|Since the protests broke out on January 25, 2011, new names have been making headlines on daily basis. Ranging from activists, politicians, opposition, Islamists and bloggers to former regime figureheads, a new set of names have been put under the spotlight, some we knew, and many, many others we didn’t.And that is precisely why students of the American University in Cairo (AUC) launched the Biographical Wiki Dictionary of the Egyptian “providing detailed information on the important political and social players in the revolution.”
The dictionary, although modeled after Wikipedia, is a comprehensive resource of the key players in the January 25 events that comes from academic sources that were checked and reviewed for accuracy, unlike most other online open-sources.
Well-sourced and double-checked, the dictionary is aimed to those studying current events in Egypt, be it researchers, academics, students or journalists. “This project would be particularly useful for anyone studying political science or contemporary history,” says Nareman Amin, history graduate and one of the major contributors to the dictionary, in a press release.
Isqat Al Nizam
What started out as a class on the Egyptian Revolution, titled Isqat Al Nizam (Bringing Down the System) and introduced in February 2011 with professor Michael Reimer, turned into a group project to research and document the biographies or figures from the revolution.
Hedy Ibrahim, a history and political science graduate and one of the contributors to the project, says the three sections of the class met weekly for the class, which was a comparative analysis between the Egyptian revolution and other revolutions in the history. The verdict was that January 25 wasn’t an uprising, it was in fact a revolution. “It reminded me a lot of the Latin American revolution in Cuba because it was very driven by the people and there was a lot of art and poetry, it was very similar,” Ibrahim tells Egypt Today. “It wasn’t similar to the Palestinian intifada or the Eastern European revolutions. It was a very interesting class and I learned a lot from to.”
Seventy-four-pages long, the wiki includes one-page biographies on figures like Alaa Abdel Fattah, Bothaina Kamel and even Youssef El-Qaradawi. “Basically youth of the revolution, government and former government officials, revolutionary icons, national icons,” says Ibrahim. “It is everyone mentioned in the revolution, anyone who had a role in the political sphere, there are no opinions, just elongated CVs so that when you’re researching you have to know who Khaled Said is and who Mubarak is.”
Students, however, found it harder than they thought it was going to be as they faced various challenges finding reliable, unbiased sources for in-depth information on figures who weren’t public ones before the revolution.
“There was a lot of contradicting information,” says Ibrahim. “But you do literature review to see the more credible sources and accurate information and you collect everything and write it down.”
They had to conduct interviews with bloggers and activists and form a network to ensure accuracy and objectivity of the information that will go into the bios.
The students decided to take the project a step further and offer a source others can resort to to find reliable information. Amin worked on the class project to cross-reference, update and edit all the information to prepare it the open-source biographical dictionary.
Anyone can Google Khaled Said and Alaa Abdel Fattah and get a Wiki entry or two, but the aim of the AUC biographical dictionary is to be a credible, reliable and accurate source. “It is the first biographic dictionary for the revolution and it is more reliable than Wikipedia because it has been checked and double-checked and the sources are mainly academic sources, which was a problem because we are writing contemporary history so there was a lack of academic sources,” says Ibrahim. “So we tried to choose the more credible news and academic sources.”
They also hoped to go beyond academic and research benefits of the project to document “the lives of people who rose up to the occasion and continue to fight for the demands of the revolution,” Amin says. “It also sheds light on the lives of corrupt and unjust individuals, many of whom are now behind bars. It should be a tool to help us understand our present better and stay hopeful for a better future, since, ultimately, change is inevitable.”
The project is still a work-in-progress and although it is now available for public, AUC graduates and students will continue to add and update the content. “Now we are launching it and telling people about it,” says Ibrahim. “But there are some talks about translating it into Arabic.”
Check the dictionary at the AUC Wiki or contact AUC on Twitter to see how you can help through their handle @AUC_Newsroom