Friday, 18 February 2011

Article discusses how the internet especially twitter played a vital role in Egypt

Protesters have been using a range of different media - including Twitter - for communication

This article by Ann Alexander is a fascinating look at how twitter and facebook played a critical role in the events in Egypt. The Web 3.0 lab has seen this kind of usage of social networks in other countries like Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and we followed it in Tunisia.

A few days after the fall of Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, a Jordanian newspaper printed a joke apparently doing the rounds in Egypt: "Why do the Tunisian youth 'demonstrate' in the streets, don't they have Facebook?"

Only six days later, protests across Egypt co-ordinated by a loose coalition of opposition groups - many of which are very largely organised through Facebook - seemed to prove this cynicism wrong.

Certainly, the Egyptian government reacted quickly: blocking social media sites and mobile phone networks before pulling the plug on Egypt's access to the internet.

This act of censorship was spectacularly unsuccessful.

Friday 28 January saw literally millions take control of the streets in an epic "Day of Rage". Nor did the blackout cut off news of the demonstrations and stop protesters communicating with each other.

Protest leaders had already agreed to call for demonstrations starting from key mosques, and marchers rallied at Friday prayers before heading for the city centres and key government buildings.

Satellite channels - particularly al-Jazeera - broadcast live coverage all day, constantly updated by telephone reports filed from landlines by its network of correspondents across Egypt.

Broad spectrum

The events of 28 January are particularly important, because they contain crucial clues to understanding the broader relationship between the media - both "new" and "old" - and the mass movement for change which has developed in Egypt over the past few weeks.

Firstly, the fact that an internet and mobile phone blockade failed shows clearly that this movement is not based on the web. In fact, the movement which erupted on 25 January has brought together many groups who have taken to the streets over the past 10 years.


This is the first time they have all demonstrated together, and the first time they have been joined by millions of their fellow citizens. But it is important to understand that this movement builds on a legacy of protest by many different activist networks, most of which are not primarily organised online.They are varied socially and politically, ranging from workers to bloggers and democracy campaigners, to senior judges, to members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Coptic Christians.

Secondly, it is clear that the protesters use a range of different media to communicate with each other and to get their message across.

I was in Tahrir Square on Sunday: everywhere you look there are mobile phones, hand-written placards, messages picked out in stones and plastic tea cups, graffiti, newspapers and leaflets, not to mention al-Jazeera's TV cameras which broadcast hours of live footage from the square everyday. When one channel of communication is blocked, people try another.

Every mass movement needs spaces where political alternatives can be debated and organisation can take place.

In the 1940s, the last time that Egypt saw mass protests on a similar scale, radical bookshops, underground newspapers and illegal trade union meetings played this role.

For the current generation some of these spaces have been online.

I asked Ahmed, a socialist activist in Tahrir Square, what role he thought the internet was playing in mobilising protest.

"Online organising is very important because activists have been able to discuss and take decisions without having to organise a meeting which could be broken up by the police," he said

Anne Alexander is a Buckley Fellow at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Cambridge

Read full story here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12400319

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