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Thursday
Feb242011

Libya's 'Love Revolution': Muslim Dating Site Seeds Protest

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(TRIPOLI, Libya) -- To avoid detection by Libyan secret police who monitor Facebook and Twitter, Mahmoudi, the leader of the Ekhtalef ("Difference") Movement, used what's considered the Match.com of the Middle East to send coded love letters to rally the revolution.

It was "for the freedom, not for the marriage," he told ABC News.

The Libyan businessman-turned-opposition leader said he was never politically active before, but as he watched revolutions topple governments in neighboring countries, he knew he needed to act.

So he created a Mawada profile called "Where Is Miriam?" and pretended to be on the hunt for a wife.

The conservative site doesn't allow men to communicate with other men, so other revolutionaries posed as women to contact him, assuming aliases like "Sweet Butterfly," "Opener of the Mountain," "Girl of the Desert" and "Melody of Torture."

To complete their profiles, they answered the site's boilerplate questions, such as "How much of your face do you cover?" and "Would a shared marriage be acceptable?"

On the site, the revolutionaries used poetry laced with revolutionary references to gauge support and make initial contact. Then they had detailed follow-up conversations via text message and Yahoo Messenger.

The phrase "May your day be full of Jasmine," for example, is a coded reference to what's been called the Jasmine Revolution sweeping the region, Mahmoudi told ABC News.

He said the response, "And the same to you. I hope you will call me" meant they were ready to begin.

If the undercover "lovers" wrote "I want love," it meant "I want liberty," Mahmoudi said.

They also communicated in code the number of their comrades supporting the revolution. The five Ls in the phrase "I LLLLLove you," for example, meant they had five people with them. If a supporter wrote, "My lady, how I want to climb this wall of silence. I want to tell the story of a million hurts. ... But I am lost in a labyrinth. … Maybe we can meet on Yahoo messenger," it told the writer to migrate the chat to Yahoo Messenger so as not to raise the suspicion of the monitors, Mahmoudi said.

When Mahmoudi created his pretend profile on Mawada, he figured 50,000 supporters would be enough to take to the streets. But using various aliases on the dating site, he said he ended up with 171,323 "admirers" by the time Libya's Internet crashed last Saturday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio