The Mohammed Bin Rashid Library opens its arms for WikiArabia.
WikiArabia, one of the annual highlights in Wikimedia’s calendar, is being held at the Mohammed bin Rashid Library in Dubai (Oct. 28 — 30). The Dubai Culture sponsored event is the first ever conference edition in the UAE and the region and one of the speakers is Maryana Iskander, CEO of Wikimedia Foundation.
Iskander is an Egyptian-born American social entrepreneur and lawyer. She was appointed Wikimedia Foundation CEO this year and here she speaks to Gulf Today
How different is WikiArabia from its other versions, such as the English Wikipedia?
Wikipedia was first launched in 2001 in English. The Arabic version of Wikipedia started two years later in July 2003. Part of the work of the Wikimedia UAE User Group, and others in the region, is to increase the number of readers and editors on Arabic Wikipedia.
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The Wikimedia Foundation’s vision is that every single human being can share and access the sum of all knowledge. Ensuring that all language versions of Wikipedia deliver rich, diverse and inclusive content, is core to achieving this goal.
Does WikiArabia find it difficult to gather information from the Middle East? Are censorship and self-censorship an issue?
Across the world, the Wikimedia movement confronts issues of censorship and threats to the safety of its volunteers. At the Wikimedia Foundation, we believe access to knowledge is a fundamental human right, and that everyone should be able to contribute to sharing knowledge, education and culture online.
VIPs and Wikimedians of the UAE User Group at WikiArabia 2022 opening ceremony.
Our public policy efforts around the world help educate decision-makers about Wikipedia’s unique, volunteer-led model. We advocate for privacy, open and flexible copyright, and legislation that allows people to freely contribute content to Wikimedia projects.
You want to help build civilisation, but many a time are dismissed as “Wikipedia University”, meaning, it is no Ivy League. Please comment on this.
Over the past 20 years, Wikipedia’s community of volunteer editors has developed policies, guidelines, and tools for creating reliable content. One of these guiding principles is verifiability. Everything on Wikipedia must be validated by reliable sources such as peer-reviewed academic research and professional news publications.
This helps ensure the accuracy of the information on the website. One of the most powerful aspects of an encyclopedia that anyone can edit is that if you see something wrong — we encourage you to change it! Everyone can play a role in ensuring that knowledge on Wikipedia is accurate, up-to-date, and reliable.
What are the projects that WikiArabia will have in the Middle East to create knowledge gardens?
Across the region, there have been several different activities to contribute to free knowledge. Most Arabic communities participate in the WikiGap initiative, a global effort to increase content about women in different languages Wikipedias and bridge the gender gap.
Recently, we also finished an annual “Wiki Loves Monuments” photography competition which aims to grow images of cultural heritage sites in the Middle East and make them available to the public through Wikimedia Commons.
Maryana Iskander is the CEO of Wikimedia Foundation.
In addition, we celebrate special occasions such as the anniversary of Wikipedia and the international day of the Arabic language, to raise awareness of the Arabic language by conducting educational workshops.
Wikimedia’s efforts to raise and offer free knowledge can be seen as a colonial/imperial stratagem for information control. Is it so?
Quite the opposite. The vision of the Wikimedia Foundation is to build a world in which every single human being has access to the sum of all knowledge. We know that knowledge has historically been controlled by those in power, leaving vast perspectives, cultures and experiences either skewed or largely unwritten.
That’s why achieving knowledge equity is one of the two pillars of Wikimedia’s strategic direction, developed in collaboration with our volunteer communities across the world, including in the region. To achieve our vision, Wikipedia must reflect the world.
You can take information to a person but can’t make him read. What does Wikimedia Foundation do to generate the reading habit, especially in the Middle East?
One of the goals of the 2022 WikiArabia conference in Dubai is to collaborate to address issues like building more readership and contributions to Wikimedia projects in the Middle East and North Africa region. There are currently 10 Wikimedia affiliates in the region (Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Levant, Morocco, Sudan, UAE and Saudi User Group, Arabic Wikimedians User Group). Many of these are working on innovative ways to generate more awareness and interest in our free knowledge mission.
An initiative in Morocco helps promote “Reading Wikipedia in the Classroom” for teachers and students. Another effort, the Kateb Maktub project, enriched Wikipedia with more quality information on Arab authors. In a span of one year, the number of Arab author pages on Wikipedia increased to 9,418 pages with more than 78 million page views on the pages created as part of the Kateb Maktub project ... and growing.
What is your message for Wikimedians of the UAE User Group?
The Wikimedians of UAE group was established less than two years ago. They created an ambitious goal of increasing the number of Arabic Wikipedia pages about literature, and so far they have seen a 500 percent increase. They’ve done a lot in a short time!
The work they are doing to increase the representation of the region’s history and culture on Wikimedia projects in the Arabic language is deeply important to our goal of ensuring that everyone, everywhere has access to free knowledge.
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