israeli police intervened to quell a protest at Islam’s third holiest
site, the Al-Aqsa Mosque. More than 40 people were injured, but the
potential of this kind of incident to fuel an upsurge in religiously
motivated violence is almost unlimited The Jordanian King, Abdullah ,
has describes the Israeli efforts to repair parts of the mosque as a
“blatant violation” and a “dangerous escalation” of tension. Abdullah
retains formal custodianship of the mosque .

The immediate precipitant of today’s disturbance was excavation work
the Israelis say is necessary to construct a new walkway. Muslim fear
that the work will undermine the foundation of the mosque, and some
believe that the walkway is being constructed only to give Israeli
troops easier access to it in future conflicts. The Israeli Defense
Minister has publicly urged stopping the work, while Amir Perez says it
should go ahead.

The editorial and clerical fires, already brightly burning on this issue, are now blazing and almost out of control: listen to Sheikh Tayseer Al-Tamimi, the Supreme Judge of Palestine:

Tamimi reiterated yesterday his call for a day of protest against the Israeli excavation work at the mosque, which he slammed as a “crime placing the whole world on the brink of religious war.” He told reporters, “I call on the Palestinians to head to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and I call on the Arab and Islamic masses all over the world to express their anger today regarding this crime.” Tamimi had earlier announced that yesterday was to be “a day of fury” over the Israeli aggression on the Al-Aqsa
Mosque.

Source: arabnews.com

Welcome to the new intifada.

Note: The quotations and facts cited in the story come from the linked sources. All other writing is my own.

Tags: WORSHIPPERS | STUN | reporters | protest | PRAYERS | police | Grenades | excavation | Storm | Politics | Palestinian | Palestine | Mosque | Jerusalem | ISRAELI | Gaza | friday | aqsa | Al-Aqsa

2nd Saudi Book Fair: Will Religious Police Heckle Women Writers? January 16, 2007

Posted by publicpolitics in Censorship, Middle East.
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“The second Riyadh International Book Fair has been scheduled to take place from Feb. 27 to March 9, with organizers expecting about 500 publishing houses from the Arab world to attend.

Arab News

Book fairs in the United States and Europe seldom attract the kind of attention and controversy expected at the Riyadh International Book Fair. This year’s far i will be organized not by the private firms themselves, but by the Ministry of Culture and Information, which must approve all the books being presented. And last year’s fair was the first time women writers were allowed to attend book signing ceremonies, albeit in hijab and for an all female audience. Nonetheless, a group of men showed up to shout at the women for not covering their faces. The men, as the Arab News delicately puts it, “identified themselves as members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the the Prevention of Vice.

In a different cultural world, the journalists at the news might have sought confirmation of the government affliation of the men. Given the way the news puts the matter, the choice is left open to the reader’s imagination. One possibility is that the men were just hecklers. Another, more interesting one is that the Ministry of Education and the religious police were in actual disagreement about who should be doing what at the conference.

The fault lines at such Saudi cultural events , while barely appearing in this article, are deep and pose familiar challenges for those who wish to make changes in this closed and theocratic society. The Kingdom wishes to participate in some aspects of cultural modernity, but must do so in a context where nearly every change is subject to harsh criticism by a fundamentalist Islam that must always be, if not placated, contained. The article goes on to say last year’s fair wa in fact one of the first opportunities for Saudi readers to buy books previously unavailable in the Kingdom “In the past, they (readers) would have had to causually carry books, or even smuggle them, into the country.”

The Deputy Minister of Cultural Affairs, Abdul Aziz Al-Subayyil, hopes that conservative vs. intellectual and book fan verbal exchanges will not take place this year. We can share his hope, and appreciate that the Ministry is perhaps an unwilling participant in a modern Saudi dilemma. Having encouraged an enthusiatic group of cultural monitors, whether simply religious conservatives or members of another, and hostile, branch of the Saudi bureaucracy, the Ministry of Culture may find itself in the postiion of not being able to silence the hecklers for fear of one problem (domestic and some international disapproval) and simultaneously not being able to continue the undue restrictions on women writers and Fair content ,without earning the opprobrium of other nations and their own slighted writers, something a kind of notice no government wants.

Tags: Schedule | Publishing | ORGANIZED | houses | expecting | announce | RIYADH | MINISTRY | march | Culture | companies | Arab

Saudis and Aussies: Exchange Over Mosques and Information Deficits January 11, 2007

Posted by publicpolitics in Diplomacy, Middle East.
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The embassy said yesterday it had been “shocked” by Mr Downer’s Monday statement on ABC radio that investigators were probing possible funding from “extremist groups in Saudi Arabia” for Australian mosques.

Mark Dodd and Pia Ackerman

The government of Australia and the Saudi Arabian embassy have had a bit of tempest in a teacup over a statement by Aussie Foreign Minister ALexander Downer’s allegation that funds from Islamic extremists based in the Kingdom have been used in Australia to fund mosques. Mr. Downer said that the Department of Foreign Affairs had made its view known about an application by the Saudi government to invest in the development of a Mosque in Park Holme, a suburb of Adelaide. Although the Saudis denied having knowledge of the content of Downer’s statement, the Austarlian governments says that has a result of the Department’s statement, the Saudis blocked funding for the Mosque.

The whole affair revolves around the case of an Iraqi who was a member of the Park Holme Mosque before his capture last month in Baghdad for alleged anti-coalition activities.

The Saudi embassy claims that money is not coming from Saudi Arabia to support any extremist groups and that the Saudis are watching what money goes out of the country very closely.

The most interesting part of the whole story is what was not revealed. When pushed to reveal how much Saudi assistance goes to organizations in Australia, the Saudis referred reporters to the Australian government, which said it could provide no details. It would seem prudent that all governments should have some way of tracking money coming in from other countries, but perhaps this is not legally possible for funds coming from non governmental organizations. In the Australian situation, the funds in question are directly from the Saudi government, and these direct government funds would be, one might hope, less difficult to track.

Tags: extremist-mosque | statement | shocks | probing | Mosque | link | investigating | Groups | Funding | extremist | Saudi Arabia | Saudi | Politics | Monday | embassy | Downer | AUSTRALIAN | Australia | Adelaide