In the summer of 2008, a friend joked “Hey, Safsaf, why not Twitter? You’ll be hooked, I know you will.” She was right, I am hooked.
But the answer then to the “why not Twitter?” was simple, I wasn’t even au-fait with Facebook – let alone the challenge of immediacy and the intellectual rigour of 140 characters.
It was also fear: fear of digging up the battered corpse of my past activism, long dead after the Invasion of Iraq; fear of being irrelevant, obsolete, mixed with trepidation about technology and other related phobias.
Unfashionably Arab, Yemeni by birth, Egyptian by childhood, British when and where it mattered, I busied myself with other lives, work and occasionally some culture. Every now and again I’d ponder the possibilities of change in the Arab World, and listen intently to my dad when he echoed as he often did; “If freedom and democracy come to Egypt, the whole Arab World would follow”.
Twittering proper started for me on the evening of Tuesday 25th January 2011, “#25jan” for the Egyptian uprising. I had opened the account back in July 2010, but never used, or understood it, I had no inkling of what to tweet; no cause, no overriding passion, my thoughts for tweets seemed self-consciously driven and contrived. But all that changed markedly with Tunisia, and so completely with Egypt. I felt lighter, taller, smarter, I had a spring in my step – an “Arab Spring”!
Tunisia was phenomenally important: I remember holidaying there in 2004 and a Tunisian taxi driver telling me that the country was a “ticking bomb” waiting to explode in Ben Ali’s face. Fortunately, shrapnel from that blew up in neighbouring ossified faces, and helped trigger and displace one of the most entrenched regimes in the region, Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt.
It was suddenly a great privilege being Arab, finally people in the UK and the world were talking about Arab populations, about the Arab street. We had become Freedom Fighters, no debate. Peaceful Arabs rising up to tyranny and injustice. Wow. Could I get used to this?! I wanted to reach out to as many Arabs around the world as I could, in their respective countries and abroad. To follow the pride and glory of fellow Arabs, brave activists, great thinkers, bright young things, journalists, and women, amazing Arab women, twitterati supreme.
And thus began my twitter journey and an emotional reconnection to Yemen and its Twittering Ladies, and Gentlemen.