Esra’a Al Shafei put it all in perspective Saturday. Speaking via Skype from her home in Bahrain, the founder and Executive Director of MideastYouth.com, showed the crowd gathered at Social South the true power of social media, the internet and the idea of freedom. Al Shafei was denied a visa by her country to attend the event, which was the least of her concerns.
Her grassroots organization of young people around the world to fight against oppressive regimes, civil injustice and even genocide puts the 20-something young woman in constant danger. If the governments of any number of countries she travels to routinely discovered who she was, she would be imprisoned or, more likely, executed. Her actions put her in a state where she should constantly fear for her life.
Fear for her life.
I stood in the back of the room and watched as this bright, passionate young woman said, “I am not afraid.” It brought me to tears.
Think of the world you live in, the freedoms you enjoy and the luxury of not having to live in world where people want to kill you for your ideas. Ponder this for a moment: The Social South crowd was asked not to take pictures or videos of her presentation for fear the governments and terrorists she fights against would be able to better identify her.
Think of her Egyptian friend AbdelKareem Nabil Soliman who is serving four years in prison. For blogging.
Al Shafei and friends launched FreeKareem.org to tell his story. The majority of those involved in providing content and work on the site would also be imprisoned by their countries of origin if discovered.
Yet the humbling power of our technology and our social actions online cannot be extinguished.
The Internet, and as a result, social media, deteriorates geographic, political and even ideological boundaries. One young woman, living in a relatively progressive kingdom in the middle of a political and ideological war zone, is proving that social media can unite, empower and fight against oppression.
The notion of freedom and free speech is something we in America, as well as other similar countries, take for granted on a scale that boggles the mind. The idea that people live in tyranny and without what we consider basic freedoms is ludicrous in our minds. It is reality for many.
Al Shafei told us Saturday that we can help. We can sign the petition and spread the word to help free Kareem. We can donate or pass the word on to others about MidEastYouth.com to help in their mission, which is:
To inspire and provide young people with the freedom and opportunity of expression, and promote a fierce but respectful dialogue among the highly diverse youth of all sects, socio-economic backgrounds, and political and religious beliefs in the Middle East. We use this freedom to create social change and to prove that the collaboration necessary for stability is possible.
How does that translate to changing the world? Look at their projects page. Read the stories. Realize the possibilities if thousands, even millions show support of this network of mostly young people trying to make the world a better place for all to live.
Five minutes on the sites mentioned and you’ll see why Saturday and today, social media marketing just seems rather trivial to me.
And for a bit of inspiration. Watch this video and imagine the world I think we would all like to see:
A penny for your thoughts. The comments are yours.