Middle East: Arabisk, Blog Competition and Debate

Arabisk is an annual competition to select the best Arabic blogs. And by Arabic here, they mean blogs in the Arab region that are written in Arabic language as well. The contest is being organized by Kalima Press and its owner Mohammad El Sahli, who desceibes himself as the first Arab full-time blogger.
The competition focuses in its first year on specialized blogs, that is, blogs that focus on a certain subject or related subjects. And hence there will be prizes for the specialized blogs and one prize for the best general or personal blog.
The competition has two main rules. The first one is that the content has to be authentic and not copied or extracted from somewhere else even if the blog owner is licensed to use it. The second rule is that the content has to be compliant with the Islamic rules and the society's traditions.

Ahmed Shokeir, at Late Night Stories, wrote about the absence of such kind of competitions in the Arab world and his first impressions on Arabisk:

وهي لمن لايعرف أول محاولة جدية لإختيار أفضل المدونات العربية السنوية ، تعودنا من قبل أن نعتمد على مسابقة عالمية يتيمة واحدة تقيمُها وكالة الدويتش فيلا الألمانية ، ومن ضمن أقسامها إختيار أفضل مدونة عربية ، لنجد في مسابقة أرابيسك أول محاولة محلية جدية لعمل مسابقة لأفضل المدونات العربية ، قدمت المسابقة نفسها بموقع متخصص ذو تصميم عالي الجودة وشركات داعمة و جوائز مشجعة لمثل هذا الطابع من المسابقات ، ولجنة تحكيم لأشخاص يبدو عليهم حسن الإطلاع والعلم بمعايير التقييم طبقاً للتقديمات التي قدمت لهم المسابقة
And for those who don't know, it is the first serious attempt to select the best Arabic blogs every year. We were used earlier to depend on a single competition arranged by Deutche Welle, which had a special section for Arabic blogs. So, Arabisk is the first local promising attempt to arrange a competition for Arabic blogs. The competition – like other similar competitions – has a dedicated, well designed website, sponsors, and valuable prizes. And the juries – according to their biographies – seem to have good knowledge and experience with competitions and their valuation criteria.

Mohammad El Sahli, who is also known as Mohammad Said Hjouij, wrote more details about the competition rules and selection criteria:

كل مدونة مرشحة تم تقييمها من طرف أربعة محكمين مختلفين، وتوزيع المدونات على المحكمين تم بشكل عشوائي تماما لمنح المسابقة أكبر حيادية ممكنة. لو أن كل مدونة قيمها أكثر من أربعة محكمين لربما اختلفت النتيجة النهائية. لكن كل محكم قيم 300 مدونة ولم يكن بالإمكان طلب المزيد من أفراد متطوعين.
هناك معايير محددة للتقييم: كل محكم يمنح المدونة التي يراجعها نقاطا بين 1 و10، وزعت بالشكل التالي: ست نقاط مخصصة للمحتوى (الأصالة، الجودة والأسلوب). ثلاث نقط مخصصة للتصميم (جمالية الصفحة، سهولة التصفح وإيجاد المحتوى). النقطة المتبقية يمكن للمحكم منحها حسب انطباعه عن كل مدونة
Each one of the submitted blogs was evaluated by four different and randomly selected judges, to have as much objectivity as possible. If each blog was evaluated by more than four judges, the final result would have been totally changed, but each judge had to evaluate 300 blogs, and it wasn't possible to have more volunteers.
There are certain evaluation criteria: Each judge gives the blog he is evaluation a rating from 1 to 10, which was in turn distributed on the following basis: 6 marks for the content (authenticity, value, and writing style), 3 for the blog's design (blog's appearance and usability) and the last mark was left for the judges to give according to their own impression of the blog.

But this competition was subject to a huge debate. And bloggers from all over the Arab world had their own comments on its rules and selections.

Aljded believes that some of the selected blogs are in fact non compliant with the competitions second rule.

@aljded: كيف تقبل مدونة نوفل في مسابقة أرابيسك وهو يقول أنه لا يتعرف بأي ثوابت
@aljded: How did they accept Nofal's blog in Arabisk, although he states that he do not adhere to customs and traditions!?

And Egyptian Wael Abbas wrote:

@waelabbas: مسابقة أرابيسك حذفت ترشيحات لمدونات تناقش الأديان تماما من المسابقة بعد ترشيحها بعدة ساعات فقط
@waelabbas: Arabisk completely deleted submitted blogs that discuss religions, few hours after they were submitted.

Egyptian Nora Younis on the other hand made fun of the competition's voting system design, especially that the blog design, has got a big weight in the competition evaluation criteria:

@NoraYounis: Display & design of voting page at Arabisk award is silly & primitive. How can you claim to chose blogs based on design? Terrible.

And so did Ahmed Shokeir, who also doesn't like the competition rating criteria and the inclusion of blogs design in the evaluation:

ترى لجنة التحكيم أن التصميم الخاص بالموقع شيئ رئيسي في معايير التقييم ، وهذا خطأ فادح ففكرة التدوين أساساً تقوم على حرية التعبير وقيمة المحتوى وطريقة التعبير ، والمواقع العالمية تقدم قوالب جاهزة لكي تسهل على المدوّن فكرة التصميم حيث لايشترط في صاحبها القدرة على التصميم ، ولكن أخواننا المحكمين التقنيين كانت إهتمامتهم بالتصميم عالية جداً على حساب المحتوي
The judges see the blogs design as a main factor in their evaluation, which is a huge mistake. Blogs are made for people to express themselves freely and easily. And all major blog hosting sites offer their users predefined templates in or to facilitate their blogs design as bloggers are not supposed to be aware of web design. But our technical fellows at Arabisk pay much attention to the design compared to the content.

Shokeir also wrote…

لتظهر القوائم النهائية للمدونات المرشحة من لجنة التحكيم للتصفية النهائية لنكتشف أن المدونات المتخصصة ماهي إلا مدونات تقنية وكأن التخصص لايكون إلا في المدونات التقنية

أين المدونات المتخصصة السياسية والأدبية والرياضية وغيرها علماً بأن أكثر المدونات تخصصاً هي المدونات الأدبية التي تحمل قصائد او شعر أو قصص
The final list of the nominated blogs showed that the specialized blogs were just technical blogs, as if there are no other specializations other than technology.

Where are the political blogs, and those that are specialized in literature, sports, etc. Especially that most of the specialized blogs are the ones that focus on literature and contain poems, or stories.

The voting system, which is the second stage of evaluation after the top 10 blogs are selected by the competition judges, was subject to a huge debate. Arabisk voting system, which is similar to that of sites like digg and reddit, gives the users the ability to give either positive or negative votes to the blogs.

@iAbdullah: وش سالفة تصويت أرابيسك ؟ الحين قبل شوي كنا بالموجب الحين شغالين في السالب ؟ وشلون واحد يفوز وهو سالب
@iAbdullah: What's wrong with Arabisk? Earlier I had positive rating, and after a short while I've got negative one? How am I supposed to win with negative rating!?

But it came out later on, that some users abused the system by giving negative votes to the competing blogs.

@AhmedsWorld: في ناس بتستعبط و تخلي معارفها تدخل تصوت بالسالب للآحرين ! العرب مينفعش معاهم لا أرابيسك ولا بطيخ
@AhmedsWorld: Some people are cheating, and they ask their friends to give negative votes to the competing blogs. Arabs aren't ready yet for Arabisk or any other competitions.

And it was obvious that the negative voting was a huge mistake.

@AmrSpace: التقيم السالب أكبر غلطة وقع فيها القائمون على مسابقة أرابيسك وأتمنى فعلا لو يتم الغائه
@AmrSpace: I believe the negative votes is the biggest mistake Arabisk has made, and I hope that they'll cancel it.

And competition organizers have realized that, and decided to remove and reset the negative votes.

@medtanger: بعد تحديث الأعداد الأخير، ارتفع تقييم مدونتي من -4 إلى +23، الحمد لله
@medtanger: Thanks God. After reseting the negative votes. My blog rating has been changed from -4 to +23.

The Egyptian bloggers were all upset from the competition nominations because almost all of the nominated blogs were non-Egyptians, while the Egyptians form about one third of the Arabic blogosphere.

@GEMYHOoOD: مسابقة أرابيسك لاحسن المدونات العربية مفيش و لا مدونة مصرية إتأهلت
@GEMYHOoOD: Not a single Egyptian blog has qualified in the Arabisk competition for the best Arabic Blogs.
@Shokeir: مع إحترامي لجميع القائمين على أرابيسك لكن مايحدث تهريج .. من الألف مدونة المرشحة لاتوجد ولا مدونة مصرية وقع عليها الترشيح من العشرين مدونة
@Shokeir: With all my respect to those who are behind Arabisk competition, out of the one thousand blogs submitted, not a single Egyptian blog was qualified in the 20 finalists.

Shokeir also wrote on his blog:

سوف تجد في المدونات الشخصية وهي ماتهمني “فلا يهمني الهراء الذي يحدث في المدونات التقنية للأسباب السالف ذكرها” سوف تكتشف أن العشرة مدونات المنتقاه هي عبارة عن خمس مدونات سعودية ومدونتين من الامارات ومثلهما من المغرب وواحدة قطرية … نعم لا توجد مدونة مصرية ، المدونات المصرية وعددها يفوق المائتين ألف مدونة وتظل نسبتها من المدونات العربية ثلاثين في المائة ، لاتوجد منها ولا مدونة في النتيجة النهائية
You will find in the personal blogs sections, which is the section I care about the most, as I don't care about that nonsense that happens in the technical section. You'll find that out of the 10 blogs selected, five of them as Saudis, two from UAE, and two from Morocco, and one from Qatar. Yes, there are no Egyptian blogs there, the Egyptian blogs that are more than 200,000 blogs, and represent about one third of the Arab blogosphere are not there in the final list.

Also Wael Abbas, was really upset and attacked the competition.

@waelabbas:كل المدونين المصريين قالوا على مسابقة أرابيسك إنها خرا خرا خرا لكن إشمعنى أنا اللي باتشتم وبيتقال عليا عندي جنون عظمة
@waelabbas: All the Egyptian bloggers have agreed that Arabisk competition is sh*t, sh*t, sh*t. Why I am the only one who is being cursed and called a paranoid.

This comment made Abo Shams reply in order to defend Arabisk saying:

@aboshms: لو أقيمت مسابقة أرابيسك لأقذر وأقبح لسان تدويني لما خرجت الجائزة من أرض أم الدنيا
@aboshms: If Arabisk was made for the worst and most foul-mouthed blogger, the winner would have been from Egypt for sure.

Also Mohammad El Sahli, the competition organizer, wrote a seperate post on his own blog in order to defend himself and his competition:

أغرب ملاحظة وصلتني هي حول غياب المدونات المصرية من القائمة المصرية. حقيقة لم أنتبه لذلك ولم أفكر في مسألة التمثيل الجغرافي. لذلك لا تقلقني هذه النقطة. الأغرب هو وجود مدونة مصرية فعلا في قائمة المدونات المتخصصة، لكن صاحب الملاحظة يعتبر غياب مدونة مصرية من صنف المدونات الشخصية هو غياب عن المسابقة ككل.
كما قلت لم أهتم بمسألة التمثيل الجغرافي، لكني سأفتح هنا قوسا: المسابقة تركز على المحتوى وعلى العربية الفصحى. في حين أن أغلب المدونات المصرية (ليس كلها) تستخدم العامية بإفراط، كما أنها في المحتوى تركز على المواضيع ذات الطبيعة الإخبارية السياسية مما يجعل محتواها يفقد قيمته سريعا
The strangest comment I've received was the one related to the absence of the Egyptian blogs from the competition. In fact, I haven't paid attention to that, and I haven't considered the geographic distribution of the blogs. That's why I do not care much about this point, and it is even strange, because there is an Egyptian blog in the specialized blogs list. But it seems that those who commented this comment have considered the absence of the Egyptian blogs in the general section as an absence from the competition as a whole.
As I've said, I don't care much about the geographic distribution, but let me add a my own comment here: The competition focuses more on the content and the blogs written in traditional Arabic, while most of the Egyptian blogs – not all of them – usually use the Egyptian-Arabic slang, and they normally focus on current affairs and political issues, which makes their content loses its value quickly.

And finally, some other blogger, like Al-Fagih, just didn't accept the fact that their blogs weren't selected, simply because they are pretty sure that their blogs are the best.

أريد أن أعرف: لماذا مدونتي ليست ضمن العشرة الأوائل؟ والمسألة ليست غروراً ولا كِبراً والعياذ بالله. لكني اطلعت على العشرة المبشرين بالفوز.. وهي في مجملها مدونات -مع تقديري لأصحابها- ليست “رهيبة”.. ناهيك عن استحقاقها لتمثيل الأمة العربية في ميدان (البولغة). ومن نافلة القول أني أرى بأن مدونتي هذه هي أفضل من معظم أولئك العشرة من ناحية المحتوى والتصميم.. إلخ إلخ.
I need to know why my blog wasn't among the 10 nominated blogs? It's not arrogance, God forbid, but I've seen the selected blogs and they are mostly – with all my respect to their owners – ordinary ones, and doesn't deserve to represent the Arab bloggers. In fact, I believe that my blog is better than most of those nominated blogs when it comes to content, design, etc.

The winners will be announced on October 1.


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