Network for Youth in Transition


The bloggers: Hayder Hamzoz & Dina Najem

Building a virtual revolution

BAGHDAD — Blog by blog and tweet by tweet, tech-savvy Iraqis are trying to reproduce the revolutions of the Arab Spring on a subtler, more incremental level: by encouraging activism, reporting news, holding officials accountable and creating a broadband society that is not beholden to checkpoints, car bombs and other obstacles in the non-virtual world of Iraq.

"I believe Libya had success because they had social media to help their revolution - we didn't," said a 23-year-old blogger and activist who goes by the name Hayder Hamzoz. "We didn't have enough connectivity to the outside world in 2003."

Hayder Hamzoz is one of the forces behind the blog Iraqi Streets, which has 30 regular contributors and aims to promote activism and social media while teaching young people how to leverage both. Last month, he and a fellow blogger who goes by Dina Najem, 22, sat in a cafe in Baghdad, having just returned from a social-media conference in Beirut.

The U.S. invasion opened Iraq to the free societies of the outside world, Hamzoz and Najem said, but it also installed a hamstrung political system that has obstructed the path to emulating those societies.

The number of Facebook users in the country has more than doubled since February, according to the social media statistics portal Socialbakers, but the Iraqi parliament is considering an "Informatics Crimes Law" that would, according to the British human rights organization Article 19, "significantly undermine the right to freedom of expression and freedom of information in the country" and impose "severe custodial and financial penalties on 'whoever violates principles, religious, moral, family, or social values . . . through information networks or computers.' "

"The government of Iraq is following the same theories of the former regime but in different manners," said Najem, who trains women how to use the Internet and social media through the nonprofit Iraqi al-Amal Association.

Najem, Hamzoz and their fellow bloggers are focused on the basics right now: preparing a safety and privacy guide for activists, using Twitter to amplify dispatches from hard-to-reach protests, transmitting media from closed social sites (such as Facebook) to publicly searchable platforms (such as Google), and helping provincial council members start Facebook pages to engage with young constituents.

The next challenge is to "turn these online activities into action in the streets," Hamzoz said. "But we don't have a future yet, just the present. So we do what we can now, with these tools."


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