[The following statement was issued by activists involved in The Uprising of Women in the Arab World on 7 November 2012 in response to attempts by Facebook to suppress their online activities. It was originally issued in Arabic, English, and French. This English version has been slightly edited for style. The Arabic version, along with an introduction and background to the issue, can be found on Beirut Walls.]
On the morning of 7 November 2012, the five admins of The Uprising of Women in the Arab World Facebook Page logged onto Facebook to find out that one’s account had been blocked for thirty days, another for three days, two others for twenty-four hours, and one other received a warning notification.
According to Facebook, those persons had violated its policy by sharing a post asking Twitter followers to support Dana Bakdounes. The message that was sent to the admins explaining the reasoning for the ban from Facebook read as follows: “You have posted a content that violates Facebook Community Rules. The post says: Follow us on Twitter @UprisingOFWomen. Support Dana with hashtag #WindToDana”
Dana Bakdounes is one of the hundreds of women and men who participated in the Uprising of Women in the Arab World campaign, holding a sign expressing the reason why they support this uprising. Dana’s slogan stated: “I am with the uprising of women in the Arab world because for twenty years I was not allowed to feel the wind in my hair and on my body.” Her picture showed an unveiled woman carrying her passport with a picture of when she was veiled.
Dana’s picture was initially posted on 21 October 2012, among many other photos and statements of women and men of various religious beliefs and practices. Some women were veiled, some unveiled, some in niqab, and all were demanding women’s rights and equal enjoyment of freedom of speech, in a secular space that promotes tolerance and embraces differences. But on 25 October, Facebook chose to censor Dana’s image and to suspend the account of the admin who posted it for twenty-four hours. This incident provoked an outrage among the defenders of freedom of speech who started sharing Dana’s picture all over Facebook, Twitter, and other media outlets.
On 28 October, having been persuaded that Facebook had mistakenly taken down the photo due to abusive reports of haters of the Page, that the photo held no offensive content, as well as seeing that it was all over the web, we uploaded it again. A few hours later, Facebook removed it again and blocked another admin’s account for seven days.
However, on 31 October, Facebook restored Dana’s censored photo to The Uprising of Women in the Arab World Page without any notice or explanation. However, it did not lift the ban on the admin’s account, which ended only on 5 November.
On 7 November, all five admins of The Uprising of Women in the Arab World Page received threats by Facebook for the earlier cited reasons that their accounts may be permanently deleted. The repeated temporary blocks on the admins’ personal accounts with no clear motive or explanation constitute a direct attack on The Uprising of Women in The Arab World’s Page. It also raises serious questions about the true intentions behind Facebook’s policies and whether Dana’s “controversial” image is a mere excuse to shut down the voice of The Uprising of Women in The Arab World.
(Note that during the past three weeks, we have written to Facebook several times asking for an explanation of their censorship but received no response at all.)
Today more than ever we want to say to the world that our voices will not be silenced, not by Facebook, nor by patriarchy, dictatorships, military rule, and/or religious extremism. They may be temporarily denied, overlooked, censored, or whitewashed, but only to be uttered once again. We will continue to write on the dividing walls of fear, submission, and defamation, if not tear them down.
The Uprising of Women in the Arab World has already hit the streets! Our slogan is printed on t-shirts in Damascus, riding bicycles in Marseille, being tagged from walls of Mohammad Mahmoud street in Cairo to walls of private home in Riyadh, and will soon be all over the world. Schools and universities are organizing workshops inspired by the campaign, films are being shot, and music composed as tens of thousands of women have decided that enough is enough.
The wall of silence has been broken. The revolution continues.