America, keep your dirty hands away from fighting web repression

Sami ben Gharbia, the advocacy director for Global Voices, asks that Washington cease its largely counter-productive campaign to assist dissidents around the world. Image problem, anybody?

Many people outside of the U.S, not only in the Arab world, have a strong feeling that the Internet Freedom mantra emitting from Washington DC is just a cover for strategic geopolitical agendas. This Internet freedom policy won’t be applied in a… vacuum. At first, it will build upon broader U.S and Western foreign policy and their strategic goals and interests; in other words, it will continue projecting the same Western priorities. Having the U.S and other Western government as major actors in the Internet freedom field could present a real threat to activists who accept their support and funding. A hyper-politicization of the digital activism movement and an appropriation of its “success” to achieve geopolitical goals or please the Washington bubble are now considered by many as the “kiss of death”. In a worst-case scenario, Western funding, hyper-politicization and support could also lead to a brutal alteration of the existing digital activism field and the emergence of a “parallel digital activism” in total disregard to the local Arab context.

Remember this next time when Barack Obama talks passionately about human rights in Iran but conveniently ignores profound problems in, say, Saudi Arabia, that bastion of democracy. Hypocrisy, my name is America.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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