I was in Tunis a few weeks back for the 3rd Arab Bloggers Meeting (which has had a rough share of crappy media coverage, but that’s a story for another post). What most news agencies rushed to right about in regards to the 3rd Arab bloggers meeting was the least controversial aspect: the inability of the Palestinian bloggers to attend, or should i more accurately say, the Tunisian securities’ refusal for the Palestinian bloggers’ visas. I’m not saying that that is not a significant aspect that should be in the spotlight, but, am simply reminding you that that is the safest thing to talk about since the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in Arab Media Stations and community is a one way conflict; you can’t really go wrong with it.
You can’t go wrong with it, but can be inspired by it, that’s for sure. I got back from Tunis to Beirut, and then again to Cairo for Arabnet Cairo, only to phase yet another conflict for a Palestinian’s visa.
Ayman Arandi, an aspiring entrepreneur, Palestinian, living in Ramallah, was shortlisted for the Arabnet Cairo Startup Demo. He applies for a visa to Egypt (makes sure they know the reason and the date for the conference) as soon as the announcement is made and starts the travel arrangements in the hope that he could make it to the event. Ayman goes to Jordan on the Sunday before the conference, calls the embassy which announces to him that the visa will not be ready for another 10 days!!
At this point is was a two way road: back to Ramallah, or fight for Egypt. Ayman sends me an email on Tuesday saying that he is heading to Cairo Airport on a plane from Amman anyway and he will do everything he can to get the visa at the airport.
I’m not an expert on these situations, but i was scared. Egypt is amidst a turmoil of internal squabbles, elections are coming up, the overall situation is not exactly ideal for risk takers and activists. It was an insane move! Many hours later i get a phone call from a +972 number with Ayman on the other end, and i can hear the smile across the line, saying:
“Hi, I just made it through the Cairo Airport, i kept negotiating until they gave me the Visa. Oh, sorry, this is Ayman Arandi by the way.”
I don’t think me or many other people who think of themselves as brave would have been determined enough to have taken the move that this person did, to leap on a plane and go. But this person did. Maybe it was a sum of the circumstance, maybe it was meant to be, for those that believe, or not.
Some may think this is a crazy story. I think it’s inspiring; Ayman got on that plane to tell the world about his project: Marhaba Palestine, to tell the world that there is tourism in Palestine and that it is still a beautiful country being demolished by the media day-in and day-out. He reminded me of the logo of Marhaba Palestine itself: a hitchhiker, with his needs all packed up on his shoulders.
Thank you Ayman for such an inspiring story and character. It was a pleasure meeting you.
I have to admit it took me sometime to buy into the possibility of tourism in Palestine, but why not? What are doing this summer? How about a vacation in Palestine?