#Jan25 Dawns in Hosni Mubarak's Egypt
BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, January 25 2011
Egyptians, it turns out, have chosen today to put to test the notion that online and connected media -- a la Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, email, and more -- can help to fuel revolution. Inspired, it's been reported, in part at least by what's been happening over the course of the last month in Tunisia, some 1,300 miles to the west, protesters have be raging against the government of Hosni Mubarak, a regime that, from our provincial perspective in the U.S., it's worth pointing out is considered a friend of the United States at the highest levels of government.
What's happening in Egypt is in flux, and reading some broader coverage is well worth the while. But here's a quick plucking out and zeroing in on some of the particularly technological bits we're seeing in play in Egypt, where the hashtag #jan25 has emerged as a rallying point, so as we might have some things to hold onto as the conversation turns, once again, to the viability of revolution in the age of Twitter.
A Facebook group has gained traction for objecting to the treatment of Khaled Said, a businessman who, the Christian Science Monitor reported in mid-June, was beaten to death by police officers in Alexandria. "His death has ignited protests in Cairo and Alexandria," wrote CSM's Kristen Chick this summer, "and demands for justice have spread like wildfire on blogs and social networking sites." Indeed, Said's emerged as a face of Egypt's protests in a way that that of Mohamed Bouazizi, the self-immolating fruit vendor, did in Tunisia.
"We are all Khaled Said," reads the Facebook group's reason for being. "The incident has woken up Egyptians to work against the systematic torture in Egypt and the 30 years running emergency law. We need international supporters to help us stand against Police brutality in Egypt. We invite you to support our cause." That statement's been translated, on Facebook, in more than a dozen languages, from Urdu to Malay to Norwegian, and organizers are looking for volunteers to help express and share it in "every language in the world."
Via Boing Boing's Xeni Jardin comes a video that evokes Tiananmen Square, where a young man puts himself in front of a military-style truck spewing what looks to be a powerful stream of water (a moment that comes at about a minute and twenty seconds in.) Give it a watch, and pay particular attention to the boisterous reaction of the people who are taping the event.
Another powerful video that has come out of Egypt today shows a group of protestors tearing, by hand, bit by hand, a larger than life-sized poster of Mubarak down from a wall. "This is not something that happens in Egypt," wrote the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg.
Over on UStream we've seen livestreaming the protests that have been happening in central Cairo's Tahrir Square, though the stream looks to be offline at the moment.
At various points of the day, Twitter.com seems to have been unavailable in Egypt. Vodafone, one of the major telecom providers in Egypt said that it wasn't them. "We didn't block twitter," they tweeted. "It's a problem all over Egypt and we are waiting for a solution."
Twitter's brand-new global press account, @TwitterGlobalPR, responded with a healthy dash of humility. "We're not the experts on how Twitter is being used in highly developing situations 1000s of miles from our comfortable HQ in SF ," they tweeted, in a two-parter. "The experts are those using Twitter on the ground and those coordinating with them around the world." Cell phone service was also reportedly blocked in Egypt.
Anonymous geared up for action, with the AnonOps arm of the global collective launching what it called Operation Egypt. And whether they were responsible or not, the website of Egypt's Interior Ministry was indeed down for a portion of the day. The site, though, is back up now.
As we've seen in other recent cases of real-time documented revolt, particularly what happened in Iran in the summer of 2009, we saw liveblogs pop up, including ones at major publications like the Guardian, to capture the play-by-play action.
But there was a meta angle to the day's events, with complaints heard inside and outside Egypt that the Arab press in general and Al Jazeera in particular punted on covering what was going down in Cairo and Alexandria. Wrote Mark Lynch on Foreign Policy, "Al Jazeera has played a vital, instrumental role in framing this popular narrative by its intense, innovative coverage of Tunisia and its explicit broadening of that experience to the region." That said, "Its coverage today has been frankly baffling."
And as we saw in Tunisia, the narrative popped up that whether the established press chose to cover a people's resistance movement or not didn't have the impact that it might have had in the days before the Internet, or Twitter, or Facebook. Tweeted @HerMaeness from, she said, Egypt: "Let us take a minute to laugh at those who thought that not covering the protests on TV will stop people from finding out about them."