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MENA: Can a Hashtag Spread Hatred?

Categories: Middle East & North Africa, Egypt, Israel, Kuwait, Palestine, Tunisia, Ethnicity & Race, International Relations, Politics, Protest, Religion, War & Conflict

Over the past few days, more than 250,000 Israelis [1] have protested in the streets of Tel Aviv [2] and other cities over the rising costs of housing and food. The protesters there borrowed much from the Arab Spring. They even carried banners [3] that read “Leave, here is Egypt” in both Arabic and Hebrew, and used the well known Arab Spring chant [4] where they kept the first part of it in Arabic and added a Hebrew part to it to become “Al-Shaab yurid Tzedek Chevrati” (The People demand Social Justice”).

A Banner in Arabic in Israel
A call for the ruler to leave: In Tunisia they used it in French (Dégagé), then in Egypt it was used translated into Arabic (Erhal), and finally in Israel they also used to Arabic text in this banner. Photo taken by Elizabeth Tsurkov (@Elizrael [5])

Tel Aviv, Israel – 7 August 2011

On Twitter, Egyptians followed the protests, using a derogatory hash tag that makes funny analogies [Ar] [6] between the events the took place during the Egyptian revolution, and imaginary similar events using names of Israeli officials and mock characters instead. However the name of the hashtag #ThawretWeladElKalb [7], which literally translates to “Sons of Dogs Revolution,” sparked lot of debate on both sides.

Israeli Elizabeth Tsurkov noticed the hashtag and tweeted her disappointment with it.

@Elizrael [8]: Heartbreaking, coming back from the demo to twitter and seeing Arabs tweeting about #j14 [9] with the anti-Semitic tag #ThawretWeladElKalb [7]

She also added:

@Elizrael [10]: While we chanted for equality and an end to the occupation, Arabs on twitter are calling #j14 [9] “the revolution of sons of a dog”. Sick

On the other side of the border, people were divided. While some defended the hashtag, others found it inappropriate.

Palestinian Abla Awadallah asked people to dig into history [11] before criticizing the hashtag [12], while Nabil Kabalan mocked what he saw as people protesting in a land that is not theirs:

@cold0shoulder [13]: An Israeli exclusive: protesting in someone else's occupied land!

Comr4da – who agrees with Ramy Zreik [Ar] [14] that such protests might only lead to building new settlements on occupied land – said:

@Comr4de [15]: الى المعاتيه اللى بيأيدوا مظاهرات الصهاينه.الحل الوحيد لمشكلة السكن اللى هى سبب التظاهر هو سرقه أرض جديده لبناء مستوطنات

@Comr4de [15]: To all those crazy people who support the Zionist protests, the only solution for their housing problem, which is the reason for the protests, is to occupy more land to build settlements.

Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff also tweeted:

@CarlosLatuff [16]: Egyptians don't be fooled. Protests in Israel have more to do with middle class living costs than against occupation

From Tunisia, Marwan-el-Tounisi added:

@Marwouantounsi [17]: I am Tunisian and I support this: #ThawretWeladElKalb 10000%, Die Zionists.

On the other hand many others opposed the hashtag. Sara Abdelazim believes that generalization is bad [18]. She added:

@Lujee [19]: So for years ppl complain that nobody in Israel speaks up against what their government is doing and when they do, they get insulted for it?

Differentiation between Jews, Israelis and Zionists in daily Arabic language is sometimes not that clear [20]. So, Nada Iskandar – who believes the hash tag is racist [21]tweeted that we should pay attention to such differences [22]. Essam El-Zamil also decided to stop using the hashtag [23] since some of the participants in the protests are Arabs [24]. Ahmed Saker and Amr El Gohary found the hashtag childish [25] and non-constructive [26] respectively.

Despite how the education systems in both sides raises hate [27], Kuwaiti blogger, Mona Kareem, blogged against the hashtag [28].

I do not hate Israelis (although the Arab educational system raises you up to hate Jews automatically, and to feel superior towards others in general) but I definitely oppose and hate the crimes done by the state of Israel, just the way I do with our Arab dictatorships (keeping in my mind that Israel has been acting way more merciful with its own citizens, unlike our almighty police-state regimes). On the other hand, I also have the same feelings towards Arab suicide bombers who kill people in a night club or a school bus. I believe killing a human cannot be justified what so ever, regardless of the ideology, identity, or religion of the victim and the victimizer.

Mona then added how the peaceful protest of Arabs in their Arab Spring shouldn't be stopped there.

Arabs cannot give up the peaceful path they chose, just when the subject comes to their “classical enemy” Israel. Arab revolutionaries should act more responsible not to contradict themselves and clearly understand what Gandhi once said “an eye for an eye makes the world blind”. They should give up their long heritage that is filled with epics about revenge represented within heroic frames.
Arabs should also understand that their revolutions will only stand up truly when they strongly believe that the revolutions are not only against figures of their regimes but also revolutions to reconstruct their cultures and root out all forms of discrimination because simply discrimination can never be justified and verbal abuse only makes you look worse. Arabs cannot label every Israeli as a criminal, and ironically enough, they do not know that people who protested recently in Israel come from different backgrounds including anti-occupation activists and Arab-Israelis.

Another Israeli blogger, The Elder of Ziyon, wrote saying [29] that the reference of Jews as dog is historic.

The tag is #ThawretWeladElKalb, which means “Sons of Dogs Revolution”. The reference of Jews as dogs is of course a popular motif [30] in Arab history [31].

In fact, calling someone a dog is also one of the most common swear words in Egypt. It is so common that it is one of the few swear words that are not censored in movies. Recently there was a debate in Egypt on whether a political reform should come first, or the rights of the poor; and an Egyptian blogger wrote a post under the name “It's the poor first, sons of dog [Ar] [32]“, attacking those who care about political reform and constitutional changes more than social justice. The blog became so popular so that many people used to quote its title [33] in their discussions on and off-line.

And finally, Ahmed Kamal suggested an alternative hashtag.

@ahmed_virgine [34]: Thawret Welad El3am ,,,hom mesh bany admen zayena ….wallahe alsho3oa 3'albana al7okam homa wlad elkalb.

@ahmed_virgine [34]: Cousins Revolution … aren't they humans like us … seriously poor people, it's only the rulers who are sons of dogs.

Further reading:

Israel: Protests for Social Justice Sweep the Country [2]