A resourceful new generation of Egyptians are using determination and technology to bring their voices into the open.
What follows is her story of how she and others have used social media in recent weeks. While technology has played a role, Egyptians who put their lives at risk for their beliefs have had the biggest impact:
I’m almost 22. I’ve lived in Egypt since I was 5 (spent the years before that in France). I signed up for Twitter I think 2 years ago or so, but only started using it intensively in the past 7 or 8 months.
Twitter is a very important tool for protesters, as evidenced by the fact it and Facebook were repeatedly blocked in Egypt as the protests flared up. We use it to campaign and spread the word about protests/stands–hashtags are invaluable in that respect, and to share news quickly and efficiently, with our own 140-char commentary on them, and subsequently have conversations with random people/complete strangers. But most importantly, it allows us to share on the ground info like police brutality, things to watch out for, activists getting arrested, etc. A certain class of activists are armed with smartphones, which allow them to live-tweet the protests (for example, some people tweet the chants, because they’re often funny and interesting). When it comes to organisation, I think Facebook is the main new media tool there. Twitter trends also help us gauge how visible we are to the international community (my trends feed is set to Worldwide, and I know a lot of people have it set to various places in the US). Making our voices heard, making sure people outside Egypt are aware of what’s going on is very important to us, especially with the recent cell lines and internet blackout last weekend.
One more thing is that the government has recently been trying to make use of social media–in a painfully awkward (but not surprising) manner. I’ve seen several Twitter accounts with few tweets and no more than 5 followers/following, tweeting about how bad the protests are for the stability of the country, how great the president is, etc. It’s always the same few tweets, with the same wording, over several accounts. But most of the government’s propaganda is done over state TV, which is unfortunately far more convincing to the average Egyptian citizen than a bunch of young people on the internet. But right now, we’re planning how to use social media to counter government propaganda that paints protesters as violent, confused youth, misled by “foreign elements” into harming our own country. We need to enter the conversation with people who believe what they’re told on TV, and the best way to do that is using social media to present our arguments in a calm, logical manner.
For years, the ruling party portrayed the political scene in Egypt as a struggle between themselves, the secular National Democratic Party, and the Muslim Brotherhood, with the Egyptian left wing completely marginalised for lack of inspirational leaders. We, the non-Brotherhood opposition, were left waiting for a magical spiritual leader a la Obama, who would inspire us to revolt against the NDP. Tunisia showed us that a popular revolution can take place and topple a dictatorial regime, without the need for strong leadership and tight organisation. January 14 was the day we started believing in January 25.
Tying this back to Twitter, the Tunisian revolution was barely covered by traditional media until Ben Ali fled, but the #tunisia and #sidibouzid hashtags allowed us to follow the events for the whole month beforehand. I think that further convinced us of the power each of us has to effect change.