CI VIEW: Google’s Schmidt making & possibly unmaking the Arab Spring UPDATE


WASHINGTON/TRIPOLI (CI MENA) (Updating on April 9, 2016 to add interview with father of internet Vinton Cerf) – It was surprising to see Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt casually walking between market booths through the winding streets of old town Tripoli with a small entourage of staff and two low-key PSDs (personal security detail).

[Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt speaks to Capitol Intelligence using Google Glass at New America Foundation in Washington, DC on May 22, 2014]

Mr. Schmidt was equally surprised to bump into a DC-based American financial reporter wearing an Italian suit and tie also strolling through the Kasbah on a late sunny January, 2012 afternoon fresh from a meeting with the Libyan Central Bank.

Schmidt’s Cairo-based government affairs head, Samir El Bahaie, scratches his head wondering how to contend with such an extraordinary Magherbian doorstep encounter on the dusty streets of the Libyan capital without the protection of a corporate PR representative to intervene.

A month later, I catch Schmidt trying to make his way into a reserved private meeting at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC with than Libyan Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib without being noticed.

On May 22, 2014, Capitol Intelligence went out to interview Schmidt using Google Glass at the New America Foundation he heads to ask about Google’s commitment to North Africa, specifically Tunisia following his meeting with Tunisia’s interim Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa at Google’s New York headquarters. Schmidt met Jomaa ahead of the Prime Minister’s historic meeting with President Barack Obama at the Oval office in April.

In an earlier conversation, Schmidt explained that he was interested in helping Libya “with its infrastructure needs” and that he had been touring North African countries such as Libya and Tunisia to see what Google can do in the region.

Meanwhile, much like Google’s El Bahaie, the political and financial powers in Tunisia and Libya are scratching their heads wondering why Eric Schmidt would allow Google’s You Tube to continue hosting “Innocence of Muslims” film clip.

[Google Chief Internet Evangelist and father of the internet Vinton Cerf speaks to Capitol Intelligence/Black Business News using CI Glass (google glass) at US Export-Import Bank of the United States Annual conference. Washington, DC. April 7, 2016]

The film clip, representing probably the most gratuitous anti-Muslim venom ever produced, sparked violent riots in Egypt and throughout the Muslim world, and indirectly led to the assassination of US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three US diplomats in Benghazi.

“What in god’s name is Google thinking?” a top political figure in Tunisia’s ruling Ennadha party asked. “If it was pornography they would have taken it off immediately, and for Muslims, this film is worse than any pornography, even child pornography.”

In fact, one could still view the Innocence of Muslims in Tunis a few days after a disorganized mob climbed over the relatively low walls of the US Embassy in Tunis. As a nascent democracy, Tunisia does not have the means of more developed countries such as Saudi Arabia, Russia and China to censor unwanted content from Google and Facebook or from any other source.

Meanwhile, Google with its market capitalization of USD 232bn, almost double the size of Libya’s soon-to-be unfrozen sovereign wealth funds, continues to defend keeping the anti-Muslim hate film on the You Tube platform it bought for USD 1.65bn.

Another key driver of the revolution that led to the overthrow of Tunisia’s corrupt kleptocrat Ben Ali and Libya’s Qadaffi – Facebook – played a leading role in the brief invasion of the US Embassy’s parking lot in Tunis.

On Wednesday before September 11 there was a small demonstration of 300 people in front of the embassy followed on Thursday with no-one at the embassy–but a Facebook alert regarding a demonstration on Friday brought out more than 2,000 people and completely swamped an unprepared Tunisian police force.

While social media such as Google’s You Tube, and Facebook were able to incite the Arab streets such as it did during the Arab spring– traditional media, both foreign and local – were entirely incapable of conveying that what appeared to be an embassy burning to the ground was in reality a massive Tunisian cock-up in crowd control.

In fact, the protesters managed only to burn a few embassy cars and a tree, leaving most of the embassy untouched except for a few windows. And the deaths, according to interviews with direct witnesses and police, were caused by road accidents and not by gunfire. The police at the scene confirmed that only rubber bullets and “soft” tear gas was used Friday and no live ammo had been fired showing commendable restraint by law enforcement in an extremely volatile situation.

At about 4:30 pm Friday (September 14, 2014), I was able to drive my Hertz rental car along with my Slovak event partner Fleming Gulf CEO Martin Valovsky between the Salafist protesters on one side, riot police shooting rubber bullets and tear gas on the other all while Tunisian street youth were hurling stones and bricks at police.

Driving through the melee, Salafist protesters put their thumbs up to greet us, the riot police started giving helpful traffic instructions and the stone hurling street youth politely stopped throwing bricks and rocks at the cops to let us, seemingly white Western tourists, pass unmolested.

The US State Department had only lifted its severe travel restrictions to Tunisia a few days ahead of his April 4 meeting with the President. The travel ban and restrictions cost the nascent Arab democracy hundreds of million and possibly up to USD 1bn in much needed US and foreign investment.

By PK Semler in Washington, DC, Tripoli and Tunis

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