Patrice Riemens on Wed, 13 Jul 2011 09:52:12 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Nancy Messieh: Why Egypt wasn?t waiting for WikiLeaks to ignite a revolution (Next Web)

bwo BytesforAll & iac2009 lists/ Fred Noronha & Pranesh Prakash

>From The Next Web:

July 10, 2011, Nancy Messieh
Why Egypt wasn?t waiting for WikiLeaks to ignite a revolution

Ask any Egyptian how much of an influence the Internet was in the
nation?s uprising, the first thing they?ll probably do is roll
their eyes at you. I?ve certainly mentioned it countless times ?
International media found the perfectly convenient package of the
Facebook revolution fueled by a Google executive. A better lede
couldn?t have been written if they had made it up themselves.

But the thing is, there is as much fiction in that phrase as there
is fact. Yes the Facebook page We Are All Khaled Said, created by
the Google executive Wael Ghonim, was instrumental in mobilizing
a certain demographic in Egypt. But long after Hosny Mubarak was
toppled, figures have emerged to prove that calling the uprising in
Egypt in any way, shape or form, a Facebook Revolution, is almost as
ridiculous as the short-lived name, the Lotus Revolution, a name which
had absolutely nothing to do with the movement.

In case you?re curious, the Lotus Revolution was a name that followed
the just as ill-thought out name for the Tunisian uprising, the
Jasmine Revolution. Both names were no doubt dreamed up by journalists
who had visited the countries once upon a time, and were enamoured
with the exotic, oriental, incense-filled alleyways of Cairo and
Tunis. The reality of these uprisings couldn?t be further from the
Orientalist postcard snapshot that is continually forced down our

The reality of the uprising in Tunisia is that it was sparked by a
young man, Mohamed Bouazizi, who lit himself on fire, because that
was the only form of protest he had left to use. The reality of the
uprising in Egypt is that it was sparked by a young man, Khaled Said,
who was brutally beaten to death in an alleyway, while people watched,
helpless as he begged for his life.

So with that in mind, it?s no surprise that the Wikileaks parody ad
that seemed to be taking a bit of credit for the Egyptian revolution
has sparked outrage among Egyptian activists.

Mosa?ab El Shamy, an Egyptian activist and photographer who spent the
18 days of the uprising in Tahrir, told The Next Web, ?I thought we
would only have to counter all the local corporates here, which were
trying to claim credit for the revolution and share a ride on the
bandwagon, but Wikileaks, is to me, the worst of them all.?

Many local companies have been accused of playing both sides in
Egypt, bowing to the regime before the uprising, and in a lightening
quick chameleon change, their colours were suddenly an entirely red,
white and black display of supposed patriotism and pride in Egypt?s

El Shamy goes on to explain his views on Wikileaks conceding, ?I
believe it?s changing the world in its own way and their effort is a
prime and noble one, but it?s ludicrous to hear Mr. Assange in the ad
declare with a cheeky grin as he watches the imagery of protesters
pushing police forces back from Kasr el Nil Bridge that ?the world
changing as a result of his work is priceless.??

In fact, as Egyptian blogger Zeinobia pointed out in her response to
the parody ad, most of the Wikileaks cables relating to Egypt were
never translated or published in local media for a variety of reasons,
ranging from a fear of retribution to simply a matter of bad timing,
with more important issues taking the attention of the Egyptian media
and its audience.

Ironically, much of the information that the Wikileaks cables revealed
about the Egyptian authorities was already common knowledge. Egypt is
a country that saw bloggers and journalists imprisoned for voicing
their opinion. Egypt is a country where questioning the president?s
health was punishable with imprisonment. It is not a country which was
waiting for Wikileaks cables to spark a movement that was years in the

El Shamy points to another ad that saw an even bigger backlash from
Egyptian activists, bloggers and tweeters. A Vodafone ad which had
originally been released a few weeks before the January 25 protests,
was re-released online, with a newly added introduction, in which the
telecom company seemed to be attempting to take a bit of the credit
for mobilizing the masses.

Comparing the two, El Shamy says of the Wikieaks ad, ?I find it more
dangerous, and ?under-attacked.? Assange is an international, popular
figure and millions are ready to follow his steps and take his word;
and here lies the danger of ?brainwashing? more masses than the ones
who believe that it was all his work.?

Wikileaks parody ads aside, no matter how many times the theory
is debunked with statistics and personal stories, the Internet
revolution keeps rearing its ugly head. El Shamy comments, ?It?s
always entertaining to see the media to rinse and repeat stories
about how tech savvy our revolution was, how Facebooked, YouTubed and
Twittereized it is, but I believe it is taken out of context this
way, and is an insistence on showing a small, rather unrepresentative
aspect of the Egyptian revolution. The huge majority of Egyptians who
took to the streets weren?t on Facebook or didn?t mind on missing on
the Twitter fad, the impoverished and underfed and ragged clothed
certainly weren?t motivated by a Facebook event or some videos they
saw on YouTube. That should be acknowledged sooner or later or else I
think it?s a huge injustice to them, and an elitist perspective.?

The Egyptian revolution was an incredible coming together of men and
women, from different backgrounds, different religions, different
cities, and throughout the country, they stood side by side and called
for one thing. To even attempt to credit that to the Internet, to
Wikileaks, or to anything else other than the perseverance of the
Egyptian people is to ignore the facts.

The role that the Internet did play was to get the story out. El
Shamy was one of many who tweeted his way through the revolution.
Asking him how he personally used the Internet during the 18 day
uprising, he says, ?I used it to tweet, tweet, tweet and tweet. I
reported everything as I saw and answered people?s questions and
tried chronicling what it felt to be in Tahrir for over two weeks.
I interacted with fellow activists who were away from the square or
other parts of Cairo and tried convincing as much people who supported
and followed our news through the internet but feared for their
safety. It was an amazing experience.?

El Shamy does give credit to the Internet where credit is due. ?I
think the Internet played a fine role during those 18 days, but did
the revolution come to a halt or lose mobilization when the service
was cut off the whole country? Definitely not. It was useful that we
let the world know, and gradually increase pressure on the regime from
outside, and it acted as an anti-propaganda tool when the media was
spreading all kind of lies, and I think we made the best of it. But it
simply shouldn?t be overstated.?

As Egyptian state TV televised calming images of the Nile, YouTube
and Twitter were witness to brutal violence and tear gas-filled shots
of a struggle for freedom. As Egyptian state TV broadcast stories of
a Tahrir infiltrated by foreign spies from the four corners of the
world, hell bent on bringing Egypt to its knees, YouTube and Twitter
told of men and women who stood against snipers, thugs, and even a
raid of camels and horses, to come out victorious.

When it comes to the actual figures, Facebook penetration in Egypt in
April 2011 stands at 7%, with Tunisia?s penetration rate far higher at
22%. And let?s not forget that not all Facebook users in the region
were automatically supporters of the uprising. Facebook arguments in
the post-January-25 world were common. The number of photos of Hosny
Mubarak that appeared as profile pictures on Facebook after the former
President stepped down is proof of that. Country-wide protests were
not waiting for Facebook members to take to the street.

Yes, activists used Facebook and Twitter to coordinate among
themselves, even far before January 25. Yes, Flickr and YouTube were
essential in disseminating information to the wider public. But the
number of people who took the streets because of a call on Twitter
cannot be compared to the number of people who took to the streets
because of the on-the-ground efforts of activists who ventured into
areas of Cairo, and Egypt as a whole where Twitter was virtually
unheard of, and spread awareness. Not in a country where the number
of Twitter accounts didn?t exceed 130,000 in April 2011. In fact,
the number of people who joined the protests as they watched from
their balconies as hundreds and thousands of protesters passed in the
streets, chanting ?Come down? probably exceeded the Twitter effect as

On January 28, I watched minutes before a similar crowd passed beneath
my balcony, as a young man quickly passed out fliers to people in the
street. He handed the sheets of paper to men standing in the street,
threw them at the feet of a crowd of women who were gathered at a
street corner, ducked quickly into shops and ran right back out again.
I never saw what the flyer said, because by the time I ran down into
the street, his fliers were nowhere to be seen, as he disappeared into
a crowd of protesters who had fast approached, accompanied by a large
crowd of helmeted riot police and police cars, pacing alongside them,
peaceful for the moment.

It is men like him who are truly to be credited with mobilizing the
Egyptian people. It is men like him who made the Egyptian people take
to the streets, knowing there was a possibility they would not be
coming home. To say that Facebook can be equated with each and every
person?s effort on the ground is to take a little bit of credit away
from men like him.

## About the Author Lesotho-born and raised, Nancy Messieh is an
Egyptian writer and photographer based in Cairo, Egypt.


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