Tarek Shalaby: Citizen Journalist, Activist and in Military Custody for That

Most people know the micro-celebrity Tarek Shalaby as the blogger, and activist who was among the first to camp out in Tarir as early as Jan 30th vowing to leave when Mubarak was ousted. His tent, named Bansyon El Horeyya, became a meeting point for some revolutionaries, and soon enough emerged versions 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the tent. For me, I mostly know him as my very good friend who always calls me by my full-name, has a special laugh whenever he talks to me on the phone and feels the need to share his love for me with his 12,000 followers on twitter.

When Libya was in its first days of the revolution before the foreign intervention, Tarek and a group of friends raised 40,000 Egyptian pounds and took a convoy to Benghazi and Tubruk to not only deliver aid but show solidarity with the Libyans.

Tarek, always an advocate of the Palestinian cause, volunteered in refugee camps in Shatila, Lebanon helping guide Palestinian refugees on using the internet as a means to get their message through. He is a strong believer in citizen journalism and used his own technical and experiential expertise to help the Palestinians spread awareness about their cause since most western media focuses more on the pro-Israeli side of the story.

In April of this year when people started mobilizing for the third Palestinian intifada, we had the first protest in front of the Israeli embassy this year. Tarek was there for most of the day (even though it was my birthday and he was kind of obsessed with going partying…) reporting what was happening on twitter and live streaming on Bambuzer.

Power to the people

We had been making plans for a few weeks with some friends to make it to Rafah to peacefully protest on the border with Gaza in solidarity with the intifada. The original plan was to join the convoy of 30 buses that were taking activists to the border. However, the SCAF directly ordered touristic operators not to rent out buses going to Rafah. So that plan didn’t go through. As a group of 14 people, we managed to get three cars and took a trip to attempt reaching the border. We knew chances were slim to get there, but we decided to try anyway. Tarek’s car managed to reach Arish (very close to Rafah) and was denied entry at the last checkpoint before Arish. Our cars only managed to get to Port Foad just at the start of North Sinai (after taking a ferry up north from Port Said).

Map showing route from Cairo to Rafah (bordering Gaza)

After a long day and night of trying to coordinate ourselves and spending a lot of time in check-points, we had a nice day in Port Said on May 15th, and headed back to Cairo. On our way back, we were reading on twitter that the protest in front of the embassy was being attacked by tear gas (the same expired tear gas they used on us at the start of the protests) as well as rubber bullets. While most of us decided to go home, Tarek and the crew in his car decided to go check out what was happening.

Tarek was tweeting and broadcasting videos on Bambuzer from the night. He’s always been an active blogger and social media enthusiast. He believes everyone has a role and a passion, and he likes to place himself as a citizen journalist and reporter from events and protest as he upholds a high degree of journalistic integrity (even if he’s not technically a journalist as we define them traditionally…) and is committed to reporting facts.  Below are a series of tweets from the night of is arrest. And here is a link to the Bambuser video he broadcasted during his arrest.

Tarek has been released on Thursday the 19th of May, after standing before a military court and getting a 1 year suspended sentance. His accusations were: – Public Gathering and – Destruction of Public Property (not even true). The rest of the detainees from the Israeli embassy were also released by most of them got 6 months to a year with similar accsuations.

Every since the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (commonly known as SCAF) took over Egypt after Mubarak’s ousting, we have seen a number of human rights violations such as:

– Criminalizing protesting with economic disruptions

Military trials to civilians

Torture of activists and violently  dispersing protests

Testing virginity of female protesters

Media censorship on anyone criticizing SCAF.

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