Mustapha Hamoui runs the popular blog Beirut Spring. A self-described “computer geek”, Hamoui blogs on Middle Eastern politics, media and the Internet.
DM: Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have been major tools for activists in the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and elsewhere. What role do you think the Internet has played or not played in Lebanese activism?
MH: I think the Internet in Lebanon has not reached its full potential as a disruptor because it still hasn’t become cheap, ubiquitous and fast enough to reach a critical mass. There’s still a lot of friction in using the Internet in Lebanon, and to this day, after many touted ‘improvements’ to the Internet speed, simple things like sharing YouTube videos are still too difficult and impractical. Both Egypt and Tunisia had much better Internet connections before their revolutions. Internet activism in Lebanon is still restricted to a certain class of people that has access to semi-decent connections.
DM: Lebanon has not seen the same public enthusiasm for political change as other Arab countries have. Why do you think this is?
MH: A relatively free and dynamic media scene and the multi-polar nature of power sharing in the country make Lebanon a weak candidate for the kind of sweeping political change that focuses on removing a powerful and dictatorial ruler.
DM: You are from Tripoli, North Lebanon. The area has seen deadly sectarian fighting in recent years, which has escalated considerably over the last few weeks. How would you describe the situation there at the moment? Do you see the grievances between the conflicting parties as intractable?
MH: I wrote a lot about this topic on my blog lately. The conflict in Tripoli is in a way an extension of the fault lines that exist in Syria: angry Sunnis who feel disenfranchised on one side and Alawites propped up by the Syrian regime on the other. I don’t think the problem is by its nature intractable. Wise leadership on both sides can calm the sectarian nature of the conflict until the dust settles in Syria.
DM: A commentator on your blog recently accused you of “being obsessed with women’s rights”. How do you respond? What advice do you have for other men who may want to be more involved in gender equality?
MH: I chose not to respond to that comment because it wasn’t made in good faith. I am deeply troubled by injustices prevalent in the legal system in Lebanon and Arab countries towards women, and I’ve lived abroad enough to know what empowered women are like. My advice to male would-be feminists is this: Don’t do this for the wrong reasons, such as for brownie points, to meet women or because it’s fashionable or cool. It will show in your writing, trust me.
DM: Beirut, like many other Arab cities, has lots of political graffiti adorning its walls. One graffiti reads “Lebanon would be better if…” What’s your answer?
MH: …It had an effective and accountable government, and responsible and informed citizens.