13 March 2011
The iconic tools of the Russian Bolshevik revolution were the hammer and sickle. So what will be the emblem of the Egyptian 25 January movement—assuming that real revolution does come about?
Judging by Egypt’s revolution for change, it cannot be denied that that technology was the agent of change. Social tools like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, which enable people the world over to speak, gather and share information, played a substantial role in mobilising the popular Egyptian uprising.
Perhaps it was unexpected, but digital democracy came about in the region of the world where it was most needed: the Middle East.
Making it happen
During the months that preceded 25 January, a group of young Egyptians pooled their ideas and campaigned for a demonstration that would call for freedom, equality and social justice through a page on Facebook Boycotting the media, they turned to social networking tools to stay connected. During the first days of the revolution, which began as mere peaceful manifestations of the desire for change, protesters sent messages on Twitter telling each other which routes to follow and warning which to keep away from in order to avoid police presence. All this prompted Mubarak’s regime to hit the kill switch on the entire Internet service in Egypt. It must be said, though, that Twitter and Facebook were not fighting the Egyptian police or the Mubarak regime; it was Egyptians. However, these social tools made it happen.
The Internet rupture caused complete paralysis in Egypt, not just in the business world but also for an entire people who found themselves secluded and unable to contact those inside and outside the country. Thus there were sighs of relief when, a few days later, Internet services were restored.
As the days passed and events in Egypt escalated, Egyptians from all walks of life remained online, sharing their speculations, expectations, hopes and concerns on Facebook and other sites.
On Friday 11 February, as the world waited for Omar Suleiman, the then Vice President, to deliver his famous speech announcing that Mubarak had stepped down, Egyptians followed the proceedings minute-by-minute on various media channels and updated each other through Facebook and Twitter. After Mubarak’s abdication was announced, many cheered and applauded, others remained wary while others still were sceptical of what was yet to come. Whatever their feelings, all exposed their different emotions on Facebook pages.
Army on Facebook
Only a few days after taking charge of the country for the coming transitional period, the Armed Forces launched a page on Facebook to communicate with Egyptians in the Egyptians’ ‘new language’. Coming from an institution notorious for its conservatism and austerity, this smart initiative came as a surprise which helped further endear the Armed Forces to the people. Right after the page was established, Egyptians responded by subscribing and posting comments and recommendations. It must be said that the Armed Forces reciprocated by constantly updating their site by delivering sometimes up to three messages per day explaining their endeavours to answer the public’s demands.
The Cabinet, then headed by General Ahmed Shafiq, following suit. Almost two weeks after Mubarak stepped down, the Cabinet—headed then by Ahmed Shafiq—launched its own Facebook page as a platform to stay connected with the people. It took more time, though, for Egyptians to respond positively to the Cabinet’s initiative; especially given the hostility which had built up to a substantial portion of Egyptians towards the then prime minister, who for many represented the Mubarak regime.
Sharing a laugh
All through the revolution and up to now—except of course during the days when the Internet was down—Egyptians, who are notorious for their sense of humour, never ceased to share a laugh or amusing anecdotes related to the events on the Internet and Facebook. They also created pages and groups which expressed their different orientations, such as condoning the revolution, the Army, the Cabinet, or condemning certain public figures.
Digital social networking has definitely become the order of the day.