By Sophie Williamson
Born out of the revolution, the non-profit media collective Mosireen has captured a multitude of extraordinary insights into the political atmosphere in Egypt through their avidly followed video blog. They have energetically supported the explosion of citizen journalism and cultural activism that continues to play a key role in envisioning Egypts future.
Realising its full potential throughout the Arab Spring, the phenomenon of citizen journalism has reinforced the cameras use as a potent weapon of resistance to political oppression. As the Mosireen Collective has described, during the Egyptian revolution in January 2011 a groundswell of citizens, armed with mobile phones and cameras, kept the balance of truth in their country by recording events as they happened in front of them, wrong-footing censorship and empowering the voice of a street-level perspective.
Situated in downtown Cairo, the Mosireen Collective was founded in the wake of Mubaraks overthrow by a group of film makers, citizen journalists and activists with the ambition of creating a collective space dedicated to supporting citizen media of all kinds. Knowing that Government news agencies could not be relied upon as they were inevitably acting as propagandist in an attempt to cajole public opinion, Mosireen also responded to the fact that even the independent media in Egypt, privately owned, has its own agendas and interests to protect when representing the revolution. Whilst none of the Mosireen founding members were journalists by profession (they work in a range of other fields, from urban planning to visual arts and from graphic design to mechanics) they each recognised the importance of the independent media emerging out of the revolution. Refusing to rely on local or even the international press coverage, the Mosireen Collective saw the importance of providing the tools of media journalism to as many people as possible in order to facilitate a range of alternative perspectives. Mosireens media centre is a community-supported space, and although professionals also use the centre, the focus is on providing ordinary people with the skills, equipment, and know-how to counter-act the propaganda of State media.
Working simultaneously as facilitators, producers and archivists, Mosireen provide both physical space where perspectives can be exchanged among active citizens, and an online platform to share these perspectives with the world. Mosireen, which is a play on the Arabic words for Egypt and determination, has been responsible for a lively programme of workshops and training opportunities for over one hundred people, operating on a pay-as-you-can basis, they provide free public talks, open discussions and weekly film screenings, as well as the now renowned Tahrir Cinema. Staged in Tahrir Square, Tahrir Cinema is an open-air screening presenting revolutionary films of protests, strikes and sit-ins produced by Egyptian citizen journalists. The footage represents an alternative media that is open for everyone to film, produce and interact with. The Mosireen Collective also provides a collective workspace, which, open to all, creates a vibrant hub of production and activity, as well as editing facilities, camera and sound equipment hire and a bookable meeting room. Dedicated to providing these facilities to everyone, regardless of their level of experience, Mosireen help to build connections between a wide variety of local initiatives and projects, especially those born from a spirit of civic engagement. Their online platform facilitates wider distribution of this creative production, including a publicly shared political events calendar (online here) and, most notably, their active video blog. In this way they continue to nurture an increasingly prolific network of politically engaged individuals and grassroots organisations, which holds importance on both a local and global level.
Throughout the changing political dynamics of the past two years in Egypt, the Mosireen Collective has posted a stream of documentary footage and interviews on YouTube which attempts to articulate the varying viewpoints of the revolution. Their approach is to avoid the stereotypical or obvious representatives of society by giving a global voice to demonstrators and others active in the struggles. By organising information in this way they hope to give internet observers a deeper understanding than could otherwise be gleaned from raw footage of protests and clashes. Videos posted on their YouTube channel documents, among other incidents, include the massacre of 28 Coptic Christians peacefully protesting late last year outside the headquarters of state television; a brutal attack on a female protester by Egyptian soldiers two months later; and the violent breakup of a sit-in outside Parliament in February 2012. After only four months of blogging, they had posted 97 videos and received 2,846,000 views; they had become the most viewed non-profit channel in the world that month and remain the most viewed non-profit channel in Egypt of all time.
Crucially, Mosireen are not only producers and facilitators of these dialogues, but see their role also as archivists. Documenting the revolutionary activity around them and collecting videos made by protesters, they have made available online a rich seam of footage, much of which they have painstakingly subtitled in English. Through the access that this has given to journalists around the world, Mosireen and the events they have broadcast, has been covered across the mainstream global media, from the New York Times to the Guardian, and from Al Jazeera to the BBC News.
Having successfully informed so much international media, as well as their extensive direct audiences online, the Mosireen Collective has since sought to utilise the strength of this redistribution to support the voices from other areas of conflict. They held Egypts first official Israeli boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) event at their media centre in August 2012, a critical first step in challenging the Government’s continuing economic relations with Israel. They have since continued to show their solidarity with the Palestinian people of Gaza through video blogs. A recent video titled A Night in Gaza Under the Bombs reported on disturbing and horrifying scenes in Gaza Citys main hospital amid the on-going Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip. It has had almost 12,000 viewings within just a few weeks.
In December 2012, as tens of thousands of protesters again marched to Tahrir Square, this time to denounce President Morsis recent constitutional decree, many Egyptians remain angry that the new Government has failed to address the grievances of the 2011 revolution. The Mosireen Collectives postings has once again accelerated, providing a focal point for viewers around the world as events unfold in Egypt. We take risks filming just as people take risks throwing stones or carrying the wounded away from the front lines. The Mosireen Collective do not see their work as objective it is of course completely subjective viewing it as a vital role within the on-going work of the revolution.
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