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Arab Spring bloggers to discuss web and political change

Some 200 Arab bloggers are gathering in Tunis to discuss the role of the web and social networking as an instrument of political change following the Arab Spring.

The meeting follows on from similar gatherings held in Beirut in 2008 and 2009 and is the first since a wave of revolution swept across the region.

According to event organiser and administrator of Tunisian site Nawaat, Malek Khadroui, the bloggers will focus on the role of cyberactivists in a period of political transition.

“It is an exceptional meeting. There have been three Arab revolutions and the majority of the invited bloggers have been involved in these revolutions, which will allow them to meet and develop solidarity networks,” he said.

We will reflect together on new challenges facing movements in countries like Syria, Bahrain, Yemen,” Khadraoui added, underlining the symbolism of holding the meeting in Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

One topic which the bloggers will focus on is their continuing role in political life. This is particularly relevant to seven of the Tunisian bloggers who are candidates in the upcoming constituent assembly elections.

They will also look at the role of Wikileaks in the Arab revolutions as well as the reliability of information on Twitter and Facebook.

The meeting takes place against a background of rumours that two of the bloggers are being considered for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni chronicled the revolution in her country on the web, while Google executive Wael Ghonim was a central inspiration to the protests on Tahrir Square in Cairo.

While blogs and social networks were heralded as instruments of change during the Arab Spring, some have argued that their role has been overstated.

A number of Westerners have also tried to take credit for teaching young Arabs to use social networks for political change.

Wikileaks impresario Julian Assange, for instance, tried to take credit for the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions in February.

Prominent Egyptian bloggers have also made statements urging people to remember that the revolution was built “on more than just tweets”

“The internet helped to speed up things,” said Hossam al-Hamalawy, who is known in cyberspace by the nickname “3arabawy” or “the Arab”.

“But the revolution would have taken place without it,” he said.

They also urged international observers to remember that the internet was cut off for days at a time during the uprisings.

Ghonim himself, stated that “it takes more to oust a dictator than a Facebook page.”

“One must explain the profound reasons behind the revolution,” he said.

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