Following the death by self-immolation of 41-year-old Mauritanian Yacoub Ould Dahoud in January, Sokari Ekine revisits his demands for change in the country. In the wake of the revelations around Gay Girl in Damascus’s true identity, she also explores the outrage and severe criticism directed at the site from those in the LGBTI and Middle Eastern blogosphere.
On 17 January 2011, a 41-year-old Mauritanian businessman, Yacoub Ould Dahoud, burned himself in front of the presidential palace in Nouakchott. He later died in Morocco where he was sent for medical treatment.
‘Dahoud was not a poor man, nor was he unemployed like his Tunisian counterpart. His Facebook profile accessed today by this blogger shows Dahoud followed very closely the events unfolding in Tunisia culminating with Ben Ali’s ousting by his people. He came from a prominent family and many Mauritanians I spoke with agree that he was driven by the same motivation as Tunisia’s Bouazizi: making a statement about tyranny and the lack of freedom in their societies. .............Contrary to initial reports from Reuters claiming Dahoud committed this act to protest tribal grievances, his was a genuine political act of pre-planned and meditated dissent, in fact his suicide note states clearly that he sought peaceful constitutional reform and a functioning democracy.’
Dahoud’s death was overshadowed by events in Tunisia and Egypt at the time. This is unfortunate because his manifesto and demands lie at the heart of the uprisings, large and small, across the whole continent. To highlight the significance of Dahoud’s action and to give it the prominence it deserves I publish those sections which speak to the continent as a whole:
Manifesto (Published by Nassar Weddady on Dekhnstan)
‘Extremism and terrorist groups are a result of 50 years of poverty and the loss of hope that rulers’ oppression will end.
‘Enough corruption, enough oppression. Mauritania belongs to the people, not to the Generals and their entourage.
‘To get the corrupt army band from power, enough with corruption, enough oppression. We suffered fifty years of corruption and oppression. Do we and the future generations not deserve one month of steadfastness to dash out of oppression, intellectual, material and physical oppression.
- The release of human rights activists in prison [Biram Ould Dah"> who are fighting against slavery
- Eliminating all taxes and tariffs on rice, wheat, cooking oil, sugar, milk and monitoring their obscene price hikes
- Replacing taxes and tariffs on basic goods through more taxation on cigarettes, luxury cars and tariffs on European ships that are pillaging our maritime wealth, as well as taxing telecom companies or Mauritania’s income from gold mining stolen by the Army commanders’ band.’
To emphasise that he is not just ‘speaking’, Dahoud goes on to warn the government that if the demands are not addressed then Mauritania will face the wrath of the people, and to ensure he and the people are taken seriously he begins the process by self-immolation. Also noteworthy is his ‘reference to the grubby little colonial power - France with its imperialist fantasies’ to end its support of the regime. Here we should ask why Mauritanians are less worthy of freedom than neighbouring Libyans? He ends by stating who he is, and this is particularly important. He is ‘a simple citizen demanding legitimate rights’.
‘If you do not accept this offer, then you should face the people’s wrath and be forced out as Ben Ali was.
‘I take this occasion to beg the people of France to force its rulers to accept the Mauritanian people’s right to self-determination.
‘Our lives are a small price to pay for Mauritania so that our sons can live in a country with social justice, liberty and democracy.’
In a recent interview on Africa Today, Congolese historian and co-founder of Ota Benga Alliance for Peace Jacques Depelchin puts Dahoud’s actions in a historical and specific African context when he speaks of the ‘conscience of humanity’ which can no longer accept the unacceptable. The history of Africa is central to starting the process of correction and healing and who are better situated to talk about reclaiming the commons than the ‘specific and the generic Africans’ – those whose voices have never counted. Now we are saying we count – our history counts, a history which is at the centre of humanity in its broadest sense.
Organisers of the Mauritanian protests later published a further set of demands on Facebook titled ‘Seven cardinal points for building a modern state’. Numbers 1 and 3 have wider implications for the continent. The first point deals with the militarisation of African governance and political power: ‘The evacuation of the military [back"> to its noble mission and its removal [withdrawal"> from politics’. Mauritania remains under military control, but there are endless examples of pseudo-democracies, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Swaziland, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, to name a few, which are highly militarised states where the armed forces are used against their own people. Kal of the Moor Next Door [TMND"> – (I do hope he really is what he says he is and not a white American from Ohio – such is the mistrust of anonymous bloggers after recent revelations) comments that in the case of Mauritania militarisation is more overt than say Egypt or Tunisia.
‘the military has been more conspicuously and overtly involved in Mauritania’s politics than the better concealed military-industrial complex of Egypt’s military or Tunisia’s more professional one.’
However, there is nothing concealed about the militarisation in the above-mentioned countries. The third point – ‘The strengthening of national unity and the establishment of a national agency to fight against slavery and its legacy’ – is significant in that it mentions ‘unity’ and ending ‘slavery’ in the same sentence, which is a reminder of both the difference between what Depelchin describes as technical language (politicians) and political language (people) and between ‘a unity fostered by governments and politicians versus unity fostered by people’ - a unity which is exclusive versus one which is inclusive and derived from the commons and based on a conscience of humanity.
ARCHIVING THE REVOLUTION
On 24 May – the ‘day of rejection’ – Mauritanians held demonstrations in Nouakchott, which included the ‘mock funeral of Mauritanian democracy’. TMND quotes the Arabist [Issandr el-Amrani"> as once writing ‘Nobody cares about Mauritania’. I think we should all take a closer look at this country and care more about what is happening at the commons.
If we agree with Depelchin that the history of Africa is central to starting a process of correction and healing – that it is the conscience of humanity – then we must take our history more seriously because how else do we know how we arrived in these moments?
‘history as history of humanity is being wiped out deliberately. Because from the point of view of those in power why do you need history? History means you will have to keep thinking [and ask"> how did the history get started? [How will we know that the system being forced on us is one which “has taken roots in genocide and can [therefore"> only be genocidal?”">’
Who will document the history we are witnessing at this moment in Africa and the Middle East? This is a huge task and one which requires serious consideration and organisation and must be located in Africa and the Middle East and needs to start from now.
Issandr el Amran, [The Arabist"> comments on a ‘groundbreaking’ initiative by Egypt’s National Archive (ENA) and historian Khaled Fahmy to create a ‘digital, accessible archive’. The ENA is calling for volunteers to collect oral testimonies.
‘To understand how groundbreaking this could be you have to realize to what an extent all official archives in Arab countries are treated like secrets of state, accessible only to specialists (if and when they pass an endless security clearance process). And that official documents about the most important decisions and events of the 20th century have simply never been made available.
‘A shift towards greater openness -- a move away from a police state's paranoid, bureaucratic and hierarchical attitude to information -- could be an important part of the intellectual legacy of the revolution. But as Fahmy notes, in these uncertain times, it is hard to persuade people that their security will be enhanced by being more transparent and less guarded about official documents. (When the Chronicle's photographer went to take portraits of Fahmy at the National Archives last week, with the permission of the archives' director, security guards there hovered nervously and one of them caused a scene when he thought the photographer had taken a shot of the building's entrance.)’
How else will we know that (and learn from) the freedom fighters from yesterday have become the dictators of today.
WEB OF DECEPTION
In the past week two bloggers have been exposed as fakes. Gay Girl in Damascus (GGiD) and Lez Get Real turn out to be straight white males, one from Scotland the other from the US. GGiD, who developed hundreds of followers like many whose egos become over bloated, went too far. Last week ‘her cousin’ wrote that she had been detained by the Syrian police, setting off a mass flurry of tweets, blog posts and online campaigns. However, very soon suspicions were aroused when no one could be found who knew who she was, no relatives – nothing but complete silence. On Monday, NPR journalist Andy Carvin exposed the deception in a series of tweets. The response to the outing of MacMaster has been scathing, particularly by gay Syrian bloggers and activists. Sami Hamwi, whose activism and life may have been severely compromised, wrote.....
‘To Mr. MacMaster, I say shame on you!!! There are bloggers in Syria who are trying as hard as they can to report news and stories from the country. We have to deal with too many difficulties than you can imagine. What you have done has harmed many, put us all in danger, and made us worry about our LGBT activism. Add to that, that it might have caused doubts about the authenticity of our blogs, stories, and us. Your apology is not accepted, since I have myself started to investigate Amina’s arrest. I could have put myself in a grave danger inquiring about a fictitious figure. Really… Shame on you!!!
To the readers and the western media I say, there are authentic people in the Middle East who are blogging and reporting stories about the situation in their countries. You should pay attention to these people.’
This was followed by Daniel Nassar:
‘I am so outraged........Because of you, Mr. MacMaster, a lot of the real activists in the LGBT community became under the spotlight of the authorities in Syria. These activists, among them myself, had to change so much in their attitude and their lives to protect themselves from the positional harm your little stunt created. You have, sir, put a lot of lives, mine and some friends included, in harm's way so you can play your little game of fictional writing.
‘You took away my voice, Mr. MacMaster, and the voices of many people who I know. To bring attention to yourself and blog; you managed to bring the LGBT movement in the Middle East years back. You single-handedly managed to bring unwanted attention from authorities to our cause and you will be responsible for any LGBT activist who might be yet another fallen angel during these critical time.’
Ironically one of the blogs which published GGiD aka Tom MacMaster was Lez Get Real, whose co-founder ‘Paula Brooks’ has also been outted as an impostor and liar. She turns out to be a straight white male from Ohio. Right up till Monday evening ‘Bill Graber was still pretending to be deaf lesbian “Paula Brooks”’. The comment below was left on the Electronic Intifada site by Graber’s colleague at Lez Get Real, in response to the outing of Tom MacMaster (note the tone of indignation):
‘We are both very real [Paula Brooks and Linda Carbonell">. But there is a reason neither of us gets terribly ‘traceable’ in our on-line personas. We have family members who work for the government. We have jobs that would be in jeopardy if our blogging were ever linked to those jobs. More importantly, Paula has encountered the same situations that my daughter has - physical threats because she is gay. Being deaf, Paula is more vulnerable than most people under any circumstances. She is afraid of something happening to herself or to her children. Just in case you hadn't noticed, it's open season on gays, Hispanics, Jews and Muslims in some parts of this country [US">.’
The indignation gets worse as Linda Carbonell expressed her disgust at MacMaster’s deception when in fact her colleague, Paula Brooks, was also a member of the impostors club…
‘We were a voice for the people of the Middle East and you have nullified our voice. Worse, [the site that unveiled MacMaster's hoax"> is accusing us of not existing. They accused our executive editor of being an avatar, called into question her qualifications and entire life experiences…’
They were right – Paula Brooks was indeed an avatar. Again hear the arrogance: WE were the voice for the people of the Middle East and OUR voice has been nullified. The concern over these callous and arrogant deceptions from self-righteous individuals who cannot even bring themselves to apologise with any sincerity is not limited to those on the frontline in Syria and other Middle Eastern and African countries. For example, Lez Get Real has been one of the main US blogs reporting and commenting on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. In fact I had written to them at the time of David Kato’s death complaining about the posting on their blog of a photo of a Ugandan tabloid which referred to David in an extremely derogatory way. This was on the day of his funeral.
For those of us with an online presence and who engage with bloggers and tweeters (many of whom we do not know personally), these two betrayals of trust leave me feeling violated in a profound way. They undermine bloggers and blogging, undermine those activists who have to blog anonymously in order to genuinely protect themselves. Now I am left wondering about the reliability of some online sources. How much of the gains we think we are making or have made are really just an illusion? Are these the kind of blogs and reporting we in Africa and the global South should be referring to on issues that concern us and take place in our countries? In the uprisings reviews I have made a point, where possible, of using blogs and Twitter as the main source rather than mainstream media, but if there are doubts on the reliability and honesty of these publications then that raises some very uncomfortable questions. The importance of blogs is that they are written by ordinary people, many on the frontline or in direct contact with that space. While it’s great that we can all communicate across borders with knowns and unknowns, it’s disconcerting to discover the person you believed to be genuine turns out to be so far from that reality – that person is nothing but a mockery of the truth. Both of these impostors claim they faked their identities so they would be taken seriously - one as a gay Syrian activist the other as a white disabled lesbian. Both are white heterosexual males who chose to steal the voices of LGBTI persons and lie about it.
‘I am not done with this intruder/impostor. It is not only his bad deed: it is arrogance and self-righteousness as the unrepentant liar that he has proven himself to be. He dares invokes Orientalism, posing--yet again--as a critic of Orientalism, when his manipulation of a Syrian ‘girl’ and her sexual identity connotes all sorts of historical reference to sexual Orientalism. But MacMaster--in his defense--may be just pleased to titillate himself in public. But it is also bothersome that MacMaster is also posing as a progressive who supports Palestinians. I argue that this is another lie and fabrication by MacMaster and that his political agenda is not as innocent as he pretends it to be. Remember the post he wrote back in May? He pretended that the dream of the Syrian “girl” is to learn Hebrew and to live in Israel, representing Syria in the Zionist entity--in an “ideal” state of peace between Israel and Syria. This post betrays a Zionist agenda, I believe. He pretended that his posts were rather not incongruent with reality--whatever that means--but try to find a Syrian “girl” whose dream is to live in Israel?’
Electronic Intifada exposed the lie.
Pages have already been written on this and I am not minded to dwell on Tom MacMaster (GGiD) longer than a few words.
Who would best know about freedom but the ones who would die for it. Those who are at the receiving end of marginalisation of destruction are the ones who have the mission to save humanity.
Africans to abandon authoritarian rule - Africans have been doing this for past 6 months
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