At AUC in March, Timothy Garton Ash, a professor of European studies at Oxford University and a Guardian columnist, launched the Arabic version of Free Speech Debate, an online user-led think-tank that seeks to set the terms for a global conversation on human rights. Garton Ash believes there must be a conversation about the global norms of free expression in an interconnected world in which private powers are at least as important as public powers. “At nine hundred million users, if Facebook were a country it would be the third largest country in the world,” he says. “What Facebook decides will be the rules of expression on Facebook is actually more important for global free expression than what Germany or France does.” Free Speech Debate organizes discussion and debate in thirteen languages around ten draft principles for global free expression modeled on those in the United Nations’ International Declaration of Human Rights. The difference, says Garton Ash, “Now the we is first. It’s a statement of what we as a people believe first, not only a demand to the state.”
The father of Libyan novelist Hisham Matar was imprisoned and tortured under the regime of former Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi. During a talk at AUC in February, Matar discussed the difficulty of resisting his impulse to self-censor in fear of the regime while writing In the Country of Men, his 2006 novel that was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. The novel is set in Libya and describes the terror of Gadhafi’s rule through the daily life of a Libyan family in their private quarters. Giving into fear, Matar explained, “would have turned my work into a dead corpse”—and, in effect, into another victim of Gadhafi’s regime.
When Kiichi Fujiwara visited Tahrir Square in February, it brought back memories of his time in Manila’s Rizal Park, the epicenter of the 1986 People’s Power Revolution in the Philippines. Surveying the protesters still camped in Tahrir, the University of Tokyo professor, a specialist on democratic transitions, recalled the masses in Rizal Park singing Bayan Ko (My Homeland), the anthem of the opposition. Fujiwara, who lectured at AUC in February, notes the similarity in the way that established factions and institutions moved to push people power aside in Egypt, just as in the Philippines. About Manila he says, “The people stood up, but then they sat right back down again.” He cautions Egyptians against doing the same.