The Story Of Kawaakibi Foundation

On this New Year's Eve, we're taking a big step forward in launching our Patreon, which we hope will allow us to scale up, institutionalise, expand our team and become more regular. In this very special episode, we go through the history of our project from the early days of the Arab Spring through to the present.

This is our story.

Our project is a child of the Arab spring, and if you're interested in the evolution of resistance, this is a must listen.

Ahmed: It was 2011 when Iyad started his activism, whilst he still lived in the UAE, and between 2011-2013, during heyday of Arab Spring, the outlines of an intellectual project started to form. This is our story.

How It All Began

Between 2013 and 2016, when I realised I'm going to be arrested and getting back on my feet again - or feeling like I did - the entire Middle East completely changed. Not only the social and political realities in the Middle East, but also globally. By 2014 you had ISIS, 2015 you had the refugee crisis, 2016 you had the populist backlash.

So my entire understanding of my intellectual project in 2013 was focused on the indigenisation of liberty, specifically in the Arab and Muslim world - within a world where everything was possible, everything was open and you didn't have to constantly look over your shoulder (of course, you still had to, but it wasn't as repressive). The risk, of course, was always there, but there was a feeling of empowerment.

If something is completely theoretical, you don't have to think of specifics and practicalities. If you know that you're not going to get power in the next 50 years, there is no reason for you to figure out a taxation scheme that actually works and run the numbers for it. The Arab spring changed everything in that sense, because what had been impossible became not just possible, but suddenly urgent. For everybody who had an idea - Islamists, Arab nationalists, leftists, capitalists etc- there was no politics before, so nobody had to actually figure anything out. Suddenly, every project had to compete, and everybody had to have come up with a plan immediately. And at the same time of course, you're talking to everybody across the intellectual board.

So out of that came kind of the outline of an intellectual project that by 2013 became clear.

Ahmed: At that time, our intellectual project was no larger than a book.

The Beginnings Of A Project

Ahmed: To backtrack a step, this is around the time when we started working together - I think it was around 2012 when your Twitter feed came to my attention, and you'd be opening provocative topics about Islamic reform, about re-examining Islamic history and dissecting sacred cows, showing that what we think happened isn't really the entire story - it wasn't always this way. And I ended up trying to push you into writing this book.

What really spurred me to write this book right in the end was two events. First, a really bad August, with the Rabaa massacre and the Ghouta massacre - I knew that it's a matter of time before we have another wave of Jihadism, and I knew that Arab regimes were going to come after everybody.

The second event was a personal event, which is that I found out that my wife was pregnant. We were we weren't planning on becoming pregnant, but it happened and I realized that I had a deadline now. That's when we started regular recording sessions, I think we have around 45 hours of content or maybe more that year.

Ahmed: So after work I would leave my job and head to the nearest cafe and set up my laptop, every day from December to April, the day that you were arrested. We'd basically talk through an issue, produce a lot of notes, and then with the recording and the notes, I'd write, and slowly a book was taking shape. This was the original project, which we called the Arab Spring Manifesto - a manifesto for Islamic libertarianism, a post-Arab-spring Islamic human rights-focused vision that could compete and produce an alternative for our societies.

At the same time, by January 2014 it became clear to me that I'm going to be arrested eventually. I didn't think that they'd be so reckless and arrest me right away, I thought that maybe if I keep a low profile and stop tweeting the more influential stuff, delay some of my media projects, reduce my Arabic output and do commentary rather than analysis…

Ahmed: basically look less threatening.

Yeah, and of course, now I know that it doesn't help. Keep in mind what was happening around me - everybody was getting arrested and silenced, we now know that they were being beaten and tortured. In the UAE it was silencing, the assault came in Egypt, where a lot of my colleagues and comrades were. In Syria, this was after the Ghouta massacre in 2013, and it became became clear that the more extremist elements were on the rise - because that's what happens when you commit such massive massacres, people feel like… "I don't care who I support so long as they get me out of this".

Ahmed: So it was basically a really dark period in the Arab world, and the forces of authoritarianism were rising everywhere, and they were coming after everyone.

They were triumphant. I think I tweeted this exactly - think they won and they're coming after everybody who believed.

Arrest And Expulsion

And then, of course, came the arrest - end of April 2014. At that point, nobody knew what happened to me. Just that on April 29th, Bassem Sabry, my dear friend, fell to his death in Egypt, and before we could process the news, the next morning I was arrested.

Ahmed: So you're basically in shock and grief, and those were the last things that you tweeted that night, and your account didn't tweet again for six months.

Yeah, and of course many people assumed that, you know, he's grieving. Maybe that protected me because I was afraid of the news coming out. I thought that if the news comes out, they wouldn't release me - if people started trending #freeIyad, they'd double down. It becomes an embarrassing PR problem for the country and either they deport me immediately - doesn't, matter where, and most likely that would have been Egypt because I had an Egyptian travel document (for stateless Palestinian refugees), and if I end up in Egypt I end up disappeared, probably dead. Or they will have to justify why I'm in jail, in which case they'll invent something to charge me with. Because initially they didn't charge me with anything - I was not tried. And of course, I was extremely worried about Ammara, who was seven months pregnant at the time. So I ended up in Malaysia.

Initially, they said you have to leave - we have nowhere to send you, so you have to wait in the deportation chamber indefinitely. But there was a way out, because if a country allows me in and I pay for my ticket, then i'm allowed to leave. Otherwise, I'm in jail indefinitely. Eventually, of course, they would come and they say there's only one place you can go - Malaysia - because that's the only country that allows visa-free travel to Palestinians. So it became a choice of jail or Malaysia. Of course, I chose deportation as soon as possible.

I lived in the airport for 26 days, because Malaysia initially didn't allow me in. But we actually continued working even through that, we had some text discussion sessions during the time I was in jail. I was in Malaysia for four months trying to sort out my paperwork so that I'd be allowed to go to Oslo to join the Oslo Freedom Forum, and we were still writing throughout that time.

Eventually, I came to Oslo - that's when we met face to face

for the first time. And then, after the Oslo Freedom Forum, I ended up living in the refugee camp in Norway for three months. Again, some of our best content came out during that time.

Ahmed: You're basically living in the middle of nowhere in the far north of Norway...

Not the far north, it was about 3.5 hours to the north of Oslo. But it's basically on the Swedish border, which is nothing but woods, and it's the coldest frontier, because it's away from the sea and it was winter - between November and February.

Ahmed: This is how Iyad went from living in the UAE to being a political refugee and exile dissident. It was not a smooth transition or a soft landing.

The Refugee Experience

So anyway, after I got asylum, 2015 proved to be quite a traumatic year. When I was when I was arrested, it was tough, but I felt like I could do it. And of course, the traumatic part was that the worst outcome I could ever imagine as of 2013 - losing my country - I was suddenly put in a situation where that was the best remaining possible outcome, because that was the only way for me to to survive and not end up in jail for a very long time or dead.

Ahmed: And I remember this was very difficult for me to understand this for a long time, because obviously I didn't experience it. I'm sure any normal person would expect that the day you're arrested by an authoritarian state which does not have rule of law and does not respect human rights at all would be the worst day of your life. But in fact, far from it - it actually got a lot worse.

It's really the fact that I became truly stateless - before that I was theoretically stateless, but I had a country - the only country I'd ever lived in. I had a life there, so my statelessness was kind of theoretical. Suddenly it became a reality, in a sense that it wasn't just a legal thing, but I actually had nowhere to go.

Anyway, 2015 ended up being productive intellectually, because thankfully I had enough friends around Norway and around the world so I always had somewhere to go, and my brain was thinking. People have different defense mechanisms to deal with trauma, but my defense mechanism was to crowd out all of these really dark thoughts by focusing completely on work,

Ahmed: and we wrote a lot of stuff together in that year, which is still sitting in archives unpublished and 3-4 years later, and it's still ahead of where the public conversation is on some topics today.

At that time it was the high point of both the refugee crisis and ISIS, so a lot of what what we wrote at that time was about radicalization, as well as a lot of epistemology and philosophy related to Islamic intellectual history. I think we didn't touch the Arab Spring Manifesto or Islamic Libertarianism since then, because our interest kind of shifted. And of course, having saved my own skin, 2015 was spent really trying to save my family, and it was a mixed bag - they're physically safe, but they're not well.

Our Projects' Evolution

So by 2016 the intellectual project had shifted - a lot of stuff that was post-Arab-spring got added into it, like the Radicalisation Roadmap (another upcoming project), which was created in 2015. The populism stuff and work on the behavior of authoritarians too - that that was conceived initially 2011, but it evolved a lot in 2015-2016.

Ahmed: And not only the material was changing, but also the structure of what we wanted to do. When we started working together, we were writing a book, and then at some point we decided we need to create a think tank.

That was 2015, when we started to think… now that I'm free to build, or rebuild, in a country which allows me complete freedom of speech, the horizon of what I could accomplish was different. But also, there was another psychological reason - when I was writing a book, I was part of a movement, and I thought that it's going to be one book among many books by the Arab spring generation. It takes some time to write a book - you can't expect us to write books in 2011 or even 2012 - but 2013 would have been the expected time when political theories start coming out, novels start coming out etc.

Ahmed: People start building for the future

Exactly, and unfortunately the tragic part is that 2013 is when everything ended.

Of course, when I was arrested I had no idea where I was going to end up, and there was no guarantee that I'm going to end up in Norway. That's why when I look at my own my own journal or my own tweets, sometimes i'm a astounded by the almost blind faith, saying that "I don't care - I will say the truth, and if they come for me, they come for me. I know if i know in my heart that i'm doing this for the right reason, I accept any outcome". That's when i started to think that we have to build more. Keep in mind that my previous career was in startup consultancy. I'd never worked with nonprofits before, I worked with commercial startups, but building ecosystems, building companies, building project plans and business plans etc, was part of my experience.

Ahmed: But we were also looking at a lot of activists who had basically burnt out and gone back to their pre-Arab spring day jobs, and thinking if we really want to produce a sustainable change we need to be sustainable ourselves - we need to be able to support ourselves, and we need to be institutionalized. We need to create an institution that backs us rather than depending on people who may support us and may not depending on which which way the wind blows.

In 2016 I had to write the proposal, because I had to apply for funding. The moment you come down to writing a proposal, you have to clarify your thinking about a lot of stuff which was kind of in your head, with a timeline, etc.

Ahmed: and you have you have to boil down ideas into projects

So I immediately sat down and created the content plan for a 15 article project that we called Islam & Liberty. At that time we didn't mention anything about a foundation - we said that Islam and Liberty was a project, and eventually we will have a think tank or a startup, and that organisation will assume responsibility for this project which was started as a personal project. It was supposed to launch in late 2016, and we thought that our mandate is wider than just Islam & Liberty - it was one theme that we were interested in, but really the wider theme was authoritarianism, and that's why we picked the Arab Tyrant Manual - being a very well known internet brand or hashtag since 2011, we already had this captive audience, people knew what it is and what it's about.

Ahmed: This was during 2016 and I remember our plans took a big turn with the US election...

The Populist Wave Breaks

So in 2016, as you mentioned earlier, there was the issue of independence. During 2014 and 2015, even though it seemed like the world was falling apart around us, when it comes to the Arab world, and ISIS etc, there was a lot of sympathy. When I met with politicians, even even people who today we would associate with the right wing or the populists, in 2015 they were sympathetic to the cause of liberty. They (politicians) would receive us very warmly; I would be invited to various events, there was interest and there was a lot of sympathy with what happened to the Arab spring because it was inspirational for so many people. So at that time, the idea of a think tank, we thought that we could easily get funding. This changed between 2015-2016, when it became clear that security became a bigger priority

Ahmed: So as we were trying to promote this and seeking funding, doors were slowly closing around us as people were shifting their focus from the idealism that they had and the optimism of 2011-2012, to a more short term focus - Europe has a radicalization problem, Europe has a refugee problem, we need to solve these two problems now, and this takes priority over the long term ideal of democracy and liberty. And we were still pushing against this and trying to secure the funding, and then in October 2016 (actually November), all of a sudden the doors shut.

So it it was really 2016 with Trump's election, between securing the funds, which was on September, and the election, we were preparing to launch. And then we received the news about about Trump.

And there was another thing that happened that really did factor in, even though we don't acknowledge it, which is that in November, again, I received a direct threat from ISIS. They added my name to a kill list, which they were distributing among their telegram channels, urging lone wolves to take action. I remember when these two things happened, we emailed Fritt Ord (a Norwegian foundation which contributed some funding) and our other stakeholders, and we told them that we're going to change the structure of this project and delay the launch.

Ahmed: We were also thinking about our theory of change - how do we as writers, researchers, thinkers actually produce a change in the world? Because we've seen people who are, you know, probably as smart as we are at least - that's kind of flattering ourselves - but they basically sit in their ivory towers for a lifetime and produced loads of really brilliant research... it was that gulf of understanding between the elite on the everyday man that was jarring and disillusioning. And we were thinking, how do we not become that and how we actually have an impact?

Around this time we developed these concepts of 'indigenisation' and 'popularization'. In order to make an idea succeed you have to indigenous it, which means to express it within the cultural background and in a way that is faithful to the history of the community you're talking to. So if you're talking to Muslims about liberty, you don't want to be mentioning John Locke, John Stuart Mill and other people who wrote in a European context addressing European problems that were very different from problems the Muslim world faced. These ideas existed in Islamic history, you just need to actually look at how they emerged in the Islamic context so they don't seem foreign.

We were also thinking about popularization, because it's not enough to have an idea -you also have to promote it and push it toward mass acceptance. How did an iPhone go from being a product from a company that had no background in phones to completely taking over the market? How do you do that with an idea? How do you take an idea from having a very small constituency to being an idea of mass appeal and mass acceptance? Our projects were evolving around this, because we were thinking that we can't just be researching and producing reports and papers or even newspaper articles - we need to be doing this stuff in multi-media formats accessible by different kinds of people who live in different parts of the world, speak different languages, use the internet in different ways, some listen to podcasts, some watch videos from social media, some read books, some read articles... How do you push an idea, and enable it to gain mass acceptance? Because just writing articles is not the best way to do that.

So our project evolved to take this into account on we went from being a pure conventional think tank... I remember i was writing quite a lot of notes around this time about what is the 21st century think tank looks like...

Keep in mind also that classical think tank would be trying to advocate something to a particular government, and we were not that we were talking to the public. We wanted to achieve ideological change, rather than policy change.

Ahmed: So we were reinventing a think tank simultaneously, to turn it from sort of a policymaker-facing research institution into a public-facing research institution - a think thank for the benefit of the public, and also reinventing the think tank for the digital age, which a few people are quietly doing, but it hasn't really hit the mainstream yet

So in 2016, we were still thinking that we're going to apply for grants - our financial model had not caught up. What we probably missed is the fact that all of a sudden this project that was supposed to be writing a well-researched article per month became writing the article, producing videos, podcasts, infographics, etc. So it went from work which can be done by a single person to something that requires a media house.

Our Crowdfunder

And so we entered 2017, and I believe it was right around the inauguration, that we had our launch, in the Norwegian language. Around the same time that I said now I had to buckle up and do all of this work and fundraise, and the amount of work increased tremendously, the amount of political volatility that we were dealing with increased dramatically - not only after Trump, but also Arab dictators. It's a bit of an untold story - Arab dictators went bonkers, because they were so happy that they now had space.

And in 2017 that's when the PTSD symptoms started to mount, and the pressure. Our fundraising activities became far less effective after Trump, as fundraisers shifted from "lets fund projects related to democratization and liberty etc" to security and jihadism studies. And by 2016-2017 that became clear to us. I guess we were trying to fundraise on our own terms…

Ahmed: But also a few major funders who had expressed significant interest and even invited us to speak at events, they basically stopped returning our calls.

And it became clear that if you want to get funding, you will have to massage the message, so to speak, which means the topic of the day is not democratization, the topic of the day is security studies, terrorism studies, counterterrorism, radicalization, jihadism. You cannot speak about democratization and anti-authoritarianism etc in the Muslim or Arab context without making it about extremism.

Ahmed: And a lot of organizations sort of shifted their missions, and we weren't willing to do that. And that's, aside from the fact that they were being so incredibly short-sighted - because how do you expect the end extremism if these governments in the middle east are still crisis factory?!

That was actually something that i almost made a reputation for myself by speaking about at awkward times, and saying that you have to tackle the root causes. So had we accepted that premise, first of all, would have lost our mission, and secondly we would have been sucked into dependence for grants, because we would have built an organization with salaries to pay, office rent etc, all dependent on the grantors. We started to think that we don't want to go this route of becoming dependent on institutional funders

Ahmed: We thought about this and tried to figure out who can we trust, who will back us and who will support us without these undue demands, and who will put their trust in our mission and our ability to achieve that? And there was only one answer, which had been staring us in the face - our audience.

Yeah, and that's when that's why in 2017 we decided to launch a fundraiser. To be honest, we weren't completely explicit about what we wanted to do with the funds, because at the time our own plans were evolving, we ourselves with still thinking what is the priority. Of course, we still needed to pay our own salaries etc, but also… are we going to put this toward a media budget, or are we going to put this towards an event program, or…?

Ahmed: So that summer we launched a crowdfunder, and our audience backed us incredibly generously. It sort of blew our expectations out of the water, that we hadn't even explicitly said exactly what we're going to do with this money, but people just dived in.

I was skeptical about how much to ask for - maybe we should find herself for a couple months? But we eventually got $35,000! At the time we're still wondering, should we do institutional funding or should we do audience funding? And we also got some institutional funding - not enough to run things - but throughout 2017 most funding we got was from from our own audience.

PTSD Rears Its Head

And of course, when it came to implementation, that's when we hit the major snag, which was the PTSD worsening ...

Ahmed: The PTSD was rumbling in the background this whole time, and you were struggling with it, and trying to still ignore it and not talk about it.

To be honest, i thought that settling down and getting to work is going to make these symptoms go away. In 2015 when I consulted with some friends who have some background, they said you have to build a new normal. I thought, you know, that means I have to get back to work. That didn't happen. Obviously it's not something that you can just shake off.

I hesitate about saying this... I tried to kill myself twice in 2017. It got that bad. And it was only when it got that bad that I realized... this is a threat to my life, and I need to seek professional help. Otherwise, this is something that can actually end my life. And that's when I started to seek institutional help, not only in terms of therapy, but in terms of the Norwegian bureaucracy - "Listen, guys, I'm a refugee. You accepted me as a refugee, I have certain rights and I never received them".

Ahmed: So just listening to this, it kind of makes me realize in a way I didn't at the time how crazy we were - you are a stateless refugee, you've been kicked out of your country, as has your entire family by that point. You've made it to Norway and been accepted as a refugee, you still can't open a bank account after over a year, so you don't have a living at that point, and yet you're a fellow at Norway's leading liberal think tank, and we're trying to build an institution. And you can't even open a bank account!

At the time I was really frustrated, I guess you were as well - we basically felt like everything we try and do was like running headlong into a wall repeatedly. But at the time we were pissed off ourselves, we were like - why can't we achieved what we set out to achieve?!

We were very hard themselves. For me personally, it was this feeling of guilt, and this feeling of responsibility that says that "You need to be more effective. You need to rise up to the occasion and rise to the responsibility. A lot of people have their faith in you". And it almost broke me in 2017. That's when i started to seek professional help.

Ahmed: A little after raising the funds, we started to re-evaluate everything.

We realized that we had an open mandate with the funds, as we hadn't announced the specific usage. In fact, after raising the funds that's when we actually told our audience this is what we want to do. That's when we started to think that, first of all, we need to be independent and sustainable, and we need to be public facing. We completely gave up on the idea of advocating to governments, because it was clear to us that they're short-term-focused, and we would be shooting ourselves in the foot if we tethered ourselves to policy discussions and such changing short-term priorities.

I also say that it was good that we had flexible funding in 2017, rather institutional funding, because otherwise it would have been devastating, because I wouldn't have been able to take any time off for myself or try to take care of myself.

Ahmed: If we basically had external deadlines and formal requirements, we would have crashed hard. We would have been asked to give the money back, we would have been in debt, and your trauma would have been so much worse. So effectively, the crowdfunding saved us.

There was another event which I kind of overlooked. In April 2017 when when I got a second warning from ISIS, one that was more personal because the other one was putting my name on a kill list, and someone told me. This one was a direct message, addressed to me and saying "we're watching you". That's when I went to the Norwegian authorities, and maybe that was one off the dominoes that led to the PTSD blowing over.

Our Book

Of course, the projects at the time were how we were also going to fund ourselves writing books. We were negotiating a book deal throughout 2016, and 2017 is when it actually happened. By 2017 and after all of this happened there was this block which is contractual. We had taken an advance to write a book, and the book had to be written.

Ahmed: And we had to take the advance to fund you to live.

I was 3 months late on rent when I got the advance in mid-2017. So the rest of 2017, from August to the end of the year, is when we started to think in terms of launching a second platform, the Arab Tyrant Manual - we promised our audience a media platform, right? Thinking about the Arab Tyrant Manual was, i guess, a stroke of brilliance for two reasons. First of all, we were kind of jumping on one leg, because Islam & Liberty was that topic that people were interested in back in 2014, and nobody was interested in come 2017, but it was still as central as ever. But we were jumping on one leg, and the Arab Tyrant Manual gave us the other leg, because it was about authoritarianism, including Trump's authoritarianism. Very quickly we found that we have more content for the Arab Tyrant Manual than for Islam & Liberty.

Ahmed: And also, that's how we connect the research that we want to do to current events and current priorities without compromising our vision.

So that's how the Arab Tyrant Manual came to be. And of course the plan was to start with the podcast, and then start the Arabic podcast, and then start publishing articles and stuff. Around this time it became clear to us that Islam & Liberty would have to be a much more focused and concentrated project.

Ahmed: Islam & Liberty would be a much smaller, tighter group of writers who are much more unified on the intellectual orientation of their ideas, whereas the Arab Tyrant Manual would be more open to a wider range of contributors who are all pushing in the same direction, which is against authoritarianism.

80% of our output is going to be on the Arab Tyrant Manual, and 20% on I&L - in terms of quantity rather than quality. I&L will produce really ground breaking stuff maybe once every two months, while the Arab Tyrant Manual is more about consistent output week after week and hopefully day after day as well.

So in 2018 that's when we had to take a break and actually write the book, because the publishers were getting annoyed.

Ahmed: So we started the book the end of 2017.

Keep in mind, I applied for help and therapy sessions in August, I believe, and it took them 2-3 months to get back to me. So I think my first session was in October. The period in between was pretty terrible, the most terrible PTSD symptoms I've ever had, like nightmares, hypervigilance, the dissociative episodes and disorientation - like you don't know where you are or when you are. I was weirded out because the one thing I could always rely upon is my brain. And if your brain is playing tricks on you, that part itself is probably more traumatic than the symptoms - the fact that you feel like "I can't even trust my own senses". And I had to write a book while doing therapy.

Ahmed: It's a good thing you got the therapist by the Trump election because I think we all needed it by then!

There are a lot of personal difficulties at the time too. My father's condition continued to deteriorate, my marital situation kind of broke apart. So 2018, we had to write the book. I remember working over the Christmas break (2017), because for two weeks, Oslo almost goes to sleep, because everybody goes to cabins outside the city, or skiing.

Ahmed: And I left my job and came over here to kickstart the book.

So we actually finished the book. There was another round of editing in June, and I submitted the manuscript at the beginning of July, back and forth with the editor. During this time we were still publishing the Arab Tyrant Manual podcast on a semi-weekly basis.

Ahmed: and the book is finished. It's called The Vicious Triangle: Terrorists, Tyrants and the West

Excellent title from an excellent editor, by the way.

So in 2018 that we started to think that we need to shift into an audience funding model, since our audience have proven that we can lean on them, and we don't want to get sucked into institutional funds and let go off our independence, and become completely dependent on grants that may or may not come.

Of course, the platform that allows this is a Patreon. I think the really important bit to explain here is: forget what we publish on my Twitter account and on our institutional Twitter accounts Islam & Liberty and the Arab Tyrant Manual, the amount of discussions that we have literally daily from 2013 to now - it's an entire second timeline in which we discuss things much more deeply, with a lot more presumed knowledge (of participants), and maybe workshopping ideas that we may or may not be published.

Ahmed: And normally we don't publish - we have thousands of documents, notepad files

And chat history. I think if there's ever a digital museum, then our Facebook chat history should fit into that.

This could become kind of a two tier a system whereby our front facing content is always going to be open and free. So because a lot of research goes into this, and i was always really annoyed with Washington Post or New York Times where it only allows about three articles a month, so when we came to designing our own policy we said we don't want to do that. However, behind the paywall comes our own privileged discussions that are extensive and daily. We basically let you into our own internal discussions about what's happening, which to be honest are more interesting and really high quality in terms of ideas, but not polished enough to be to be published.

Ahmed: And they're often more provocative...

When I had 5,000 followers I could say whatever the hell i wanted, because I didn't have that big an audience, I didn't have that many trolls and haters. But then, when you have 100,000 followers, your brand and image is kind of politicized.

Ahmed: So almost all of the time when we're talking about Islamic reform, we're doing it in a closed chat room.

Even political stuff, - I mean, just now we had a discussion about the sustainability of the UAE, and we even came up with a timeline for it, saying that by 2036, the UAE will likely look like an apartheid state.

Ahmed: Before that we were talking about why China can never be the preeminent global superpower because they're not universalist, which, we have no plans to publish any time soon just because we don't have the time

And there's also the fact that we wrote a report about MBS in 2016, predicting everything up till now, and I think every couple months we used to dig it up like, now is the time to publish it.

Ahmed: No, I used to dig it up and pressure you, and I feel really guilty because I'm pretty sure I played a major role in your PTSD. I’d be like, ‘Iyad why aren’t we publishing this?’ And then I'd come back like a month later, ‘Iyad we need to publish this.’

Yeah, it’s crazy, but you know, so what we want to do now, I mean, this is the next phase off Kawaakibi Foundation - we're going to launch our Patreon page, which allows you to support us and put your money where your values are. But it also lets you unlock our behind the paywall kind of private discussions, which, as I said, it's basically a running commentary that goes back five years.

There are other perks depending on the level of support that you want to offer, and they are not only available for funders because we need desperately to expand our team. We don't have the funds to hire like 20 people, but we're going to treat volunteers as if they’re backers - if you donate three hours or more of your time every week, then we're going to treat you as if you're basically one off our financial backers. So it's not... we don't want to pose it in such a way that it's only people who pay us money who access our behind the paywall content, it’s also volunteers.

The plan is that we want to have consistent output, we want to solve the problem of so much content and inability to publish it.

The Future

Ahmed: So we want to build these two platforms: Islam & Liberty and the Arab Tyrant Manual.

There's always a lot going on, and it’s frustrating when you're working on the most volatile topics and countries in the world, and you have no funds. We're doing this because we believe in the cause, but the idea here is that we wanted to create a funding model which is tied to our publishing. And the only one that actually makes sense is audience funding.

Of course, the goal is to have consistent output. We haven't set the target's exactly yet, let's say expecting three articles a week going up to an article a day, going up to attracting more contributors so we can actually start having a platform which actually publishes 5-6 articles a day.

Ahmed: And we have some really cool contributors who have already agreed to join. I'm so excited to announce one of them.

The real call over here is that we need your support on Patreon. We hope to make it worth your while and your money. But I hope that you understand that if you want to take action according to your values, you have to really back people you believe in and back teams that you believe in. And this is still operating as a two or three person team; myself, Ahmed and Kholoud, who is our designer and creative lead.

Ahmed: With a few volunteers around us who've also been supporting us.

Shout out to Sana, you’re great Sana.

Ahmed: Sana is our podcast editor. And you know Nasser, who is a regular contributor to the podcast.

And of course, really great names that were kind of holding back, even though we can't hold our excitement, but this is going to be a collective - a writing collective - and we're going to have some really great names. We're going to be in English and in Arabic eventually.

Ahmed: We're going to try not to get anyone deported like Iyad.

Even though it's a possibility when you're working on these kind of things...

Ahmed: We are genuinely having these discussions daily behind the scenes - how does this person who wants to contribute, contribute without getting in a lot of trouble?

So one good thing is our audience imprint on the Arab Tyrant Manual currently. The interesting thing is that if we look at our all time listens, all time top cities, if you look at our readership base, we find that our top cities are Arab cities, even though we haven't even started speaking in Arabic. So this this is exciting, this is incredibly exciting because we're kind of blending these two audiences, highly respected academic intellectuals and voices and a majority Arab audience - even before we get into Arabic.

Ahmed: And neither of them are shouting at us, so we must be doing something right.

It is important to notice how we got here, and how we decided to move from the conception of Kawaakibi Foundation as a pure think tank to a platform builder, and we want to be one of the most important, if not the most important platform to discuss matters of Islam and liberty, Arab transitions, and of course, Arab tyranny and the resistance to Arab tyranny.

This is the part where I say the Arab Tyrant Manual is a project of Kawaakibi Foundation, and this was the story of KF, and how the Arab spring gave birth to this project. You can find a link to our Patreon here, and I can't emphasise enough how important your support is to us - we've decided to permanently connect our work to your support, and you will shape this project as we build it together.

We consider ourselves to have completed our launch successfully once we’ve hit 1000 supporters.