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The Internet has spawned an explosion of online communication, allowing those who were silenced to finally speak up. During the Arab Spring, the Web became as a tool for expressing dissent and organizing demonstrations. Signs of a backlash are now emerging and the Big Tent Tunis will explore the threat of growing government censorship

Our event is taking place in Tunis as the Freedom Online coalition gathers there for the first time in an Arab country. The coalition was launched in The Hague in November, 2011 when Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched the coalition at our Big Tent. Fourteen countries including Canada, Estonia, Sweden and the USA joined to promote Internet freedom.

Since the launch, Freedom Online has grown into a promising project. It has expanded into Latin America, to include Costa Rica as well as Mexico, and to Africa, to include Kenya and Ghana. Google has continued to support Freedom Online including at its second conference in Nairobi in 2012. Tunisia is not only the first Arab country to join the coalition but it is also the first to in the region to host its members. We thought it only fitting that we hold our first-ever Big Tent in the region at the same time.

Google’s Global Head for Free Expression Ross LaJeunesse will outline our goal to discuss the limits of free expression online around the globe, and in particular, in the Arab world. We’ll host a debate on the state of free expression in Tunisia with Ahmed Gaaloul, member of the Shoura Council of the Ennahdha Party and Slim Amamou, a Tunisian blogger and the former Secretary of State for Sport and Youth. We’ll also hear about the perspective from other parts of the region from Reem Al-Masri, Digital Education Director of 7iber inc, which develops training material for teachers to encourage the use of digital storytelling and social networking. The event will culminate in a debate between filmmaker Nadim Lahoud and feminist writer Joumana Haddad about art, feminism and censorship in the Arab world.

Although we at Google are biased towards people’s right to free expression, we also realize that this freedom has limits. Our goal in Tunis is encourage the Freedom Online coalition to continue fighting for online freedom - and to jump-start a debate about the state of online freedom in the Arab world.

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These are tumultuous, exciting times in North Africa, for all citizens, but particularly for journalists. Once subject to strict controls, the press in much of the region suddenly is free to report and write. We want to encourage the free press, so we recently teamed up with the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and the World Bank Institute to present comprehensive training on how our tools can benefit the media at IPSI (Institut de Presse & des Sciences de L'Information).

Some 26 journalists attended, selected from more than 300 applicants across Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. Our Tunis-based Googler, Khaled Koubaa, spoke about the importance of a free and open internet and how it has evolved in the region. Workshop sessions featured hands-on training (via translation) with search, trends, Google Maps & Google Earth, Google Fusion Tables and Google+, and YouTube. The World Bank focused on finding data, showing the journalists how to use census data, GDP, health statistics and many more useful sources of information. Each participant received a certificate signed by the the UN and Google.



During the workshop’s second day, some 22 local Tunisian journalism received a glimpse into the next-generation of storytellers. Some of these students (and working journalists) have already been witness to historic events across North Africa. While some of the practices of data journalism are relatively new for many of them, their enthusiasm to learn and share ideas and integrate Google into their efforts was both humbling and inspiring.

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Arabic content on the web represents just 3 percent of the total digital content online—yet Arabic speakers make up more than 5 percent of the global population. To help build a vibrant Arabic web, we’ve created Arabic Web Days, an initiative in the Middle East and North Africa focused on boosting the amount of Arabic content online. (Note: the video below is in Arabic only.)



For the next 30 days, we’re holding a series of online and offline events along with our partners Vinelab, Wamda, Yamli and Taghreedat, as well as Twitter, Wikipedia, TED, Soundcloud, and regional organizations Al Arabiya, TwoFour54 and Qatar Foundation’s Qatari Computing Research Institute. Here’s how you can get involved:
  • Participate in a series of Hangouts on Google+ to get tips and tricks from industry experts on contributing Arabic content to the web—through online journalism, YouTube videos, Wikipedia editing, translation of English content, SEO and more
  • Join the YouTube Tweet Up in Doha, Qatar on December 15 to learn how to create viral Arabic videos and make money through YouTube
  • Participate in the region's first Arabic infographics competition with Tajseed
  • Volunteer to be part of a TED initiative to create quality Arabic digital content via Arabic subtitling during a kick-off event with TED, twofour54 and Taghreedat in Abu Dhabi on December 4
  • Sign up for developer training at g|days in Jordan on December 5-6 and Egypt on December 9-10 to learn about Arabic localization, webmaster tools, SEO and YouTube for Business
  • Learn about the Egyptian Ministry of Education’s educational channels on YouTube which include different curricula from first to twelfth grade, as well as e-Lessons via video and Google+ Hangouts.
  • Celebrate 12/12/12 as National Arabic Web Day
  • Connect with us: add the Arabic Web Days badge to your site, upload a video to youtube.com/arabicwebdays, visit our website: www.arabicwebdays.com and follow us on Google+ and Twitter (in Arabic)
To get more details and to sign up for any of the above events, visit Arabic Web Days on Google+ or see the Arabia Blog. Until then, let’s go Arabic!

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Update: Nairobi Freedom Online videos are now online.

Internet Freedom is not just a concern just for the West - it’s an essential issue for the entire world. The Freedom Online coalition now counts 18 governments from all over the world, including two in Africa, and, underlining this global reach, the Kenyan government this week hosted the second Freedom Online Summit in Nairobi. We supported this initiative, which brought together more than 400 stakeholders from governments, business and NGOs.



The Dutch government launched the Freedom Online coalition in the Hague last November. We held a Big Tent at the event, which featured, among other luminaries, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She used the occasion to make a spirited defense of Internet freedom.

Kenya’s decision to hold the second summit demonstrates its role as a tech pacesetter. “I am proud to be the first African country to host this conference which confirms the country's leading role in adoption of information and communication technology in the region," said Information and Communications Minister Samuel Poghisio. More than 17 million Kenyans - a little more than a third of the total population, and the highest figure in sub-Saharan Africa - enjoy Internet access.

At Google, we believe free expression can be a spur for economic and social development. The more a country allows different voices to be heard, on and offline, the more knowledge it encourages citizens to obtain. This knowledge translates into innovation, economic growth, education and other signs of social success. During the conference, we showed some research demonstrating a strong correlation between the highest rankings in Internet freedom index and social and economic success.

The Freedom Online coalition continues to grow. On Friday, the Tunisian government joined. Moez Chakchouk, CEO of the Tunisian Internet Agency, announced the decision and vowed to host the coalition’s next summit in Tunis. We look forward to being present and contributing.

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Today, we are one step closer to finding the world’s next great storyteller. Ten finalists remain from more than 15,000 filmmakers who entered Your Film Festival. Each hopes to win $500,000 to produce new content with actor Michael Fassbender and director Ridley Scott.

During the past month, three million people watched, shared and voted for their favorite film on Your Film Festival. Among the ten finalists is Spain's David Victori Blaya for his short "The Guilt."



Two finalists come from the Middle East, Ramy El-Gabry's "The Time" and Lebanon's Niam's Itani's "Super.Full."



Find all the finalists below:

88:88, Joey Ciccoline & Sean Wilson (USA)
Bat Eyes, Damien Power (Australia)
Cine Rincao, Fernando Grostein Andrade & Fernanda Fernandes (Brazil)
The Drought, Kevin Slack (USA)
El General, Diego Pino Zamora (Bolivia)
The Guilt, David Victori Blaya (Spain)
North Atlantic, Bernardo Nascimento (United Kingdom)
Super.Full., Niam Itani (Lebanon)
Scruples, Adrian Powers (Australia)
This Time, Ramy EL-Gabry (Egypt)

The finalists will soon travel to Italy where to screen their short films at the historic Venice Film Festival. A jury led by director Scott and actor Fassbinder will pick the grand prize winner at a special ceremony on September 2. He or she will be able to pitch a new project idea to Scott’s production team. As part of their journey to Venice, Emirates has invited the filmmakers to stopover in Dubai for a series of events celebrating their achievement.

Join these filmmakers as they travel to Venice and stay tuned to the Your Film Festival channel where we’ll take you behind the scenes, tell you more about the finalists, provide special edition movie posters, and of course, unveil the winner.



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Cross posted with the Official Google Blog

The Arab Spring started in Tunisia, and it’s appropriate that Tunisia is now leading the way to a full democracy with their landmark free elections scheduled to take place on October 23. To help in this process, we recently partnered with startup news portal Tunisia Live to offer a training workshop in Tunis on Google tools and social media for politicians.

The turnout was fantastic; members from more than 40 parties and independent coalitions attended. The same day, Tunisia Live launched the Tunisia Talks channel on YouTube, channeling the enthusiasm of politicians to leverage social media and engage with voters. In this project, Tunisians are encouraged to submit and vote for top questions to the candidates, and many did so—for a flavor, see this example or this one. So far, more than 400 questions have been submitted.



This outreach is all the more exciting because YouTube was blocked for so many years in Tunisia. But when the regime collapsed last January, the site was unbanned and quickly became popular. Many Tunisian media outlets have set up channels to organize their video libraries on YouTube.

In this weekend’s elections, Tunisians will choose a constitutional council to write a new constitution for the country. Voters will select from lists of party members and independents. The Tunisian electoral committee has set up an official site www.isie.tn and is actively using social media to encourage voter registration—check their channel YouTube.com/isietn.

This is an exciting time in Tunisia. The media landscape—once limited and government-controlled—is now opening up to online platforms. Tunisians finally have access to a free Internet—and it’s playing a key role in building an encompassing political environment.