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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Location of Wikimania 2008 creates controversy; LGBT community concerned

Wikimedians grow concerned about the decision to hold Wikimania 2008 in Alexandria, Egypt because of the country's opressive government, imprisonment of homosexuals, free speech, and overall safety from a possible terrorist attack.

Well I am going to put my two cents in because I have read just about enough on the mailing lists.

Here is why I am entirely opposed to Wikimania being in Egypt at this time. Also remember that I am a hardcore contributer to Wikinews.org.

1) Since the announcement of this, the LGBT wikimedians have expressed grave concern. As mentioned previously, this is a regime in which "opresses" homosexuals and imprisons them. Me being gay, I am not sure I would want to risk that. Not to mention my partner, if I had one and he came, but yet the WMF states that they picked Egypt because of its "geo-diversity."

2) Human rights and "free" speech (free being the key word). Why hold a conference of a foundation that is based entirely on FREE media when that country and the government don't even support free speech? Why in an country that limits the rights of women and humans in general? What is so "free" about that?

3) Egypt is in too close proximity to several areas which are in a near constant war: Israel and Palestine, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan...not to mention holding this is the Middle East puts (for the most part) Americans at risk and the rest at risk for a prime target of violence or an attack. Was safety considered when making this decision?

4) Who are these people on the "jury"? I mean I know their names, but who are they. Are they wealthy? Travel the world frequently? Seems like it because in my opinion this place was picked because it was somewhere they decided it would be nice to visit. More than half of all wikimedians will likely NOT be able to afford the trip, in some cases from literally on the other side of the globe. Might as well rob a bank for the finances.

5) The "jury" was composed of, from what I see, 12 individuals who in some way or another "work" for WMF (and that does NOT necessarily mean getting paid). I see IMO a conflict of interest. The other 2 seem to be just contributers, which is what most of this jury should have been composed of. After all this is a conference for all Wikis.

Ok...so according to our Wikinews article, because of the controversy this has created, Jimbo Wales plans to speak and "decided his talk at the conference will be entitled Free knowledge and human rights." Reminder: this in a country where you can get arrested for saying what you believe. This is going to be a high profile conference...should Wales really go that far?

Sarcasm: next time they will want to hold Wikimania 2009 in Tehran, Iran. 2010: Burma/Myanmar. 2011: China (Wikipedia is banned in China). Now you get my drift???

I am NOT against ever having a Wikimania in the Middle East or eventually in Egypt. But right now, it's not the right time. We need to think about how diverse our contributers are and base a decision off that. In my opinion there are a lot better, safer and more "geo-diversed" places than somewhere where there is a potential for people to be injured or killed or go broke just getting there.

20 comments:

Ajvol said...

Egypt is too close to Pakistan and Afghanistan? Hmmm...

Anonymous said...

Being a twenty year old school teacher for the past half year in egypt, i have learned alot of things. Egyptians are very kind people and welcome me wherever i go. It is the month of ramadan and i have been fed by people i dont even know countless times. Alexandria is far safer than any other city i have been to. I dont think i would here you complaining if "Wikimania" was to be held in new york, where you are more likely to be stabbed or robbed. The idea of a terrorist attack is ludicrous and its people like you that create such gaps in middle east and western culture. Furthermore, the egyptians hate, disipise, their goverment and are a truly oppressed people. Maybe a conference like this would help shed some light on an underprivelaged people. The egyptians could really use a break. Also, most of the guys here hold hands when they walk in the street anyway, so as long as your not kissing your boyfriend in the street, which is forbidden for heterosexual couples aswell, you will be fine. Pull your head out of your ass and stop being a paranoid american.

Ben Yates said...

I'm with anonymous in that Egypt is nothing at all like iran or burma. Some gay-oriented travel agencies offer touring packages there, etc. The egyptian economy is tourism-centered, so foreigners aren't generally messed with (although there was an incident a couple years ago in which an israeli tourist was imprisoned for flirting with a local online).

But the local gay population is treated pretty terribly -- this includes stuff like torture. (I'd like an egyptian perspective on that report, if anyone's listening.)

It would be nice if both sides of this debate made some more effort to see where the other side was coming from.

Hani said...

Does anyone else find this post incredibly hilarious, if not embarrassing, coming from someone supposedly believes in and staunchly advocates free media, open knowledge and open access to and free flow of information?
I am an Egyptian student with an interest in the aforementioned issues. In fact, I founded a local chapter of the Students for Free Culture organization. My take on this post is that the author has taken some facts (some of which are true), put them together and painted an unbelievably murky image of a country they have probably never been to before. In other words, the author has reprocessed second hand information to produce what appears to be a dashing claim of first-hand knowledge which the author (again, probably) does not have. Certain facts with respect to human rights issues acknowledged, Egypt is not the big gulag the thoroughly ill-informed author paints it to be.
This comment is not to deny some basic facts that should be acknowledged from the outset (with reservations). The LGBT community is oppressed in Egypt. Freedom of the media is stifled (However, media multiplicity and diversity of opinion do exist). Debating the degrees of oppression of minorities, freedom of the press and other elements is not the point of this comment and would serve no significant purpose here. But take the following point were the author’s “arguments” get from the merely pathetic to the downright hilarious.
“Egypt is in too close proximity to several areas which are in a near constant war: Israel and Palestine, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan...”.
Ok, this is the whole “don’t go there because it is close to things that blow up” cautionary line that is all too familiar from those who claim esoteric world knowledge while forever cocooned within the comfortably familiar. You claim to be a supporter, even an activist, of open media, yet what you write is marked by the unmistakable signs of someone who’s source of news is the naively innocent and passive intake of canned, ready-for-consumption reports of most corporate networks.
Oh, by the way, I love the way you have put Egypt in a “too close proximity” to the hotspots in seven countries strewn across Africa, Asia and Eurasia in one lump. Very intelligent overgeneralization without even glancing at the world atlas. Assuming the geographic atrocities you have committed are true, now, this is too dangerous because someone can lob a grenade in, say, Kabul and glass windows would shatter in Cairo, right? Wait, the hilarity continues…
“...not to mention holding this is the Middle East puts (for the most part) Americans at risk and the rest at risk for a prime target of violence or an attack. Was safety considered when making this decision?”
I’ve got some news for you: The “Middle East” is not another planet; it is part of the world you live in. Also, define “the rest” in the “Americans and the rest” you talk about? Does it also include people who live in the Middle East, or those just visiting, Americans included?
He ran out of arguments based on human rights issues, so he turns to the jury:
“Who are these people on the "jury"? I mean I know their names, but who are they. Are they wealthy? Travel the world frequently? Seems like it because in my opinion this place was picked because it was somewhere they decided it would be nice to visit. More than half of all wikimedians will likely NOT be able to afford the trip, in some cases from literally on the other side of the globe.”
Had it been decided that this conference be held in, say Nice, France, would you have still been of the same opinion regarding the affordability of the trip for most wikimedians? And by wikimedians, do you mean wikimedians who live in America, or all over the world? Because, you know, if Wikimania 2008 was to be held in Atlanta, GA, it would have been equally expensive for other people from elsewhere in the world to attend? What about Cape Town, South Africa which was also a candidate? It has one of the highest crime rates in the world, would you have been similarly concerned about “safety” if it won the bid? Do you expect the jury all to be biased because they all though Egypt would be a cool place to visit gratis?
Building an argument based upon such amplification of certain facts and overgeneralization of some issues and blatant ignorance of others is, in my opinion, never worthy of someone who presumably considers themselves advocates of freedom of information and media. Why are you “entirely opposed” rather than “strongly concerned”, for example?
More importantly and pertinent to the subject at hand: why deprive countries that are in more in need of attention relevant to issues of freedom of media and information from such opportunities? What is the point then of having such conferences in areas that already enjoy high degrees of freedom in the aforementioned issues? Are you going to promote the free access to knowledge in the “Third World” (another one of those icky words I hate to use) by remote control? Why alienate vast swatches of activists in such areas who would otherwise never have the chance to participate in such events?
I am done here. I will end quoting the words of your fellow countryman who commented above: “…pull your head out of your ass and stop being a paranoid American.”

Anonymous said...

I have followed the discussion on the mailing list where several people who state they are members of the LGBT community have criticised the decision based on Egypt's human rights record.

I've also read most of the comments here, I've not been to Egypt, but I've been to New York, and I know people who have been to Egypt. Neither is a place where you would be in danger if you stick to the right areas and the local customs.

The expression "When in Rome" applies very much here, as one commenter has remarked, it's no public displays of affection other than holding hands, and the only problems people have had are if they hit on the oppressed locals.

Let's face it, Egypt's economy is built on tourism and their rich history. They want your dollars/euros/pounds, and they don't really care if they're pink. The mailing list had claims flying about that an above-average percentage of Wikimedians were LGBT, I don't actually think that is the case - I think it is that the community of Wiki is more accepting of that and people can make comments on their sexuality.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with DragonFire1024. Telling that the comments here all seem to be saying "Well everything you say about the oppression of gay people is true, but, well, who cares? As long as you're a wealthy tourist you'll be ok!"

It's about principle, not practicality. And in order to support this decision you have to have no principles.

Anonymous said...

well,I get where your fears stem from, but actually living here is not like that at all. I'm an 18 year old female collage student I'm not a foreigner or anything but i'm also do not wear a veil, i wear whatever i want and I'M NOT OPPRESSED. Egyptians are very friendly people and they too have critisms regarding their government but the "free speech" thing doesn't help them express it. Egypt is very safe actually and not in any way close to Pakistan or Afganistan! as for Israel and Palistine and Saudi Arabia the only Palistinians you'll see are tourists such as your self. Concerning your fears because homosexuality is not acceptable here, as anonymous said, as long as you're not kissing your boyfriend in public which is also frowned upon for heterosexual couples too.

I'm not saying that just because I'm a local, but Egypt is one of the most interesting places to visit. With beaches of the red sea, monuments in Luxor, and the vibrant city life in Cairo and Alexandria you're ticket definately pays for itself.

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Anonymous said...

Being a twenty year old school teacher for the past half year in egypt, i have learned alot of things. Egyptians are very kind people and welcome me wherever i go. It is the month of ramadan and i have been fed by people i dont even know countless times. Alexandria is far safer than any other city i have been to. I dont think i would here you complaining if "Wikimania" was to be held in new york, where you are more likely to be stabbed or robbed. The idea of a terrorist attack is ludicrous and its people like you that create such gaps in middle east and western culture. Furthermore, the egyptians hate, disipise, their goverment and are a truly oppressed people. Maybe a conference like this would help shed some light on an underprivelaged people. The egyptians could really use a break. Also, most of the guys here hold hands when they walk in the street anyway, so as long as your not kissing your boyfriend in the street, which is forbidden for heterosexual couples aswell, you will be fine. Pull your head out of your ass and stop being a paranoid american.

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