Mar 12, 2011

Facebook style revolution in Egypt

Facebook style revolution in Egypt
wael ghonim 
the role of digital technologies in the Egyptian rebellion has been overplayed, but it does look like there is an element of truth to the “Facebook Revolution”story.
Digital technologies get used for many things, but the key job they played in Egypt, at least, seems to be social media. Facebook was clearly the big story;

Facebook owned “Fully 42% of the country’s Web surfing on January 27, the day before Egypt’s main ISPs abruptly severed ties to the Internet.” -
Facebook was explicitly singled out by leading activist Wael Ghonim:
– On 60 Minutes: “If there was no social networks, it would have never been sparked. Because the whole thing before the revolution was the most critical thing. Without Facebook, without Twitter, without Google, without YouTube, this would have never happened.”
Any how we have to thank Mark Zuckerberg and told him: This revolution started on Facebook

Why? Because off all of this:
Facebook was where We Are Khaled Said groups formed, (English language versions here and here) which both built and publicised the presence of mass dissent among the urban youth (dissent was already there in some of the labour unions -see Anand Ghopal in Foreign Policy for a survey of the many labour actions over the last few years, including the Mahalla strike that led to the April 6 Movement, and gave it its name).

But Why Facebook?
In some countries digital activists are looking for special tools to help them communicate in covert ways, but in Egypt there was enough democratic elbow room for activists in the student and labour movements to organize in public - although not without risks. Perhaps because of this slight openness, online activity seems to have crystallized around the relatively public forum of Facebook.
Facebook was permitted, and the educated, urban members of the younger generation adopted it and used it to push up against the limits of acceptable dialog.

Another reason might be that Facebook is still a generational phenomenon (60% of Egypt’s Facebook users are under 25 (»)). It is an environment where youth feel more at home than the older generation and the authorities, at least for now. And like other generational phenomena, it seems that Facebook plays into a sense of identity for students and youth.
Ghonim’s comments show that some, at least, feel a sense of ownership of this space:
It is theirs, not the older generations.
Generational spaces can be both public and private at the same time.
The schoolyard is one such space, where (as Iona and Peter Opie documented half a century ago in The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren) a separate culture can persist, out in the open, under the noses of the rest of society.
Other such generational spaces are less physical. Popular music may qualify at various times. The concerts, gatherings, dress, and attitudes built around it are passed from one teenager to another, while (for the most part) adults are clueless as to what is going on.
Like popular music and the schoolyard, Facebook is urban, social, and generational and its inhabitants have a strong sense of ownership of “their” space.

Could Facebook’s role be similar to that of popular music in earlier protests?

The “reminiscent of the 1960’s” cliché has been used to describe every significant protest in the last 40 years that involves more than five people and a street. But the parallels are too many to ignore, and they emphasize the fact that, despite the technology, Egypt is not a fundamentally dierent “Revolution 2.0”

Egypt the Velvet Revolution

The Egyptian uprising is not that unique after all. It’s not just the student-led riots of 1968; there are similarities to other recent uprisings too, such as the series of “Velvet Revolutions” that spread through Eastern Europe in 1989. Again, let’s just look at one source to see what the parallels are. How about Timothy Garton Ash in the
New York Review of Books, December 3, 2009? His essay is titled Velvet
Revolution: The Prospects. Garton Ash highlights the dierences between the “velvet revolutions”
(VR) and earlier revolutions:
An ideal type of 1989-style revolution, VR, might be contrasted with an ideal type of 1789-style revolution, as further developed in the Russian Revolution of 1917 and Mao’s Chinese revolution. The 1789 ideal type is violent, utopian, professedly class-based, and characterized by a progressive radicalization, culminating in terror. A revolution is not a dinner party, Mao Zedong famously observed. . .
The 1989 ideal type, by contrast, is nonviolent, anti-utopian, based not on a single class but on broad social coalitions, and characterized by the application of mass social pressure—”people power”—to bring the current powerholders to negotiate. It culminates not in terror but in compromise.
If the totem of 1789-type revolution is the guillotine, that of 1989 is the round table.
Egypt is clearly in the tradition of the velvet revolutions.
The social coalition covers labour, student, and religious groups, and the current uneasy phase of negotiation with the armed forces (as opposed to installing a new leader) is characteristic of the type. Like all the “velvet revolutions”, the Egypt uprising is more of a stand against something (Mubarak; corruption; the unfairness of widespread unemployment and high food prices) than for something. Garton Ash writes that “François Furet, the historiographer of the French Revolution, doubted if the velvet revolutions of 1989 should properly be called ‘revolutions’ at all, since they produced ‘not a single new idea.” ’

What is happening in Egypt seems more of a rebellion than a revolution (A rebel, as Camus said, is “someone who says no” (pronoun updated), and this seems to describe the Egyptian protesters.) It has no program beyond the removal of the present system and leadership.
The ending of a protest in compromise is also in the tradition of velvet revolutions. Here is Garton Ash again:
“Exit prospects for the ruling elites are critical. Instead of losing their heads on the guillotine, or ending up hanging from lampposts, transition-ready members of an ancien régime, from a president such as F.W. de Klerk
all the way down to local apparatchiks and secret policemen, see a bearable, even a rosier future for themselves under a new dispensation.”

the Eastern European uprisings were not the first of this type:
“Semantically, the Czechoslovak revolution may have been the first to be called “velvet,” but Central Europe in 1989 did not spirit this model out of the ether. Relevant earlier history includes not just Central Europe’s own learning process through the failed emancipation attempts of 1953 (East Ger-many), 1956 (Hungary), 1968 (Czechoslovakia), 1970–1971 and 1980–1981(Poland), but also the mobilization to unseat General Pinochet in Chile, where the 1988 plebiscite preceded Central Europe’s 1989; the toppling of the Marcoses in the Philippines in 1983–1986, which gave us the wonderful Filipino-English term “people power”; and the “revolution of the carnations”

In Portugal in 1974–1975, arguably the first “velvet revolution” in postwar
Europe; and all the way back to the seminal example of Gandhi in India.”
So the nature, dynamics and course of the Egyptian uprising has clear precendents. Yes, the activists used Facebook and other tools, because that’s where the people are and because that is the medium characteristic of the time and place. But the Internet has not leant a new character to the uprising.

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