- Politics and Social Issues
Tech Gadgets and Revolution
Google's Wael Ghonim Leads a Revolution
Without Facebook the People Would be Faceless
Social media did not inspire revolution but it enabled revolution. In Egypt the media was strictly controlled by the government for decades. In a country where about thirty percent of the population is illiterate television and radio are very powerful. Al Jazeera and the Mubarak regime used the media early on as social rumblings began to stir to incite Muslims against Christians in order to "refocus" attention away from regime change.
Consider: on September 15, prominent Egyptian Muhammad Salim al-Awwa, ex-secretary general of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, appeared on Al Jazeera and, in a wild tirade, accused the Copts of "stocking arms and ammunitions in their churches and monasteries"— imported from Israel, no less, since "Israel is in the heart of the Coptic Cause" — and "preparing to wage war against Muslims."
He warned that if nothing is done, the "country will burn," urging Muslims to "counteract the strength of the [Coptic] Church." Al-Awwa further charged that Egypt's security forces cannot enter the monasteries to investigate for weapons — an amazing assertion, considering that Coptic monasteries are not only at the mercy of the state, but easy prey to Islamist/Bedouin attacks.
Needless to say, these remarks have inflamed Muslim passions (not to mention paranoia) against Egypt's Christians, who make approximately 12% of the population. To make matters worse, right on the heels of al-Awwa's "monastery-conspiracy-theory," Islamist leaders began to circulate baseless rumors that the Church and Pope Shenouda III "kidnap" Coptic women who willingly convert to Islam, and trap them in desert monasteries, "torturing" and "re-indoctrinating" them back to Christianity — even when the women in question publicly insist they never converted to Islam.
Due to all these allegations, since last month, there have been at least ten mass demonstrations in Egypt — most numbering in the thousands — condemning the Copts, the Coptic Church, and Pope Shenouda. The "Front of Islamic Egypt" issued a statement promising the Copts a "blood bath." Most recently, on October 8, Muslim demonstrators chanted "Shenouda, just wait, we will dig your grave with our own hands," while burning the 86 year-old pope's effigy.
At the very least, the usually intrusive Mubarak regime could have easily dispelled the absurd rumor that Coptic monks, among Egypt's most humble figures, were stockpiling weapons for an imaginary coup d'état in Egypt, by formally investigating and clearing the monasteries of the charge. Same with the ludicrous rumors that the Pope is kidnapping and torturing Coptic women who freely convert to Islam — an especially odd rumor considering the reverse is true: in Egypt, Christian women are regularly kidnapped and compelled to embrace Islam.
To further exasperate matters, on September 26, Al Azhar, a formal state body of Egypt, denounced a remark on Koran 5:17, which accuses Christians of being "infidels," made by a Coptic clergyman at an internal meeting on dogma, as "blasphemous." It further took this opportunity to state formally that citizenship rights in Egypt "are conditional to respect for the Islamic identity" of Egypt, thereby reversing any modern progress made regarding Egyptian equality and reinforcing the Copts' historical role as dhimmis (i.e., conditionally tolerated religious minorities). Pope Shenouda was further compelled to publicly apologize "if our Muslim brothers' feelings were hurt."
The old media failed to refocus the unrest and the movement fought back by embracing the Christian community publicly.
Egyptian Muslims attended Christmas services Friday in a show of solidarity with Coptic Christians days after a bombing killed 23 congregants in the country's north.
Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas Day according to the Julian calendar, and observed it on Friday this year.
Security was tight around churches after the blast on New Year's Day outside the Church of the Two Saints in Alexandria.
Congregants were forced to empty their pockets before the start of the service as part of security measures set up after the bombing.
"Police plan a large-scale security operation for tonight to protect Egypt's Coptic Christians and their churches." Col. Alla Mahmoud of the interior ministry said Thursday.
Protests have broken out in Christian areas of Egypt every night since the car bombing outside the Church of the Two Saints in Alexandria. http://articles.cnn.com/2011-01-07/world/egypt.coptic.church.attack_1_egypt-s-coptic-christians-car-bombing-egypt-s-muslims?_s=PM:WORLD
But the new social media did not fail. According to Google executive Wael Ghonim on CNN, ''This revolution started . . . in June 2010 when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians started collaborating content. We would post a video on Facebook that would be shared by 60,000 people on their walls within a few hours. I've always said that if you want to liberate a society, just give them the internet.''
But the many who said that social media was no match for Mubarak’s stubbornness and the fact that his dictatorship had been there for thirty years overlooked one key thing. #Egypt wasn’t just about Facebook and Twitter, it was about the Internet as a whole.
I started writing about Egypt because I was moved by an email we received on January 27th, with only a subject line, “Re: URGENT: Egypt blocks text messaging as well” and no body. It was from a Canada-based Egyptian, Mohamed El-Zohairy who was trying to get the word out about what would eventually be a complete Internet blackout in Egypt on that day. El-Zohairy’s email led to the following post, “Egypt Situation Gets Worse, People Reporting Internet And SMS Shutdown” and countless others on my part.
Over the next couple of days El-Zohairy would ping me with updates, eventually deciding that he would fly back to Egypt — Sending me a quick email along the lines of “This will be our last communication.” The Internet was still being blocked so I called him immediately and expressed my concern. After Mubarak announced that he would not seek another term in office and the country’s connectivity returned on February 2nd, I received this:
I have been in Egypt since Feb 2nd, and as you can imagine things have been moving really fast. This is the first chance I have to write you an email. I have been going to Tahrir Square every day since I arrived, and thankfully I have been safe and in one piece so far. The government has used every violent trick at their disposal, short of using the army, to kill this revolution. Recently they decided to switch strategies, they are using government controlled TV and press to win the public opinion and turn the people against each other. They are instilling fear into the average Egyptians, fear from foreign invasion by spreading rumors of infiltrators and people with foreign agendas leading the revolution. The truth is that the revolution is lead by the educated middle and upper-middle class Egyptian youth.
Right now, we are using social media to win back most of the public opinion, one friend at a time. It is a tough job, because only 5 million ppl are on facebook and Egypt is a country of 80 million. However, we believe we can educate the people on social media and eventually they will help in educating the rest of the population. The gov’t is making it easy for us though, by using rumors that are REALLY easy to debunk (i.e. The foreign threats are coming from: The US, Iran, Israel, Qatar, Europe. So the whole world has decided to unite in a conspiracy to topple the Egyptian regime)
This email, from an immigrant who flew to Egypt to take part in protests that culminated successfully today, is micro-proof that this was indeed an Internet revolution. And Zohairy says there were hundreds of activists like him, which was one of the main reasons his cause succeeded. http://techcrunch.com/2011/02/11/feb11/
This is a link to Wael Ghonim's Dream Interview at YouTube.com. The language is Arabic so in order to have an English translation you need to click on the icon at lower right beneath the video screen for interactive text.