From Google In San Francisco To Social Media Training In Beirut And A Bit Of Arab Net

san fransisco golden gate bridge

I’ve had, what is arguably, one of the longest two weeks of my life. Excessively jet lagged, to say the very least. After a week in the US for a whirlwind tour that left me sleepless and physically drained, I jetted from San Francisco to New York to Amman and then Beirut, all in the span of 30 hours. In Beirut, the 7iber team spent four days training Global Changemakers from all over the Arab world, and although we’ve done it before, this time was perhaps a bit more challenging. Don’t get me wrong, Beirut is a beautiful city this time of year, but the Internet is abnormally disastrous – to say nothing of rolling blackouts. Training 70 young Arabs from different countries and different backgrounds is a real challenge. They behave differently and think differently. A young Tunisian is not the same as a young Yemeni, and neither are similar to a young Bahraini. If it’s one thing I’ve learned these past two years, its this – dealing with young people from the Gulf is incredibly difficult.

7iber social media training

In any case, it’s been a long two weeks and I’m well past the point where I just want to be in my room in Amman; where I just want to write. I’m also dying to catch up on what’s going on back home. I feel illiterate, and I will likely spend the next week feeling oblivious – or to use the arabian proverb: a6rash bil zafeh – while people around me talk about the stories I’ve missed.

One of the highlights of my trip was actually the Arab Net conference in Beirut. It brought together an incredible group of young techie entrepreneurs in the Arab world, and while the conference itself drew on many of the traditional formats that plague conferences in this region, it also managed to successfully introduce a few new things that made it feel rather innovative. A Twitter feed played on large screens, as participants tweeted to their hearts delight – #arabnetme trended for two days, usually during the day when the majority of twitter users that live half way across the world are asleep, but still, impressive. Meanwhile, the talented illustrator, Maya Zankoul, illustrated the event live. Never seen that happening in the Arab world and I wouldn’t be surprised if more conferences and events in the region start hiring illustrators for live graphical delights. To say nothing of seeing some superstar bloggers, like Roba Assi, roaming around the conference, blogging the event as official Arab Net “Ambassadors” – perhaps outnumbering mainstream media.

arabnet conference beirut

But more or less, it was a chance to meet up with familiar faces from the Amman tech scene as well as new people from the region. Getting introduced to new ideas and new possibilities – always a refreshing break from the disappointing realities that drown our lands in layers of cynicism. It was also chance to talk casually with inspiring role models like Fadi Ghandour and Maher Qaddoura (both are always a pleasure to chat with).

Lastly, it was an opportunity to see what others are working on in the same field and in the same region. Some ideas seemed to overlap to the point of confusion, and it was interesting talking to various people about how they aim to deal with that situation. If it’s one thing startups and young entrepreneurs should be aware of it’s that an original idea never stays original for long. Competition can even arise at the startup phase of the most novel of ideas. Sometimes, it’s just competition; sometimes it’s an opportunity for collaboration and the emergence of something cool; and sometimes it’s just, well, you know. Imitation is, after all, the sincerest form of flattery.

In any case, it was a solid event. Hopefully next year it can move closer to home and hopefully some of the missing conversations can be discussed, including censorship, activism, and social media for social good.

Fast forward. Last night was Earth Hour and this year there was somewhat of an improvement in Amman compared to the year before. The Greater Amman Municipality did seem to participate with the closure of various lights, including Zahran Street, and perhaps the Citadel (although I can never tell in Jordan as those lights may have just been malfunctioning). The Sheraton Hotel also turned off its lights, and in doing so, provided a great display of its environment conscience in contrast to its biggest competitor, right across the street, the Four Seasons, which remained a castle ablaze. Rainbow street, as usual, was where it was at. Cups & Kilos lit candles, as did a few other places in the area, with a fairly large turnout of people at Wild Jordan.

But still. More awareness needs to be raised as people don’t know what the event is all about. More lobbying and advocacy needs to be conducted to get major institutions, both private and public, to turn off their lights for an hour. It would be great to see some major landmarks go dark, including the Jordanian Flag at the Royal Hashemite Court, and the Royal Hotel on the third circle. So my resolution for next year is to help mobilize and raise awareness about Earth Hour, and hopefully Amman will really leave its mark on the world stage.


  • Great work with the ArabNet conference.
    Why did you find “dealing with young people from the Gulf is incredibly difficult”? I teach few almost every semester, in the U.S., and I would say most of them are not eager to learn as other international students. On the other hand, very few Saudi students graduate with 4.0 GPA which is perfect.

  • @jaraad: hmm. well, anything i say will be considered a generalization so let me say right off the bat that this is exactly what my opinion is based on – that and a load of experience with young gulfies at this point. i generally find that young gulfies are somewhat condescending, unwilling to try new things unless you really, really push them, and fairly inside-the-box thinkers. not surprisingly, those who studied in westernized schools in the gulf do not carry these same traits but then these are the obvious minority. So they are rather difficult to work with. generally 7iber trainings don’t look to dictate and lecture, as much as they aim to get people working collaboratively and strategically. i think most arab youth may be accustomed to simply being instructed and dictated to. the levant is a lot better, and arguably the meghreb 3arabi is the best – at least in my experience.

    it has a lot to do with education, culture and society.

  • I can’t believe they let a guy who openly supports Hezbollah and who mourned the death of Imad Mugniyah into the US. Or even on a US flight. You’re the best evidence I know of that the Department of Homeland Security is hopelessly broken.

  • After a week in the US for a whirlwind tour that left me sleepless and physically drained…

    I wish it had left you in Guantanamo Bay, instead. But we don’t send terrorists to Guantanamo Bay anymore, do we? Maybe an undisclosed location, then.

    Obama Administration: If you aren’t bothering with keeping supporters of terrorism like Nas here out of the US, then who ARE you trying to keep out of the US? What in the hell am I standing in those long ass lines for? Pathetic performance.

  • By the way, Nas, what kind of questions did they ask you when you were applying for your visa? Did they ask if you support terrorism? Did they ask if you think Americans deserve to be killed? Things like that? If they did, I wonder how you answered? And if they didn’t, why didn’t they? And in any case, how is it that our wonderful state department employees didn’t manage to do even a cursory background check on you? Do you have some kind of VIP vouching for you? If so, that person needs to be exposed. I think all Americans deserve to know why the US State Department is not protecting us from people like you.

  • @Craig: thanks for the american hospitality; i guess they just missed me wearing my hizballah t-shirt as i walked through security.

    first of all, i am not a supporter of hizballah and I don’t think I’ve ever written about hizballah in such a context – if anything, i’m often accused of the exact opposite. second of all, i don’t recall mourning the death of mughniya – but feel free to correct me if i’m wrong. the blog is searchable.

  • Oh craig … you poor poor poor soul, aren’t you missing a Tea bagging convention because you are wasting your time commenting on some AyRab blogs?
    Here is a suggestion, ask a friend for help with this. Let him shove his hand down there and keep on pushing up till he can talk in sign language out of your mouth. It’s ok, you will probably feel dizzy for a bit smelling the fresh air and seeing the light but you’ll adjust to it soon enough and experience the world we live in.
    I hope you do have a friend to ask, otherwise your SOL son.

  • @Craig: thanks for the american hospitality; i guess they just missed me wearing my hizballah t-shirt as i walked through security.

    You didn’t answer any of my questions, Nas. Nor do i think you honestly answered any of the questions you were asked when you applied for a visa. What’s the percentage of Americans who would offer you “hospitality” if they knew you consider a man who murdered hundreds of Americans to be a hero, Nas? And that you though his assassination in Syria was a crime that should be avenged? Are there any? Is there one American who would want you in the US, if they knew that?

    So, why were you issued a US visa? You aren’t welcome here. You aren’t wanted here. You should be banned for life from traveling to the US, and any sob stories you have about changing your effed up psychotic views should fall upon deaf ears. If you ever do decide to try to change your ways you can do that on your own time in your own country, where you belong.

  • @Craig: none of your questions were serious, which was i didn’t answer them. i generally don’t answer questions asked rhetorically. secondly, my challenge still stands…please find for me the post where I mentioned that “his assassination in syria was a crime that should be avenged”. if you are unable to find it and thus insist on giving an incredibly non-existant image of me as you continue to do, then your comments fall nothing short of slander.

    show us you have some credibility left in you and post the link to that imaginary mughniyeh post you insist exists.

    it’s a simple task.

    otherwise, save me your rhetoric. or, to put it your way: you’re not wanted here.

  • Hmm. I wonder if Craig can actually read. Maybe he’s dictating his comments? Hard for me to understand otherwise how he might consider the author of this blog a terrorist. If he can read, I guess he’s just proof that the American education system gets across the basics, but fails at teaching critical thinking.

    Yup…it’s people like that who make me embarrassed to be an American.

    Love the Black Iris; always thoughtful, always on top of events.

  • I have been waiting to hear about your impressions of the US, but you said very little about it. Well, I am still waiting.

  • I second your observation of youth from the Gulf. While I’ve met a handful of brilliant-minded gulfies as you call them, the majority demonstrate restricted thinking (of course I’m generalizing like hell). But the truth is they don’t know that they have a choice! It’s the way that their government, economy and society have been constructed – leveling thought to a safe limit. That’s why I moved from the Gulf to Jordan. Whenever friends think of making the move to the Gulf I ask them one question: are you going to make money or to make a difference (again generalizing)? Neither one is wrong or ‘bad’; just know what you’re after.

    Oh and out of curiosity… anyone else think Craig has a severe case of ADD and knows not where to divert his attention?

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