Arab Bloggers Gather In Tunisia After Arab Spring

Hundreds of bloggers from across the Arab world are meeting in Tunis, Tunisia, this week to discuss cyber-activism and political change. This is their third annual gathering, and it follows a dramatic year since Arab uprisings began last December. Saudi blogger Ahmed Al Omran, an NPR social media intern, talks to Renee Montagne about the role bloggers played in inspiring change.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The uprisings that toppled Moammar Gadhafi and two other Arab regimes so far began last December when a young Tunisian fruit seller set himself on fire in protest. His actions sparked what's become known as the Arab Spring - chronicled, organized and some say even fueled by social media. The role of cyber-activism in political change is the focus of a gathering of Arab bloggers in Tunisia, hundreds from across the Middle East and North Africa. Ahmed Al Omran is from Saudi Arabia and one of the first bloggers in the region. He set up his blog, Saudi Jeans, in 2004. He's also an intern here at NPR and joined us from Tunis. Good morning.

AHMED AL OMRAN: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: This is the third annual event of its kind and there must be quite a sense of acceleration there this year following the Arab spring.

OMRAN: Definitely. I mean, there is a lot of excitement after the events of the last few months. I mean, when we first met for the first and the second bloggers meeting in Beirut back in 2008 and 2009, we were talking about the prospects of change and what these new technologies and tools could help to stimulate and accelerate political and social change in the region. And last year and the events of the Arab Spring, you know, came like a vindication for what we have been talking about. And for the Tunisians and the Egyptians at the conference this year, it was almost like a victory party.

MONTAGNE: And lessons learned over the past several months?

OMRAN: They have been a lot of lessons. I mean, yes, the revolution toppled the regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. But for every Egypt, there is a Bahrain and for every Tunis there is a Yemen. So there have been other concerns about, you know, what happens when things go wrong.

MONTAGNE: You know, much was said about Twitter at the time because Twitter, of course, is much quicker and can really, you know, help organizationally. What are people there saying about the role of Twitter?

OMRAN: I was sitting on a panel about the role of Twitter on the first day, and most people on the panel seemed to agree that while Twitter was important to help people to organize and also to get the word out, and then it's just a tool. You know, we cannot call this a Twitter revolution or a Facebook revolution. It's the revolution of the people. And the people in that revolution would use whatever tools that are available to them.

MONTAGNE: You know, there's another thing - the writing of many bloggers has gotten them in trouble with governments. There was an Egyptian blogger jailed for his criticism of the military's role in the revolution. Are the dangers associated with actually putting out a blog, are they being addressed at this conference?

OMRAN: Yeah, definitely. I mean, we have one blogger actually from Bahrain, Alia Abdel-Ayma(ph), who was in the first two meetings but he's not with us this year because he was sentenced to 15 years in jail in Bahrain, but he disappeared since then and nobody knows where he is right now. And there was a session yesterday, for example, about cybersecurity and how bloggers and activists can use online tools to protect themselves. So it is a concern and it's something we constantly talk about.

MONTAGNE: Ahmed Al Omran is a Saudi blogger and also an intern here at NPR. He's at the third annual Arab Bloggers Meeting in Tunis, Tunisia. Thanks very much for joining us.

OMRAN: Thank you.

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