Experiments on Paper
Arab readers who don't usually follow blogs now finally have the opportunity to read pertinent excerpts in printed form. On 1 April 2010 the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information brought out the first journal published by Arab bloggers in print form: "Wasla".
Available free of charge at irregular intervals, the magazine wants to try to close the gap between the usually youthful bloggers and the much older political, literary and intellectual elites, promoting exchanges between the two generations. At least that's how Gamal Eid, managing director of the network, described the journal's mission at a press conference held in Cairo to present the first issue.
In his first editorial, Eid recounts noticing how diverse the reactions by the generation of political and intellectual elites were to the blogs produced by the younger generation.
While some, like writers Sonallah Ibrahim and Elias Khoury, are enthusiastic and praise the activities of the young bloggers, others, such as Rifat as-Saїd and as-Sayyed Yassin, instead regard Internet blog forums and social network homepages as outgrowths of "political uncertainty and intellectual impoverishment".
These observations led to the idea of publishing a magazine to convey the themes addressed in the blogs in a form catering to the reading habits of the older generation.
Dispensing with stereotypes
In its lead story, "Baradei Fever", the 16-page first issue of "Wasla" presents in tabloid format the political debate over the return of Muhammad al-Baradei to Egypt.
The usual superficial online commentaries are nowhere to be found here; instead, the issue's main theme is examined from a number of critical standpoints, for example by the blogger "Demagh Mak" (Brain Mak), who, among other things, finds it risky to support al-Baradei unconditionally without knowing exactly what his campaign platform entails. Or the blog "People's Hysteria Front", which criticises the blanket nomination of figures close to al-Baradei without reflecting on what they stand for.
Additional blogs featured in the journal's first issue are devoted to other political and human rights issues. There are for example articles about police investigations of Net activists and the criminal prosecution of Arab bloggers, as well as commentaries on the dismissal of a female journalist by "Radio Netherlands Worldwide" in Cairo because of an article in which she belied a report by the station on "booming sales of artificial Chinese-made hymens in the Arab world".
Other postings keep readers abreast of cultural events such as the book fair in Muscat or review the latest films. All of this is presented in a modern and appealing journalistic layout, supplemented by comments made by visitors to the original blog which with their broad spectrum of topics furnish a realistic picture of current online discussions.
The topic mix is rounded out with glosses and socially critical texts, such as those found on the blog "Diary of an Ideal Woman".
The language used in the blogs remains within the bounds of what is acceptable, with no insults or offensive remarks. Of this, Ahmad Nagi, blogger and member of the editorial team, says: "We publish postings as they are and only intervene when certain expressions are really unpublishable. In that case, though, we always contact the author."
New journalistic paths
This way of handling the texts is designed to help the editors avoid the traps that other bloggers have fallen into with their projects. After all, the idea of publishing on paper texts that originally appeared online is not exactly new: the "Al-Shorouk" publishing house and the newspaper "Al-Dustour" already made a similar attempt to publish excerpts from blogs, but soon came up against the problem that the newspaper too often insisted on stepping in and deleting passages or shortening texts – for the bloggers an illegitimate distortion of their writing. As a result, the gap between classical journalists and bloggers only grew deeper.
"Wasla" by contrast aims at anchoring journalistic customs that respect the bloggers' original texts. In the field of intellectual property as well, "Wasla" is striking off down new paths by acquiring licences from the non-profit organisation "Creative Commons" for the use of the material it publishes.
These licences allow republication of media content for non-commercial purposes as long as the owner of such content is referenced. For this purpose, "Wasla's" editors ask bloggers who would like to see their content appear in the magazine to put the corresponding code in their blogs.
A first step has now been taken with the magazine's inaugural issue, although anyone interested in seeing it will have to pay a personal visit to the headquarters of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information in Cairo to obtain a printed copy. But the editors have ambitious plans for the future, says Nagi.
Soon the magazine is to come out regularly, if possible on a weekly basis. Also planned is the integration of blogs from other Arab countries, based on individual examples or featuring whole dossiers on certain regions, as well as translations of English and Arabic blogs.
And finally, the editors are putting some thought into how to incorporate discerning commentaries and reactions from the journal's readers – an addition that would certainly help the magazine to realise its aspiration of promoting a dialogue between the generations.
Translation: Jennifer Taylor
Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de 2010