Details on the cyber revolt in Lybia and the role of the revolutionary media cells

Excerpted from a report from Al Jazeera, on the situation in Benghazi.

Evan Hill:

“The top-floor internet centre began operating on Tuesday, explains Sanalla, a dual British and Libyan citizen who has spent the past four years studying medicine at Benghazi’s Garyounis University.

Ahmed Sheikh, a 42-year-old computer engineer who works in civil aviation, rigged the room’s internet system. A cable leads from a large satellite dish on the roof through a hole in the wall to a receiver, which then connects to wireless routers. Most of the laptops connect directly to the routers by Ethernet cables, though on Saturday afternoon, the connection was hampered by heavy wind, intermittent rain and cloudy skies.

“You’re getting two kilobytes a second, it’s worthless,” Sanalla told one of the other men trying to upload videos to YouTube.

At another laptop, 26-year-old Ahmed Yacoub was setting up an Arabic-language WordPress blog: “The Voice of the February 17 Revolution” – named after the “day of rage” when the protests in Libya began to turn into a violent uprising.

Yacoub, who studies media and programming at Garyounis, said he and other Libyans gained “courage and guidance” from the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. Egyptians have been assisting the Libyan uprising, not only by ferrying aid across the liberated eastern border between the two countries, but by carrying media out of the internet blackout in Libya to upload in Egyptian border towns and by sharing tactical advice on how to confront a repressive government crackdown, Sanalla said.

Between the onset of heavy fighting on the 17th and the 21st, he said, protesters in Benghazi were suffering under a total internet blackout. Then Sheikh came and arranged his ad-hoc system. On Saturday, they had just arranged to make phone calls through the satellite connection and could now conduct Skype phone calls with the outside world. Sanalla had been reaching out to international media organisations such as CNN and the BBC using the program’s chat capability.

The crew in the room also administers the “Libyans” group on Facebook and tweets from the account “endtyranny01” – Sanalla’s from when he wanted to remain anonymous.

Much of the information about the Libyan uprising that reached the West in recent weeks came from Libyan expatriates who were phoning, emailing or instant messaging with family and friends inside the country. Often, the Libyans abroad would relay incomplete or exaggerated news, as when false reports spread that protesters in Benghazi had found hundreds of political prisoners held underground for decades (in fact, a dozen or so were released, and their internment was several times smaller than had been reported, Sanalla said.)
Much of the equipment is donated [Evan Hill/Al Jazeera]

“Some of it was well exaggerated,” he said. But in his mind, if it helped the uprising’s cause. It was an acceptable distortion.

“It put more pressure on the international people, it made it even more horrific.”

At the burned-out building next door, where the opposition militia is collecting weapons from citizens, a revolutionary media cell has set up its headquarters. On the second floor, in three cinderblock rooms lit by bare light bulbs, a dozen men and women co-ordinate the effort. In one room, men sit around computers arranged on fold-out tables, collecting videos and photographs from anyone who comes in, screening them for importance and using some for emotional slideshows overlaid with dramatic music. The activists there say they have around 40 gigabytes of data so far.

In an adjacent room sits a large, industrial printer taken from an architect’s office that produces the opposition’s large banners. Mohammed al-Zawam, a 25-year-old media assistant, held one up: In the revolt’s red, green and black colours, it called for free elections and “equality for all”.

Much of the equipment, food and medical aid powering and sustaining the uprising in Benghazi and elsewhere have been donated. The media cell consists of young men who brought their own laptops and desktops in the days after the Benghazi military garrison finally fell. Libyans have come out to volunteer and give their services, and the altruism has even extended to foreign journalists, who have often received room and board for free while covering the unrest.

“It’s important for those outside to know who we are and why we are doing this,” Sheikh said.”

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