We had a great Skype discussion with Egyptian journalist,Rehab El Bakry about the role media and social media play in the ongoing revolution in Egypt.
While Egyptians had no access to the Internet in 2000, the government put a focus on increasing the Internet availability. Actual memos report that the government at the time thought by making things like pornography widely available would distract people from thoughts of political unrest. Well, the government didn’t bargain for the other outlets the Internet would bring like Facebook and Twitter. “It’s funny but they actually built their own downfall,” El Bakry said.
Now 20 percent of Egyptians have Internet access, and social media tools were used to organize the “Day of Revolt” demonstrations in Tahrir Square on National Police Day. The Egyptian government was so threatened by the impact of the Internet that it entirely shut down mobile phone and Internet connection a few days into the demonstrations. This didn’t necessarily work though, because without being able to communicate electronically more and more Egyptians took to the streets to talk to and protest with their neighbors. Social media tools continue to play a large role in the ongoing revolution.
Check out this Interactive Timeline of the Egypt Revolution from the BBC.
Facebook started as “just a nice place to vent” before political activism began to become active. The difference between the revolution of today and those of the 1950s, was that with the Internet activists didn’t have to pass around leaflets, an illegal activity in Egypt, El Bakry said.
Another important turning point for social media’s role was in language itself. While tool’s like Twitter started as an English dominated tools, Activists quickly called for users to write in Arabic. When only 4-5 out of 80 million Egyptians read and write in English, it was necessary for the switch to raise awareness to more of the people. Using English was almost another form of censorship.
This was just some of the great info gleaned from the chat. El Bakry continues to blog on the happenings in Egypt here: http://themediachickie.blogspot.com/ Check it out!