Mona Eltahawy - Oslo Freedom Forum 2012

Uploaded by OsloFreedomForum on 31.05.2012

Good morning everyone.
I’d like to thank Thor and the wonderful team at the Oslo Freedom Forum for bringing together such an amazing lineup of speakers,
including the ones I am truly honored to present today.
But first I’d like to thank Simon Paris for his beautiful music.
I am an anarchist of the Emma Goldman school, and she famously said,
“If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be a part of your revolution.”
So music, as Simon reminded us today, is a wonderful part of the joy
and everyone’s right to beautiful radiant things as Emma Goldman said, must be a central part of our revolutions.
I’m going to start my introduction to today’s first session, called “Voices in the Darkness,”
with a quote from Vaclav Havel, a personal hero of mine.
He said, in 1989 when he was accepting a peace award,
“I really do inhabit a world in which words are capable of shaking the entire structure of government,
where words can prove mightier than ten military divisions.”
Now for me as an Egyptian, to hear this about military divisions, brings true joy to my heart,
because as many of you know, Egypt is under rule of a military junta,
and it gives me great joy to know that Michael Nabil is with us tonight,
who for a long time was a voice in the darkness. And for those of you who were here last year, 0:01:32.000,0:01:36.000I was honored to speak about his case, and remind everybody that the military junta in Egypt
was determined to silence too many people fighting for the freedom and dignity
that is central to our revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa.
Last November I was in Cairo, and Egyptian riot police, as you will see in the short intro about me in your books,
beat me and broke my left arm and right hand, but they also sexually assaulted me.
And I always talk about the sexual assault because very few people are encouraged to talk about sexual assault.
But our session this morning is about words and the power of words
and using the power of words against regimes that try to silence us.
And each and every single one of our speakers today represent the importance of the power of words
and are heroes to me because of their struggle to get the word out.
While I was being beaten, my phone dropped to the ground and I lost it.
And if anyone here follows me on Twitter, you will know I live on Twitter, I’m a Twitterholic.
And those 140 characters on Twitter really are and can be powerful.
Because when I lost my phone and for the first 3 hours of my 12 hour detention, I felt completely lost.
Nobody knew where I was and I didn’t know if I would get out.
Until an activist came into the Interior Ministry with a smart phone,
and when no one was paying attention, he got me onto Twitter.
And I was able to tweet “Beaten, arrested, Interior Ministry.”
And the power of those words, through the power of Twitter,
through the power of the global community that pays attention to what is happening across the world,
was one of the many things that helped to get me out.
I’ve been a writer for about 20 years now, and for me the power of words is not to give voice to anybody.
I speak only for myself.
But the power of words is to amplify the voices of those who do not have a stage like this.
When I was detained I understood that I had levels of privilege that cushioned me against
the worst abuses of the military junta in Egypt and the regimes that we are fighting against in the Middle East and North Africa.
Many of those levels of privilege have to do with the fact that I have a voice that gets out there.
That I can go on the media and say they broke my arms and sexually assaulted me.
Had I been an ordinary Egyptian woman, from a disadvantaged, working class neighborhood,
who didn’t have access to Twitter, who didn’t come to Oslo to speak to you here, on an international stage,
I might not have got out, I might have got killed, or I might have been gang raped.
Because all of those things are possible under the brutal regimes that we are fighting against in the Middle East and North Africa,
and across the world and you’ve heard many of the brave voices that fight against them.
So it’s really important when you hear our speakers today,
to understand that when they are talking about the arms trade, that when we stand here
we have to remember that when we meet each other in these beautiful capitals,
that a lot of these governments that host us sell the same weapons that break our arms and allow the regimes to sexually assault us.
We have to remember that one of the biggest weapons that aren’t weapons is the silencing and the censorship that they use.
And so bloggers like Ahmed Al Omran and others that use social media to break that silence are definitely on the front line.
And Rebecca Mckinnon , who herself comes from a journalistic background and who set up Global Voices Online,
people like Rebecca have given a community for bloggers and citizen journalists to expose the worst abuses.
And when you think of a country like Syria, to understand the power of words is to understand the power of bearing witness.
I became a journalist many years ago,
well I actually wanted to be a journalist cause I thought I could get backstage passes to my favorite bands, but I grew up.
And journalism for me became the best way that I could fight the Mubarek regime
and its human rights violations, but also to highlight women’s rights violations.
You heard yesterday I wrote this essay that has driven a lot of people crazy and I’m very happy that it has.
Because when you’re fighting against a regime,
and when you’re fighting against misogyny, you need platforms like Global Voices Online.
And you will hear from Ecuadorian journalist Nicolas Perez, who has fined $42 million,
or was demanded to pay $42 million and to spend 3 years in jail
with several of his colleagues on the newspaper where he worked, because he wrote an opinion piece.
How powerful is the word if a regime fights a newspaper by sentencing to jail
editors and columnists in a newspaper and executives of that newspaper and asking them to pay $42 million.
Yesterday you heard Ahmed Benchemsi speak on the panel about Arab bloggers.
And he and many other journalists in other parts of the world will tell you how regimes
use economic kind of censorship to basically dry out any kind of support for publications that dare to speak out.
You’ll also hear from Nick Cohen, a British journalist, whose most recent book “You Can’t Read This Book,”
examines new forms of censorship in the 21st century.
When we talk about Twitter and we talk about the incredible activists, again that you saw on the panel yesterday and others.
When you hear someone like Maryam al-Khawaja, who travels the world fighting for the Bahraini revolution, 0:07:11.000,0:07:13.000but also speaks so powerfully about her own family.
As soon as she appears on Twitter, this whole army, a cyber army of trolls begin to attack her.
This is a form of internet censorship, a form of 21st century censorship,
aimed at silencing these voices against dictators and against regimes.
I mentioned Ahmed Al Omran already and I’ll mention him again because he is a famous Saudi blogger,
he writes Saudi Jeans, one of the oldest and most established blogs in the Middle East. 0:07:41.000,0:07:45.000And what Ahmed has done, along with other amazing Saudi bloggers,
it to amplify the voices that you truly don’t hear,
because the Saudi regime has been very adept at buying so much of the mainstream media,
that one of the most effective forms of fighting back has become online.
So you will hear form Ahmed, how he and others who use social media and use other forms of communication,
are able to get out voices and amplify those voices that the Saudi regime doesn’t want you to hear.
You will also hear from a personal hero of mine, called Asma Jahangir,
who is a leading Pakistani lawyer who has dedicated her career
to defending the rights of women, children, and religious minorities against
religious extremism, so called honor killings, and blasphemy laws.
Asma and her sister Hina are personal heroes of mine because they come from a country
where you often just hear about the military and the religious extremists.
You rarely hear about the incredibly brave voices that for years have been fighting to create a space for alternative voices,
to create a space for alternative voices that end up becoming
the revolutionaries that then end up sitting on the stage here.
So there are so many forms of revolution and so many different forms of courage that too often are silenced.
I remember when I was in detention in the Interior Ministry, I was determined to tell,
I was the only woman there obviously for 12 hours, but I wanted every single man in the room,
in the Interior Ministry and in military intelligence, where I was blindfolded and interrogated for several hours,
to know that I was sexually assaulted, because I wanted them to feel the shame because the shame was not mine.
And one of the senior officers actually said to me,
“Well you know those people that sexually assaulted you, they are the dregs of society,
and we pulled them out of the bottom of the earth of the villages (these are the conscripts of the riot police).
We scrubbed them clean and we opened up this tiny door in their mind.”
And I ended up defending the men who beat me, broke my arms, and sexually assaulted me
by telling him this is exactly why we are having a revolution.
Because nobody should be living in the dregs, and no one should be scrubbed clean and have a door opened in their minds.
So all the people that you will hear today, remember that they are the ones that speak back,
and they are the ones that give that platform and amplify those voices,
to speak back to those who think that we are allied somehow because of our elitism,
because of our cushions of privilege, and forget those who don’t have.
And it’s those who don’t have that need to be amplified the most.
And talking about people to honor, I’m going to wrap up by reminding you
that today is the first Vaclav Havel Award for Creative Dissent.
And I love that title, creative dissent, because it again reminds me of Emma Goldman
because creativity and beauty are central parts of our revolutions,
because without them there’s not point. We need hope, optimism, and beauty.
And three amazing people will be honored in a ceremony this afternoon in a ceremony at 4:00,
right here, it’s open to the public, it’s free.
Among them is the amazing Manal Al-Sharif, who you saw,
who so moved us yesterday with her talk on the situation of Saudi women.
So it’s Manal Al-Sharif, the Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei,
and another personal hero of mine Aung San Suu Kyi,
the long time Burmese opposition leader, the Lady, as she is known.
So listen to the stories today, hear the voices that they amplify, and understand the power of words.
Because it is those words, as Vaclav Havel said, that move military divisions.
And myself and so many other people, fighting against the military junta in Egypt,
or fighting against any other regimes, we are determined to use our words
until every single one of those regimes end, and we have that beauty
and the right to self, to radiant and wonderful things,
and we are able to dance whenever and wherever we want.
Thank you very much.