Sunday, 13 February 2011

The Egyptian revolution

I tweeted a few days ago that I was beginning to think the Egyptian protests were going to fizzle out, and that Honsi Mubarak would cling onto power.

Instead, after 18 days of protest Egypt’s ruler of 30 years finally caved in and resigned.

I’ve been hearing a few comments saying the Egyptian revolution is today’s equivalent of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

It doesn’t quite feel like that to me. Maybe it’s because the domestic politics of Egypt and many Middle Eastern countries are unknown to most of us.

When the former communist governments of Eastern Europe fell - it felt monumental as living in the West we were always told that these countries were our biggest enemies.

This isn't the case with the Middle East. We know it's a highly sensitive political region, but if I've learned anything over the last few weeks then it's just how little I know about places like Egypt, and what it's like for people living there.

The world's certainly discovered more about the lives of Egyptians under Mubarak's rule, and the reasons why so many of them have risen up to say they’ve had enough.

The people have made it clear to the ruling establishment and the rest of the world that they want something different and not just the removing of Mubarak.

So what's next for Egypt? The country doesn’t have any real history of democracy, the country has been under military rule or influence for over 40 years.

The removing of one autocratic ruler and the transition to a free and democratic society is still going to be a long and difficult journey.

Now that we’ve had revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt who’s going to be next? I’ve read loads of comments on how various Middle Eastern leaders will be getting very nervous about their own positions, while thousands of ordinary people across the region will be feeling a little braver and more inspired about making some changes in their countries.


The role of Social Media

Having read various reports and analysis, if there’s one thing I’m slightly sceptical about it’s the role that social media played in the Egyptian protests.

I keep hearing how the revolution was the result of ‘The Facebook generation’. Young media savvy Egyptians using Twitter and Facebook to bring about a revolution.

Being a blogger, it’s understandable that I have an interest in social media. I was fascinated for example by the use of Twitter during the Iranian protests in 2009.

Twitter and Facebook are new communications tools that weren’t available to previous generations of revolutionaries and protesters, but as much as I’m a fan of social media, We’re stretching things to say that a autocratic regime of 30 years collapsed because of Twitter.

There’s a romantic view in some circles that information technology and new media will somehow set the people free. I do like to think this myself at times.

What we’re really seeing is that social media is a new battle ground, between peoples and governments.

I’m sure Twitter and Facebook, did help the protesters communicate and spread information, but this revolution would still have occurred regardless of social media.

The free flow of information within social media will of course give all governments a new challenge - particularly authoritarian regimes and dictatorships.

Non democratic governments are already looking at ways in which they can use digital and social media to monitor and control their populations. China and Iran are good examples of this.

The Egyptian authorities made attempts to block the internet which were only partly successful, but we shouldn't get carried away with the role Facebook and Twitter played.

It was still people power that caused the Egyptian revolution and the bravery and determination of thousands of people to stand up to its rulers and say we’ve had enough. Twitter and Facebook just helped get that message across.

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