Web 2.0 and the 2011 Egyptian Revolution

Posted: February 24, 2011 in Informative
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The highlight of 2011 so far has been the uprisings taking place in North Africa and the Middle East, particularly the Egyptian revolution. The Egyptian people have managed, through a peaceful revolution, to topple down a dictatorship that ruled the country for 30 years. One of the most interesting aspects of that revolution is that technology, particularly the Internet, played a very important role. As an Egyptian and a technology specialist, I figured I should analyze the role played by the Internet as a whole, and by Web 2.0 in particular.

As in all dictatorships, the Egyptian government had complete control over all forms of mainstream media. Newspapers and TV only showed what the government wanted the people to see, and highly critical voices were not allowed to express their opinion publicly. With the increasing ease of Internet access and the increasing popularity of blogs, the people became more aware of alternative news sources. This paved the way to the rise of so-called “Internet activists” or “political bloggers” who used the Internet as a medium to freely express their opinion and educate others about what really goes on in the country – things that the average person might not hear about from the mainstream media. The government managed to track down and arrest many of these bloggers, but for every arrested blogger, others arose.

Facebook and Twitter
As people started using Facebook, it proved to be a very useful communication tool. People created groups in which they had discussions about current events, or ideas to improve the country, with the government standing on the sidelines unable to interfere or stop them. The biggest mistake made by the dictator government is that it underestimated those “Facebook kids” (as the government officials liked to refer to them), and dismissed them as a bunch of kids who liked to talk but who wouldn’t go any further. Facebook groups were the place where people started planning for the revolution after being fed up with the corruption and the inhumane living conditions.

During the first few days of the revolution (when it was just some protests at the time), both Facebook and twitter became the primary means for the Egyptian people to spread the word about what is happening in the country. With the official media ignoring or misreporting the situation, and before the international media started covering the events, it was up to the people themselves to report the events taking place. Twitter and Facebook posts were providing a real-time update of events taking place in many cities all over Egypt at the same time. Pictures and videos taken by regular people were posted online for the world to see, only seconds after they were taken.

The Egyptian government started reacting to that by first blocking access to Facebook and twitter, then by cutting off Internet access completely, hoping to prevent the protesters from communicating and organizing themselves, and to stop the flood of information. However, that proved to be too late and ineffective: the protesters were already in the streets and they knew what they had to do, and the international media has already started to cover the situation. Internet connectivity was restored a couple of days later.

The web giant Google also played a role in these events. As soon as the Internet was cut off from Egypt (together with cell phones and text messaging services), Google and Twitter allied together and provided the stranded Egyptians with the speak2tweet service: a couple of phone numbers that anyone can call from a land line and leave a voice message. This voice message is then posted on a twitter account which can be accessed and heard by anyone. This helped the Egyptians to keep reporting on the situation, as well as to reach out to their families and friends abroad to make them know that they are ok.

In addition, YouTube (owned by Google) featured CitizenTube – a video collection containing all the videos posted by people from within the protests. Watching these videos would make you feel like you are right there in the street with the protesters.

The new generation of tech-savvy Egyptians took full advantage of the technologies and tools available to them to help their cause. Even though I disapprove of the term “Facebook revolution” (as some pro-government figures liked to call it), I cannot deny that Facebook – and the Internet in general – played a pivotal role in organizing and reporting the events of the Egyptian people’s revolution. It is good to see technology put to good use!

  1. John Archer says:

    Thank you very much for this. We all had suspicions about all this, but it is really nice to hear the details etc. . ./John

    • Amr El-Helw says:

      Glad you found it informative. I know I didn’t talk about all aspects of the revolution – that would take more than one blog post – but only the role of the Internet in it.

  2. Nermeen says:

    ولا نت ولا تليفون … و اتجمعنا بالمليون
    (Without the help of the internet or the telephones, we still gathered by millions)

  3. Amy-Rose says:

    Fantastic article. Great for my essay, thanks.

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