An American graduate student has unmasked himself as the author of the “Gay Girl in Damascus” blog that prompted an Internet and media frenzy over the disappearance of an allegedly lesbian Syrian blogger.
Tom MacMaster, a 40-year-old American masters student at Edinburgh University, had disguised himself online for years under the pseudonym Amina Arraf, a political blogger from Syria.
The Amina Arraf character had risen to fame with “her” reports on the pro-reform movement in Syria, posting as “an out Syrian lesbian’s thoughts on life, the universe and so on.”
Last Tuesday, someone claiming to be Amina’s cousin wrote on the Website that she had been snatched off the street by three armed men and bundled into a car bearing a pro-government window sticker.
Rights campaigners reacted furiously when Mr. MacMaster came clean in a posting on his blog Sunday. He admitted that he was the sole author of the posts, Agence-France Presse reported.
“I never expected this level of attention,” Mr. MacMaster wrote in an “apology to readers” posted on the blog.
“While the narrative voice may have been fictional, the facts on this blog are true and not misleading as to the situation on the ground. I do not believe that I have harmed anyone -- I feel that I have created an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about,” Mr. MacMaster said. “I only hope that people pay as much attention to the people of the Middle East and their struggles in this year of revolutions.”
This prompted a wave of alarm among Amina’s online followers. A “Free Amina Abdullah Arraf” group was set on the social networking site Facebook, attracting nearly 15,000 followers.
But last Wednesday, cracks began to emerge when the pictures of her on the blog -- which had become notoriously known across international media outlets -- were revealed to have been taken from a London woman’s Facebook page.
Mr. MacMaster and his wife Britta Froelicher had been mentioned in The Guardian newspaper in recent days. Online bloggers had begun to uncover evidence that pointed towards them.
Mr. MacMaster is a Middle East activist, while his wife is studying at Scotland’s St Andrews University for a doctorate in Syrian economic development, AFP reported.
But rights activists were left angered by the exposed blogger.
“This just makes me so angry,” said one comment on the Facebook group set up to press for her release. ”The situation in Syria is too dire for this sort of game-playing.”
“Time and effort was taken away from other vitally important news stories happening in Syria,” another contributor said.
(Eman El-Shenawi, a writer at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: email@example.com.)