Egyptian citizen journalism 'Mosireen' tops YouTube

Bel Trew, Friday 20 Jan 2012

Mosireen, a media collective responsible for collating some of the most iconic videos of the Egyptian revolution, is now one of the most popular non-profit channels in the world after just four months of being on YouTube

Mosireen YouTube clip
Screen grab of a Mosireen clip released in the wake of the 16 December Cabinet sit-in crackdown

Mosireen, an Egyptian media collective of filmmakers and citizen journalists, has become the most viewed non-profit YouTube channel of all time in Egypt and the most viewed non-profit channel in the whole world this month. The group, which has only been producing videos online for four months, collates footage and video testimonies from filmmakers and people who attend protests in Egypt and disseminates these clips online.

This comes at a time when citizen journalism across the Arab world is playing a leading role in news gathering and challenging official media and state discourses attempting to quell dissent.

Mosireen is responsible for some of the most iconic videos from the ongoing revolution. Their key YouTube pieces include the coverage of the 9 October attack on a protest for Coptic rights in Maspero, when the army denied killing 27 protesters, and the memorial video The Martyrs of the Revolution, a definitive collection of footage of those who have lost their lives since 25 January.

“The success of Mosireen shows how people need a different type of journalism and how this new form is gaining more and more support,” explains Lobna Darwish, 25, one of the founding members of the Mosireen collective. “It’s not about being a professional filmmaker, it’s not about editing; the footage is from people who are volunteers and are not making money out of it.”

Darwish also emphasises how the clips are not exclusively shot by Mosireen filmmakers: “A lot of footage is donated by people who have risked their lives at the scene and are corroborating to make this network of citizen journalists, who want to share their experiences and get the information out.”

Working beyond the internet, the collective also runs workshops, training sessions, talks and provides meeting rooms and editing suites. During the July sit-in in Tahrir, Mosireen organised screenings of their short videos in the square. Cinema Tahrir, as it became known, was the inspiration for the recent de-centralised movement Kazeboon, which has seen informal screens set up across Cairo and Egypt, often playing films edited by Mosireen.

The name Mosireen, meaning the people who insist, comes from a play on the word Masireen (Egyptians) which is spelt in the same way in Arabic. During one of the sit-ins, a T-shirt was produced depicting the word Masr (Egypt) on the front but with tashkeel, intonation marks indicating the vowel sounds, changing the word into mosr, which means determined or adamant. This gave the group the idea for their name.

An additional touch to the name is that if you take the tashkeel from Mosireen and make it into a sentence, in Arabic it translates as: (domma) assemble, (iskar) break and (shad) pull together, which, the group add, aptly describes the rhythm of change in Egypt.

From the moment protesters first set up camp in Tahrir, they established a media tent where a small community of filmmakers congregated, and started to build an archive of footage shot during the revolution. When the sit-in was cleared, they lacked a common meeting space. 

Khalid Abdalla, 31 a filmmaker and founding member of Mosireen, had access to an empty flat. Together with other filmmakers, including Aida El-Kashef, 23, who was an integral part of compiling the initial archive, they converted the space into an office. Mosireen, although it hadn’t been named yet, was born.

“We came up with an idea to make it into a space were we could edit, help build the archive and support citizen journalists,” says Abdalla. “We aimed to do screenings, run workshops and training. Civic media became the citizen’s form of participation and of occupying media space.”

Others joined them and they aim was to collect footage documenting the human rights abuses by Egypt’s security forces into bite-size clips and immediately disseminate these videos via the web. “It became a war of stories,” Abdalla explains.

From the outset Mosireen recognised that those without access to a computer or the internet were cut off from them. Cinema Tahrir was the answer. 

Spearheaded by Omar Robert Hamilton, another filmmaker who had also been documenting the revolution, the group found a bus stop in Tahrir and set up a screen. As many of the filmmakers had become familiar with the archive, they used the daily screenings, which attracted hundreds of people, as a way of sharing the raw footage that many had not seen before.

July also marked a change in the relationship with the army making these screenings possible. “The July sit-in broke the taboo, it became more acceptable to condemn the army publicly,” Abdalla adds.

Mosireen rose to prominence in October when it released on YouTube a collection of clips from the Maspero protest, capturing military personnel killing protesters, even though the army and state media consequently denied the security forces were responsible.

Within two days the group put out Blood by Night, Grief by Day, a video documenting the relatives of the military’s victims mourning, which attracted over 17,000 views. Their graphic video entitled The Maspero Massacre: What Really Happened got over 13,000 hits and featured a mixture of testimonies from eyewitnesses, footage shot during the attack and of the victims from inside the hospitals and the morgue. Both were widely shared on Twitter and Facebook.

The team have tirelessly documented every march, protest, sit-in and battle, including gathering clips from people’s mobile phones and recording testimonies from victims of torture, detained bloggers and protesters maimed in the clashes. In many instances, traditional media channels have used Mosireen footage because they simply haven’t got the manpower to cover all the events.

“Mosireen's success shows the other side,” explains Darwish. “People are viewing these videos. When there is a war between what the state and the protesters are saying, people are looking for new ways to find this information.”

Hamilton agrees. “It shows how strong the demand for alternative sources of information in this country is, how little faith people have in state media and how much trust people are now putting in grassroots civilian action rather than corporate structures.”

It also, he adds, brings hope to the revolutionaries: “The fact that is the most viewed in the world this month shows that the Egyptian Revolution still resonates globally and people everywhere are deeply invested in seeing it succeed.”

At the close of 2011, Mosireen provided downloadable clips on their website, and started handing out DVDs so people could spread the information and further challenge state rhetoric. Each day more people subscribe to their YouTube account. Crucially, in the run up to the one-year anniversary of the January 25 uprising, Mosireen has been running a series of popular workshops on filming, editing and sound.

“In periods of massive social change, there becomes a certain urgency over ownership in stories and over the truth,” says Abdalla. “This is a revolution that was filmed by its people rather than by a news organisation and it is one of the first in history to be so… Mosireen is, in part, a reaction to that.”

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