Sunday, 23 May 2010
During the last few days I came across a few of pieces of news discussing new developments, new media and the prospects of new spaces for marginalised voices on the cyberspace - two of which attracted my attention the most. As per usual, my reading intrigued me and triggered my desire to share them with you, and raise some questions about the extent to which these developments will indeed open up more space for expression and be inclusive of more opinions and accessible by a broader readership.
In the first piece, EJC reports the launch of the first non-Latin web addresses and discusses whether or not this move by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will indeed open up new spaces for expression and access to information for the non-Latin readership in the Arab World and, by extension, the world at large.
The Egyptian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology is the first-ever website to register a domain web address in non-Latin characters (i.e. Arabic) and is to replace the internet country code (" .eg " ) with its Arabic equivalent ( " مصر . " )
The EJC report mentioned that "the first IDN country-code top-level domains were inserted in the DNS root zone on Thursday (06 May 2010). Al-Tiqaniyya Bila Hudood (Unlimited Tech), an Arabic WWW technology observer also reported the news and elaborated further on it and mentioned that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have also applied for their Arabisation of their respective internet country codes.
Freedom of expression and the free flow of information witnessed another event last month with the launch of "Mithly", a Moroccan gay magazine launched amidst increasing attacks and the deterioration of gay rights throughout Africa and the Arab World.
EJC mentioned that "the Arabic-language publication has sold 200 copies so far. The paper edition circulated informally because it lacked a distribution licence from the government."
"Mithly" is run by "Kif-Kif" (a North African expression meaning "all the same"), Morocco's only gay rights group. Kif-Kif is based in Spain.
Kif-Kif general coordinator, Samir Bagachi, told Afrik.com that his group's initiatives aim to reduce the stigma of being gay in the Moroccan society. According to Bagachi, "mainstream media has the tendency to sensationalise the subject. With Mithly, we have the opportunity to give the views of homosexuals, and the opportunity to interact directly with society."
Although the publication sold only 200 copies, the internet version of the magazine is believed to attract a much larger readership and contribute to an improved public awareness of homosexuality and homosexual rights in Morocco in the last few years.
The Guardian's David Smith reports in more detail on the launch of Mithly a month ago.
The question remains however. Will these steps open up more space for the right to express opinions and access information by a considerable readership that is otherwise marginalised? Is the linguistic hegemony of English and the Latin scrip over the cyberspace eroding? Similarly, will it allow for the development and sustenance of non-Latin languages and their incorporation in 21st century technologies developed by Western, Latin-using civilisational blocs? Will the "gay" (meaning outstanding, "unorthodox") views of some amongst us expand their spaces of expression and raise their voice for the deaf amongst us?