In a region where the media is often polarized and controlled by the vested interests of politicians or the business elite, and where media often doesn’t speak to public needs, Raseef22 stands as a beacon of hope. After the Arab Spring, the digital media platform launched as an independent outlet, pioneering new approaches in the region such as the creative use of visuals, a wide network of citizen journalists, and a human angle contesting the often dry, surface-level coverage of the MENA region in mainstream media. In August 2023, Raseef22 celebrates one decade since its inception.
As the biggest independent online media network in the region, Raseef22 also focuses on minority issues, across the lines of ethnicity, gender, and religion; aiming for inclusive, democratic, and free societies. The platform offers writers and readers a safe space to discuss ideas and challenge the status quo dictated by political regimes, patriarchy, societal norms, and censorship across readership geographies. Raseef22 is an RNW Media partner, harnessing the power of diverse young people for collective action in the MENA region through new and innovative pathways for change.
Palestinian journalist Rasha Hilwi is the Editor-in-Chief of Raseef22 and Lebanon’s Chrystine Mhanna is the Projects and Readers’ Relations Coordinator. We spoke to Hilwi and Mhanna about their inspiring work, and the co-creation process with RNW Media under the Masarouna programme.
What is the focus of Raseef22 under some of the current partnerships?
Rasha: Since we started Raseef22 almost 10 years ago, we had broad focus areas, and we were among the first platforms in the region to focus on SRHR for example. The only difference is that we covered it in greater depth, including the intersectionality with other areas of focus. There’s also a current focus on depth – communicating at a deeper level with civil society, as well as activists from across focus areas and geographies, is also a priority. We try to shift from only tackling issues relevant to Beirut, a dynamic city where a lot is happening, to also cover issues relevant to the refugee camps and rural areas.
How has the partnership with RNW Media been beneficial for the platform?
Chrystine: The co-creation process has also really helped support Raseef22. As an independent media outlet, Raseef22’s work has had high levels of engagement with audiences, but we really needed another eye to help us strategize. It was immensely beneficial to reflect with RNW Media; the meetings we had were a good opportunity to reflect on our work and focus more on our needs. It’s an ongoing process; aspects like helping our comms team in developing channel strategies has been helpful on many levels, enhancing our digital performance.
On the project levels, what has also been effective for us is that while Raseef22 has always been well-connected to partner organizations and media outlets, and CSOs, our partnership with RNW Media has deepened our on-the-ground ties with civil society actors. Whether it’s through workshops, trainings, or events like the Digital Media Impact Summit held in Egypt to convene partners, all these spaces helped amplify connections, and an opportunity to explore how we can collaborate through on-the-ground, grassroots work. It immerses us much more deeply in this network, so we can collectively influence.
Could you tell us more about what’s ahead?
Chrystine: We’re looking forward to working with RNW Media beyond Masarouna, tackling digital media, and networking with other organizations and digital platforms. We also aim to cover SRHR-related topics in countries beyond Lebanon. Another aim is working towards Raseef22’s financial sustainability. There’s a lot happening on both the content creation and organizational levels.
The context in the region is very complex currently and can be hostile to digital media platforms. How do you see this?
Rasha: As we celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Raseef22, the platform was founded at a time of immense challenges. When we were founded in 2013, after the revolutions, the ground was still ripe. It was like a volcano in the region, and as we know after a volcano the land is ready to reap anew. So, this is how Raseef22 was created, from a reality witnessing immense challenges but also hope. Currently, everyone is trying to hold on to hope in various ways. The demands we protested for were never realised; we didn’t become freer and more just societies, our systems didn’t become more democratic. But we hold on to hope, to continue to exist, like the oases in the desert around which people gather. At times, those people might be alike, other times not so much, but they speak to each other. In this way, we continue to create spaces for dialogue, spaces where people can express themselves, and spaces where the media is concerned by and protects the public interest, speaking through them rather than on their behalf.
This is at a time when spaces are becoming more restrictive; injustice and oppression is magnifying, our political systems are not sided with the people, or the vulnerable, so in my opinion the real challenge is to continue to exist amidst this reality. As an alternative media outlet, the circumstances are not the best, but we hope for better.
Chrystine: It’s a challenge to stay relevant and survive. Sustainability, our continuity, is a challenge. Things are changing rapidly, so we must adapt swiftly. Our ability to prioritize social justice and transfer this message may become more difficult, so we’re trying to keep up with new trends and find new ways to speak to people – that’s what we do every day at Raseef22, whether that’s on the editorial front or the comms front, directly communicating and better engaging with our audience as the industry evolves.