Throughout the Arab Spring in 2011, Wikipedia served as a reliable source of information for up to date information about the protests occurring in countries such as Tunisia and Egypt. Protesters uploaded pictures of the events onto Wikimedia Commons, while many users outside of the affected countries updated the related articles on Wikipedia to manage the influx of information coming out everyday.
For Tunisian Wikipedian Salah Almhamdi, the Arab Spring made him more aware of Wikipedia’s online presence and its ability to provide a cooperative, open-source experience.
Almhamdi first learned about Wikipedia as a student in 2003, when he would use the online encyclopedia for research. A few years later, he began editing articles. It wasn’t until the Arab Spring, however, that he took a more active role as an editor.
Almhamdi credits Wikipedia for being one of the few safe havens online, where users could engage in political discourse without the threat of government interference in pre-revolution Tunisia. “The government doesn’t track the first one who edited the website, and so sometimes it’s semi-hidden,” explained Almhamdi.
He offered his reasoning as to why the Arab Spring sparked his interest in writing more articles on Wikipedia. He explained the difficulty in discussing political issues openly prior to the Revolution in Tunisia. “We used to follow the news of the Middle East and the other regions and to give our opinions on it,” said Almhamdi, “But we didn’t follow our domestic issues, related to politics, because it was risky at the time.” He added, “I’m more politicized now, actually. It’s a general trend in the region.”
In addition to serving as a source for information, Almhamdi described how Wikipedia’s open-source platform can be used as a model for creating a more transparent government in post-revolution Tunisia. “In making the societies more open, people will have more open mentalities and will have more information and that will have an effect on society and on government also,” said Almhamdi.
“There is a collaborative wiki website about the constitution because now we are writing the constitution,” he added. “so anyone can for example, a citizen can have a voice and say what does he want to see in the constitution.”
Profile by Jawad Qadir, Communications intern
Interview by Victor Grigas, Visual Storyteller