Marseille, July 8 and 9, 2014. The mistral wind shakes the summer, slapping everything on its way. The colour of the Mediterranean Sea turns towards a deep emerald green, crisped with foam. A shiver runs along the spine of the participants who crossed the Mediterranean and convened at the beautiful Villa Méditerranée, in Marseille, to defend their projects in the final selection of the first EBTICAR-MEDIA call for proposals, launched in April by CFI, the French international cooperation agency, with the support of FEI, France Expertise Internationale, and in collaboration with Babelmed.net (Italy) and the Samir Kassir Foundation (Lebanon) and Anna Lindh Foundation (Egypt).
The EBTICAR-MEDIA program is aimed at supporting the development of online media in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, the Palestinian Territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. With a funding of Euro 1,5 million by the European Union over three years (2014-2016), EBTICAR-MEDIA will provide concrete support to the most dynamic actors participating in digital innovation, after the wave of transformations that left an historical mark on Arab societies in recent years.
Catching up on lost time
Ebticar means “innovation” in Arabic. This definition is perfectly suited for the eleven projects that have been selected, as all of them represent a real avant-garde in their respective fields of intervention. Creativity, commitment, participation and technological competence combine in these initiatives, being of regional or global scope. But more in general, it is the overall quality and the quantity of the projects presented that best measures the richness of digital culture in Arab societies (see also the article by Catherine Cornet).
Out of a total of 130 projects presented, 26 were chosen to participate in the final selection. With funding for each individual project ranging from 20 to 80 thousands euro, and with a second call for proposals to be launched in January 2015, only between 10 and 12 projects could be approved during this session. The representatives of the organizations that submitted the proposals were therefore invited to Marseille, to defend their proposals in a 20 minutes pitch in front of the jury, composed by representatives of CFI and the other partner organisations. Criteria for the final selection included “relevance of the project, institutional capacity of the organization, innovative character of the proposal, and sustainability”.
The Arab media world appears to be lacking behind the evolution of International media. This is partially due to the limitation of freedom of expression and political pluralism, but also to the poor quality of media and the scarcity of investments in this sector, with the only remarkable exception of Lebanon. These are typical limits in authoritarian regimes.
Nowadays, as the Ebticar call for proposals shows, digital media are rapidly keeping up, and in the last decades have managed to expand rapidly. The police regimes present in a majority of Arab states have in fact stimulated the younger digital generations to develop strategies to overcome the usual 404 error code, “page not found”, that appeared for example when one searched the web for subjects considered sensible by the Tunisian Ben Ali regime. This resulted in a generation of talented bloggers and web engineers.
The adoption of open source software and the availability of free programming tools in English, and later on in Arabic as well, have contributed to the creation of a number of online media totally relying on voluntary work and on a commitment to contribute to social change, at least as “digital citizen”. All projects – those presented, finalists and winners – in this first Ebticar call for proposals are a clear witness of the strength, opening and creativity of this new active citizen movements.
Catherine Cornet and Nathalie Galesne
Translation by Cristiana Scoppa