On the morning of April 25, 1974, as I sat in one of my 5th grade classrooms in Caldas da Rainha, Portugal, my teacher’s nervous look out the window called my attention to a long chain of military vehicles driving down a nearby road. Our town had a large military base, so I made nothing of it. But within a few hours my country and people’s forbidden secret would be revealed to hundreds of thousands of children like me: we had been living under something called “a fascist dictatorship” for nearly 50 years.
A bloodless military coup put an end to it that day, with what came to be known as the Carnation Revolution of April 25. The endless military parade around the city’s square–Praca da Fruta–that afternoon, the cheers and cries of the people, the carnations flying in the air and adorning gun barrels remain vivid memories—and I have relived them often since the Jasmine Revolution unfolded in Tunisia.
The excitement of those early weeks, months—with political prisoners being freed, ex-patriots returning home, the songs of the revolution, political parties organizing for free elections, colonies being handed back to the African people—was followed by tumultuous, at times violent years. At the age of 12, I joined a demonstration of the social democratic party at Commerce Square–Praca do Comercio–in Lisbon to protest a relentless wave of government takeovers, and I had my first taste of tear gas–a precocious “coming-of-age” event!
The economic situation would worsen for years to come, but all through my teens, living in Lisbon, I would sit at cafés after school to discuss politics, ideology, philosophy–the past and future of the country. That personal awakening and investment alone was life-changing. The glory of the revolution was about having a voice. Throughout my adult life in the United States, I have often been labeled “opinionated” (mostly by men), and “challenging” (mostly by women). I smile, knowing where it all comes from: when you wake up one morning to realize your parents and grandparents lived the better part of their lives without a voice, how can you ever let go? For one, unlike too many of my American acquaintances, I could never pass on my right to vote.
In early 2011 when the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions were all the news, my passion for writing notwithstanding, the idea of blogging was the furthest from my mind. But the Arab uprisings and America’s sudden fascination with foreign affairs stirred old, favorite subjects of mine: revolutions, the Middle East, and American’s seeming lack of interest in world news.
Late that Spring, when I was required to produce a substantial thesis paper for a graduate course in communications research, I set out to explore a possible correlation between the Arab revolutions, the participatory news-culture of social media, and changes in Americans’ interest in world news. The paper included a survey sampling a small (and arguably representative) group of Americans to ascertain the relationship between all three elements of the study.
Social-media-free as I was then, that research caused me to acknowledge the role of social media in mobilizing and organizing popular protest. I became particularly curious about blogging, and when my graduate program offered a blogging course last Fall, I signed up! Assigned reading for “Blogging a Better Planet”—taught by Andrew Revkin, New York Times’ journalist and blogger of DotEarth—brought me to Scott Rosenberg’s book, “Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What’s Becoming, And Why It Matters.” From the book:
Whatever the drawbacks and limitations of blogging, it serves, today, as our culture’s indispensable public square. Rather than one tidy ‘unifying narrative,’ it provides a noisy arena, open to everyone, for the collective working out of old conflicts and new ideas.
I was sold! Amador Square the name of my blog, came clearly to me, inspired by the idea of citizen or amateur journalism (“amador” is Portuguese for amateur), and the concept of the “public square,” as in the public square of ideas—or any of the public squares around the world where Tharir-inspired protests took place in 2011 (“The Protester” making it as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year). As a result of that course, I was fortunate to land a blog at The Huffington Post following a student visit of the media giant—where I got to meet Arianna Huffington herself! I began to feel like a blogger.
As my last semester before graduation approached, it was time to select a subject for my thesis or thesis project. Given my background and aspirations as a writer, I was offered the opportunity to blog my thesis. I had remained interested in the evolution of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, so the subject seemed to present itself.
–Some research questions:
In the aftermath of elections in Tunisia and Egypt—how will the young, well-educated minority that helped spark change fare?
How will the voices of the under-represented be heard?
Will labor activists, women, religious and ethnic minorities be pushed aside by more powerful constituencies?
Will activists continue to use technology or return to the public square to express their grievances and aspirations, and to hold authority accountable?
–My tentative hypothesis:
Even in a predominantly religious and conservative Arab world, the under-30, most populous generation of Arabs is determined to sustain the trend, and a strong trend, toward more civilian participation and representative government. It’s a genie-out-of-the-bottle situation. They will continue to use every mean at their disposal—from the public square to social media–to make their voices heard, to demand “dignity” and “freedom,” beyond elections and possible economic improvements.
Some of the concerns and challenges the project presents have to do with representing the many dissonant voices of the revolutions—from extremely religious and conservative, to extremely liberal and westernized. That inscrutable complexity is further complicated by Western interpretation and expectations, informed by Western values, ideologies and interests.
Do Arabs want what we, Westerners, think they want? Speaking to NPR on the one-year anniversary of the Tunisian revolution, Shadi Hamid, director of research for the Brookings Institute in Doha, noted that “the Arab world is a religiously conservative place and people generally want to see Islam playing an important role in public life.” And, he added, “America has to learn to live with political Islam.” But what will political Islam look like?
This blogged thesis-project wants to know.