MA Social Media student Noha Hefny considers the role of social media in recent events in Ciaro.
In the same month, two peoples of the Middle East took to streets, trying to overthrow dictators who had been ruling them or more than 25 years. Cairo and Tunis share the same problems of poverty, unemployment and continuous price hikes. And both of them were counted among the ten worst countries to be a blogger, and also they were listed as enemies of the internet.
If you gave three sheets of paper to three persons, everyone will use it differently, a child would make a toy out of it, an artist should draw something, a poet may write a verse on it…etc, as everyone is using what he or she gets according to what he needs.
In the Middle East, common people are not allowed to communicate freely, because of political oppression, social conservatism or both. Now, a new type of media has enabled them to voice their opinions with the option of staying anonymous, allowing them to be heard. The story started with a citizen journalism covering the few protests taking place initially and developed with social networks aiding mobilization of offline actions on the streets.
The first wave of popular protests in the Arab world was in Cairo late 2004, as some intellectuals gathered and started to chant ‘Enough!’ calling President Hosni Mubarak to step down. This was the first time a chant against the president was heard; people were orally circulating the story. In 2005, the scene was repeated, this time some people managed to take pictures, and others wrote down the chants, sharing them with friends. This encouraged more people to participate, and the protests were getting bigger offline and online. Egyptians number over 58 millions and internet penetration is 21.2% with hardware and access relatively cheap (20 cent/hour).
Social media take-up and protest was driven by young, middle class and educated people producing social media content, the rest is consuming it, until 3G mobile phones found their way to the country and aided wider democratic participation. In Egypt, you rarely meet someone does not own a mobile phone, despite poverty (55% of what?), so many Egyptians have more than one set and usually prefer the phones with an embedded camera. With such penetration, we have a tool in the hand of almost everyone hat allows the documentation of Egyptian life, from the election forgery to the belly dancing! This online activity and sociability helped to provoke discussion of critical causes such as torture.
See how many mobiles are recording
A turning point in recent developments was 6th April 2008. This date marks the first general strike in the history of Egypt, an event started by a group on Facebook asking people to stay at home. Though its success is still debatable, it was disturbing enough to the regime to get more brutal with citizens, arresting the two admins of the Facebook group and torturing one of them. Yet, Facebook was not blocked, Egypt is the type of internet enemy who tend not to block a websites, but to block its editors; it means to arrest them illegally!
Though, you clearly find smart use of social network during the ongoing protests, Twitter as an example; had the hashtage #Jan25 trending worldwide, as protestors are sending instant updates, activists are tweeting the numbers of arrests and injuries and lawyers who volunteered to offer legal support, have their own lists to connect them throughout the country.
Over the past ten days, Hosni Mubarak regime was using internet and mobile cut to punish protestors, and stop the word spread, between 28th January to 2nd of February both internet and mobile services were blocked, though so many discussions on Egypt appeared in social networks, on Twitter, the tweets on protestors were abundant enough to trend the country name world wide, in English, French, Spanish and Italian! After all headed of mainstream media were turned to the massive protests, social media was used by citizens worldwide to show solidarity with Egyptians, every night new tweets, blog posts, vlogs and mash-up videos uploaded to show support to Egypt uprising.
Now, as a social media student, the question I wish to get it answered is how the protestors in Tahrir square in Cairo were communicating over the time of their strike; how hundreds of thousands (2 millions in Aljazeer English estimation) were making their decisions and spread it among each others without having a mobile service or being online? I believe they have been using sorts of social non-digital media, something I will get it cleared from my friends who are in the protest now, but the violence and killings by plain clothes give them no opportunity to tell their media experience in the uprising.