North African Bloggers; Activists Blossom Despite Constraints

04/26/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Eighteen North African bloggers gathered in Rabat last week for a workshop on constructive and effective writing about conflict, and on upgrading their social media skills, despite censorship problems and various technical constraints in the Maghreb region.

The training, funded by the Washington based NGO, Search for Common Ground (SFCG), included sessions on the needs and challenges facing bloggers, censorship, blogging and social media as forms of self-expression and activism, the impact of blogs in covering conflicts, the evolution of blogging, and online media ethics.

The bloggers and activists from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia put their newly-acquired knowledge and ideas to the test, with Naoufel Chaara writing that the workshop had surpassed his expectations.

"Admittedly, I was wrong. The SFCG training didn't match my pre-set idea about workshops and conferences where we suffer from boring speakers and doze off," he said. "Today, a lot of things will change."

North African bloggers thrive at Rabat SFCG workshop (Abu-Fadil)

The dynamic nature of the workshop allowed the bloggers to learn, interact, take pictures, shoot video, tweet, and post content as they discussed what they can and can't do in their respective countries.

Morocco enjoys relatively more cyber freedom than its neighbors with Algeria coming in second and Tunisia maintaining a stranglehold on access to social media vehicles.

The blogs themselves range from political and social forums, to more personal agendas, to strongly worded treatises on freedom of expression.

"We created a group on the Web and decided to pursue our discussions on our common woes: chats on the left, chats on the right, exchanges of photos, solidarity with the weak, and we said in unison: 'no to suppression of freedom,' and 'yes to freedom of expression,'" wrote Chahida Lakhouaja on her blog, adding that the participants were proud to proclaim they were bloggers.

The workshop was launched with gusto by Leena El-Ali, director of SFCG's Partners in Humanity program that works to positively affect how individuals and groups in the West and Muslim world think and feel about cross-cultural issues.

Partners in Humanity director Leena El-Ali (Abu-Fadil)

She briefed the bloggers on the common ground approach of highlighting solutions, rather than just dwelling on problems, as well as providing a voice to all stakeholders.

El-Ali encouraged participants to write for the Common Ground News Service and set guidelines to help pave the way.

According to El-Ali, a common ground article:
• Provides constructive and solution-oriented perspectives and concrete steps for collaboration and understanding where possible
• Seeks areas of common ground or common goals and interests
• Promotes dialogue and cooperation
• Emphasizes positive examples of interaction between Western and Muslim cultures
• Expresses constructive self-criticism
• Instills hope and optimism in readers that non-adversarial solutions to conflict are possible
• Highlights positive experiences between individuals that humanize the other and offer hope
• Contributes to understanding between Muslim and Western cultures.

Moroccan journalist/blogger Rachid Jankari, director of MIT Media and publisher of, kept the charged pace going, introducing participants to the latest in cyber offerings and tutoring them on how to master the use of various Web tools.

Blogger/Trainer Rachid Jankari (Abu-Fadil)

The bloggers could hardly keep up with his delivery and enthusiasm about the Web's endless possibilities.

Also on hand was Mohamed Daadaoui, Assistant Professor of Political Science at
Oklahoma City University, whose Maghreb Blog focuses on politics, economic trends, and news of the Maghreb region.

Mohammad Daadaoui on blogs' impact in conflict coverage (Abu-Fadil)

Daadaoui spoke about how blogs have been used in covering upheavals and conflicts.

He also focused on how blogging has been a source of problems and when blogs have helped in promoting solutions.

List of North African Blogs: