Thursday, April 21, 2011

the Role Social Media in the Egyptian Revolution

Thinking back of the reasons that lead to such historic triumph requires me to give certain credit to some figures who played an important role in this revolution.
Firstly it was created by youth, most of the people who participated and called for the protest were young students and graduates in their 20s and from the middle class society in Egypt .
 Secondly Dr Ahmed Nazif  the Egyptian Prime Minister .Being the first Minister of Communication and Information Technology in Egypt from 1999- to 2004, Dr Nazif played a crucial role in raising the rates of Internet and mobile penetration in Egypt.
In this short period he worked on privatizing the mobile network services, and allowing private investments in internet services. His continuous efforts in raising mobile and internet penetration were the reasons to nominate him as Prime Minister of Egypt on july 2004 and Ironically to quick him off  the Cabinet 7years later.
 Dr Nazif helped the youth to be exposed to the bigger world and to share their views and opinions on the social network websites specially: facebook, twitter, youtube …
He created a Youth society that lives in a bubble unable to implement their ideas and serve their country in the real world.
This dilemma was quite reflected in several calls for online/offline protests before the 25th of Jan like :
The 6th of April 2008 strike which started on Facebook by Israa Abdelfattah a blogger and activist who wanted to show solidarity to workers in Mahalla city.
the 9th of March movement by the Cairo University professors who were seeking University Independence from all hidden roles the ministry of Interior was playing in students elections, selecting the Deans of the faculties and many other things. 
"Kefaya" aka Enough another famous movement against Mubarak regime who has been in power for 30 years.
Though such strikes and protests didn't stop the regime's brutality or reduce corruption it created a growing pool of anger among diverse sections of the society.
In my opinion, the political movements alone were not the reason but the political movements main strength was breaking the barrier of fear.
People got used to see protests and knew that protesters won't be harmed if they go in large numbers, this exact feeling was inspired by Tunisian Revolution before anything else.
In 2009, when Gamal Mubarak  the president's son and head of the policy committee in the National Democratic Party (NDP)   was   asked in a press conference if the party will start a national talk with the pressure groups and facebook activists he smiled and made a joke out of the question.
This reflected how the regime was  discounting the impact of  virtual talks. In addition, no one at that time thought that the activists of the virtual world may have a strong influence on the Egyptians and that is due to several reasons :
Firstly the gap between the vivid life in the big cities and the emptiness in the rest of the country specially the villages and the rural areas where the high rates of illiteracy and poverty. Secondly, Contrary to most policies in the Middle East region of  blocking certain websites the Ministry of Interior had a totally different strategy that consists of monitoring the bloggers and arresting them when it's required and that is what happened with Wael Ghonim the Admin of the Facebook page Khaled Saiid which protests against police brutality, Israa Abdelfattah, Wael Abbas and many others.
So how the revolution was accomplished ?
According to some experts one of the key success factors of the Egyptian revolution is that it was a leaderless act. no individual heroes as we used to have in the Middle East no Abd-El-Nasser no Sa3d Zaghlool, no single icon it is the power of people organized using technology. This is the trend that is leading the world now .. WE is much better than I not just in production but even in working and getting credit.
I remember quite well at that time, I used to get on my facebook page pictures and slogans of each Friday protest with clear objectives why are protesting ? what are our demands ? where are the meeting points ?
The persistence of sending updates of what is going on the ground with live footages pushed people who were never activists or cared about politics to take part and assist in the revolution. Our Tunisian Counterparts were quite helpful by sending us pictures and advices on how to deal with tear bombs or the police brutality.
Though the revolution have started on facebook  and twitter it became afterwards everyone's protest  and it gained more strength by the solidarity and support of all pressure groups that failed in the past years to make a change. This might explain why blocking the internet was not a smart idea to stop the revolution
All these actions didn't stop the people specially after turning Tahrir Square into a center point for all Egyptian protestors.
On the second week of the revolution the social media appealed to be a trustable reliable source of information and footage. Bloggers and activists were recording every event, facebook and twitter users in and out of the country were copying the status bars of their peers which was mainly about calls for blood donations, rescuing injured, adding the link of a new article or footage from Tahrir Square. There were pages for missing people and for those who lost their lives during the protests, video clips of policemen shooting on civilians or thugs attacking on camels and throwing stones protestors . 
Since the 25th of Jan till the 11th of Feb, the Egyptians were exposed to 18 days of unstoppable flow of information from the social media to the extent that newspapers and tv talk shows were editing stories based on what was written and discussed on facebook, the Military council and the ministry cabinet had started their pages on facebook to send their messages to the public and sometimes they were sending SMS or emails when there was  a need for urgency.
From my personal living experience the social media gave the people the feeling that they are not alone, i am angry and so do you but how many of us share the same feeling? social media gave the answer and provided a new way for communication.
It also saved  the revolution by continuously informing the people of what is going on on the ground, and what's not mentioned by the classical media.
It is without any doubt that our generation is quite lucky to have such tools, as for children and the coming generations they will be able to read about the Egyptian revolution from what was recorded from the media and the social media. To keep such important documents saved, the National center for Archives in Egypt has decided a few weeks ago to add all digital documents of the revolution including recorded testimonials of the protestors who were in the streets standing bravely to bring liberty to Egypt.

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