With a late start and some journalists mistakenly sent to the wrong venue, Thursday’s press conference was not exactly a ringing endorsement for SHARE Beirut’s organizational abilities. But going by the same conference and most of the event’s speakers, the three-day free event beginning Friday evening will be laid back, fun and probably one of the cultural highlights of the year.
From what I gathered from speaking with event organizers, SHARE Beirut swallows the idea of a conference and spits out the stiffness, formalities and – let’s face it - much of the boredom. What’s left are cutting edge ideas from internet and social activism experts as well as new media artists, all presented in a casual setting. Those who have registered for the event can move between 20-minute talks and Q&A’s, panel debates and hands-on workshops, or just hang out with the likeminded and exchange ideas.
At night, SHARE morphs into a “dynamic music festival,” with “some of the best underground, cutting-edge music” in Lebanon, according to Filip Milosevic, one of the organizers. As for those who have not registered for the event, they can still attend the night events.
As previous SHARE speaker and Chief Blogger in Obama’s 2008 Sam Graham Felson puts it, “[SHARE ] is about important ideas. It’s about creating change. But it’s also about having fun. If everyone is serious all the time, we’ll get tired, we’ll get burnt out and we won’t want to create change.”
The event will mostly be held at Solea V in Sin al-Fil with other locations dotted around the city.
While internet is the glue that holds the speakers together, their interests and activism differs greatly. For instance, among the 60 daytime events running from midday to around 8:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, there will be a talk by Peter Junke, one of the people behind the controversial site “The Pirate Bay,” dubbed “one of the world's largest facilitators of illegal downloading,” and Flattr, a micropayments system which continued money transfers to Wikileaks when major firms like MasterCard had stopped them. Junke, like many other speakers, advocates for freedom of expression and an unregulated internet.
Talks will be delivered by a number of prominent bloggers from across the MENA region, such as Egyptians Wael Abbas and Sarah Abdelrahman, who used the online platform to challenge political and challenge societal injustice in their home country. As a number of speakers are expected to demonstrate over the weekend, the internet can empower the weak and challenge the existing order – or, at the very least, raise issues that might be overlooked by the media and the general public.
SHARE Beirut also promises to have frequent injections of humor with the ever-witty Nasri Atallah (of the Our Man in Beirut blog) and the likes of the hilarious prank collective Improv Everywhere. They are the brains the now annual “No Pants Subway Ride”. Improv Everywhere, like DIY culture pushers ALM and Lego artists Dispatch, will be holding one of several workshops over the course of the event.
The night acts will take place at Yukukun in Gemmayzeh; EM Chill and Radio Beirut in Mar Mikhael; the DRM, Metro al-Madina and Alt City in Hamra; as well as Solana V in Sin al-Fil.
Some of the best underground Lebanese acts – like Maryam and Ziad, the Beirut Groove Collective and Jade – will be joined by international artists and DJs, presenting fresh new sounds from electronica to hip hop. One of the best known artists performing is DJ Rapture, who released records on Soul Jazz and performed with Norah Jones, and will be performing at Yunkukun on Sunday night.
Quotes from some of the speakers
“A lot of the web is hidden and not accessible. We want people to understand the web as it is with that knowledge that they realize it is a resource worth protecting.”
Michelle Thorne, from the Mozilla Foundation
“Anything that can create creativity and innovation is of enormous importance and it should be welcomed. The idea of having an open and collaborative event is a great opportunity for the country.”
David Munir Nabti, chief entrepreneur and organizer at AltCity
“The internet is the most democratic tool ever created. We need to ensure everyone has equal access to it.”
“Having a conference is important because we have a lot of people who have a lot to contribute in terms of progressive ideas. They’ve never had a platform, that’s what is great about SHARE.”
Lea Baroudi, founder of civil rights NGO ‘March’
“The conference confirms Beirut’s role as a ‘freedom hub’. It is time to revive Beirut as the capital of dissent, free speech and creativity.”
Ayman Mhanna, executive director of the Samir Kassir Foundation
The idea of SHARE blossomed from the Exit Festival, which began in 2000 and has been held every year in Serbia. It was the “first major cultural event going on since the Yugoslav Wars,” according to Milosevic, and soon included a social aspect that focused on young people’s issues. “It had an impact on people,” getting them to think about other issues and energizing the youth, he added.
SHARE takes this further and focuses on the sharing of ideas and exchanging information. It launched last year in Belgrade and, for the first time, the concept moved abroad to Beirut.
The Lebanese capital was chosen over other cities because SHARE organizers were impressed with the energy and talents of some of the Lebanese they met during the Belgrade events, Milosevic says. On top of this, the city is “a special place: with diversity, an underground scene and enough freedom of speech to make it work,” says Vladan Joler, another SHARE founder.
For Joler, getting many of the country’s innovative minds in one area to exchange ideas and have fun is one of the main aims of the event. “New media can change lots of things and energize the underground,” adds Milosevic about his hopes for SHARE Beirut. “We hope it will return to Beirut next year.”