20th Century Battlefields – 1973 Yom Kippur War – 6th of October

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Part6

Egypt’s “Facebook Revolution”: Looking Under the Lamp Post?

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The “Facebook Revolution” narrative of the Egyptian rebellion is everywhere.
A few examples: Jared Cohen calls digital media an “accelerant” (>>); Don Tapscott (>>) writes that the protests are “Enabled by social media”; Fox News says that Facebook has “Turned Our Entire World Upside Down: Right before our eyes we see Facebook’s effects” (>>); Micah Sifry writes at CNN that “Without the relatively free arena of online social networking sites and tools like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, young Egyptians like Ghonim could not have built the resilient and creative force that finally toppled Hosni Mubarak.” (>>)
Most compellingly, here is high profile Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim:

I want to meet Mark Zuckerberg one day and thank him… I’m talking on behalf of Egypt. This revolution started online. This revolution started on Facebook. This revolution started in June 2010 when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians started collaborating content. We would post a video on Facebook that would be shared by 60,000 people on their walls within a few hours. I always said that if you want to liberate a society just give them the Internet. If you want to have a free society just give them the Internet.” (>>)

and also: “This is the revolution of the youth of the internet, and now the revolution of all Egyptians.”
Narratives matter. We use them to make sense of the world, and we use that understanding to make decisions. Narrative is “the simple order that consists in being able to say: ‘When that had happened, then this happened.’ We like the illusions of this sequence, its acceptable appearance of causality: it has the look of necessity.” (Frank Kermode, “The Sense of an Ending”, p127.)
So is the Egyptian rebellion a “Facebook Revolution”? There are reasons to think the narrative is exaggerated…

The easiest people to talk to

Most obviously, it is much easier to talk to English speaking participants than non-English speakers. English speakers are far more likely to be part of the one-fifth or so of the country that has access to the Internet. (World Bank Development Indicators). And it is easy to contact people over the Internet, so we hear from people who are on the Internet. It is easy to follow Twitter feeds, so we hear Egyptian tweets.

The easiest story to tell

It isn’t just the sources, though. The Facebook Revolution narrative is an interesting story to tell to a contemporary Western audience. For us, a story built around the familiar yet novel world of Facebook and social media is an easy way into the Egyptian rebellion. How many of us know much about the specifics of Egypt’s history, its recent past, or the economic sources of discontent? It is a much quicker and lighter story to say “look at the Facebook page.” We can even go and look at it ourselves (>>). Talking about strikes is more likely to lose an audience.
So every time prominent activist Wael Ghonim is mentioned, he is described as a “Google executive Wael Ghonim” even though he has explicitly said that “Google has nothing to do with this” (>>). Do we hear the employer of any of the other leaders? April 6 Movement founders Asmaa Mahfouz, Ahmed Maher and Ahmed Salah are commonly described as “activists”. It is possible to track down Maher’s occupation as a “civil engineer”, but with no employer. The discrepancy is glaring, and so Google gets to be associated with the uprising, adding to the digital tone of the story.

Underreported players

As people look back for the roots of the rebellion, the April 6 Movement and the We Are Khaled Said Facebook page have received much of the attention. But there are other strands that fed into the protests. The April 6 Movement was created to commemorate an industrial strike, after all, at a textile factory. There have been more than 3,000 separate labour protests in Egypt since 2004 according to a report by the AFL-CIO. The Kefaya movement is considered by some experts to be a central organizer of the January 25 protests, along with Mohamed ElBaradei’s organization (two-minute video with Samer Shehata).

Self-Organization?

The technological narrative has also been used to describe the rebellion as “leaderless” and “self-organizing” (see a claim for this by Wikinomics’ Don Tapscott here, and an illuminating analysis of the question by sociologist Zeynep Tufekci here). Tapscott takes a strong form of the argument: “Just as people can self-organize to contribute to Wikipedia, the computer operating system Linux, or the world’s biggest library of video content, they can participate in social change and coalesce into revolutionary movements as never before.”
(Aside: Does anyone else find the language of “self-organization” insulting to the protesters? It slides too easily into this kind of thing: “much in the same way that slime mould coalesces in a forest and moves towards an emergent common ‘goal,’ so too do simple-message-connected crowds of people coalesce to move towards a common, emergent goal without the overt direction of an explicit leader.” So brave protesters are like slime mould? Really?)
But of course coordination and leadership is not necessarily going to be obvious to Western eyes. As David Kirkpatrick writes in the New York Times: “They are the young professionals, mostly doctors and lawyers, who touched off and then guided the revolt shaking Egypt, members of the Facebook generation who have remained mostly faceless — very deliberately so, given the threat of arrest or abduction by the secret police.”
Some organizing was kept off Facebook on purpose, and so received little attention – like these flyers that Jodi Dean points to. As she says, even Lenin – not exactly known as a networky kind of bloke – agreed that “mass movement and ‘professional revolutionaries’ are not alternative organizational forms. Each is necessary”.
Another counterpoint to this “leaderless protest” story is a fascinating Wall-Street Journal article by Charles Levinson and Margaret Croker, who tell a story (The Secret Rally that Sparked an Uprising) about clandestine meetings of small groups of organizers outwitting the efforts of the police to follow what’s going on. Of course, getting such a story requires a lot of interviewing and building of confidence.
But there is a kernel…
So yes, I do think the Facebook Revolution narrative is overstated, and that the Egyptian rebellion marks much less of a break from previous revolts than the language of “Revolution 2.0” suggests. I agree with this article in TechCrunch (of all places) that “People, not Things, are the Tools of Revolution”. But there is a kernel of truth there, I do admit. Ghosim’s quotation at the top of the page is a clear indicator that some young Egyptians feel a sense of identity with Facebook and the Internet: that it is their generation’s culture, not their parents and not the authorities. But that’s for another time.http://whimsley.typepad.com/whimsley/2011/02/egypts-facebook-revolution-looking-under-the-lamp-post-.html

Where the Arab spring will end is anyone’s guess

Arab unrest has become a permanent feature of the global landscape, unfinished business wherever it is happening.

Egyptian protester with portraits of Mohamed Bouazizi and Khaled Said

The Arab Spring united protesters across the region, but it is still unclear how the situation will play out in many countries. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Tunisia‘s Jasmine revolution will always be remembered as the event that triggered the Arab spring, which has shattered the status quo from Libyato Syria and is widely seen as the biggest transformative event of the 21st century so far. But, six months on, progress has been patchy.

Mohammed Bouazizi, the young Tunisian who started it all by burning himself to death in December 2010, had his desperate imitators in Egypt, where revolution erupted days after Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s flight into Saudi exile; and in Jordan, which has seen sporadic unrest but no uprising.

But if the politics of the Arab spring are local, many factors are common across: young people angry and frustrated at the lack of freedoms, opportunities and jobs, unaccountable and corrupt governments, cronyism and, in a few places, grinding poverty.

Rich and poor alike lived in fear of the secret police. But Tunisia, one of the most repressive regimes, fell quickly. The decision by the army to dump the president and not crush the protests was a vital lesson for the Egyptian generals. The alternative is the cruelty of the dictators’ fightbacks in Tripoli and Damascus. Regional differences were ignored in the chain reaction that followed. Yemen’s protests were galvanised by the drama in Cairo’s Tahrir Square but they also involved tribalism, elite rivalry and a small but alarming al-Qaida presence against a background of resource depletion and fear of state failure. Sectarian tensions were the key to the trouble in Bahrain, where a Sunni monarchy rules over a restive Shia majority.

Islamists, the bogeymen of the west and the enemies of all autocratic Arab regimes, have not – yet – played a significant role. Still, Ennahda in Tunisia and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have new opportunities in multi-party systems that will in turn change them. The killing of Osama bin Laden was a timely reminder of the defeat of jihadi ideology in an Arab world being transformed by people power.

Another variable has been the response: French support for Ben Ali was embarrassing; the US was praising Mubarak days before he departed. Muammar Gaddafi had no friends – and the Arab League was crucial in providing a figleaf for UN-sanctioned Nato intervention. Bashar al-Assad, by contrast, has yet to be condemned by the UN for a crackdown that has cost at least 1,300 lives. Bahrain is too strategically important to face more than a rebuke from the US.

Elsewhere in the region, Israel is nervous about the demise of Mubarak. Turkey fears instability in Syria. The Palestinians, eclipsed by drama elsewhere, are trying to learn lessons. Iran’s support for the Arab uprisings is sheer hypocrisy given its crushing of democratic protests since 2009.

Now the EU and the US must stop being seen by Arabs as “partners for dictators” in the words of the Tunisian academic Ahmed Driss. Billions of dollars will be needed to support democracy and development.

Tunisia and Egypt fear instability as they face free elections. But the really hard transformational work, as the respected commentator Rami Khouri has observed, “will start in the years after the new parliaments are elected and the complete infrastructure of political governance is forged according to the will of the majority”.

There are exceptions. The Saudis are investing to create jobs and defuse dissent. Jordan and Morocco have tried liberal gestures. Algeria’s oil wealth and experience of civil war have helped maintain peace there. But it is striking how Arab unrest has become a permanent feature of the global landscape. It is unfinished business wherever it is happening. “The outcome of this tectonic realignment is not just unpredictable but unknowable,” said Prince Hassan of Jordan.

 

Source : Guardian

Egyptian man’s death became symbol of callous state

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT – Had it not been for a leaked morgue photo of his mangled corpse, tenacious relatives and the power of Facebook, the death of Khaled Said would have become a footnote in the annals of Egyptian police brutality.

Instead, outrage over the beating death of the 28-year-old man in this coastal city last summer, and attempts by local authorities to cover it up, helped spark the mass protests demanding the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The story of Said’s death is in many ways the story of today’s Egypt, where an authoritarian regime is being roiled by a groundswell of popular anger. Fear and resentment of the police has been a prominent theme, and when Google executive Wael Ghonim created a Facebook page titled “We are all Khaled Said,” the grisly morgue photo went viral and the public had a rallying point.

“Every family in Egypt has seen something like this happen to a member,” Ali Kassem, Said’s uncle, said Tuesday. “I will feel like I have attained justice only if the regime falls and a new government is formed.”

Said’s first brush with the detectives accused of killing him came about a month before he was bludgeoned to death in early June, according to Kassem, who provided the following account.

Police officers at an Internet cafe below his apartment were exchanging a video that showed officers divvying up seized narcotics and cash. Relatives think the clip was delivered via Bluetooth to Said’s computer by accident. The young man shared it with friends, who forwarded it to others.

Two of the detectives implicated in the video approached Said outside his building, in the Sidi Gaber district of Alexandria, about noon June 6. One grabbed him by the shoulder and hauled him inside the Internet cafe.

The officers smashed Said’s head against a marble table repeatedly, until the owner of the shop asked them to take it outside. They then dragged Said inside a nearby building where the two kicked him and smashed his head against stone steps, witnesses later told relatives.

The next day, Said’s mother was notified that her son was at the morgue. The cause of death, she was told, was severe cardiovascular asphyxiation caused by a high level of drugs in his system. The initial police report received by the family said Said had apparently died after he swallowed a bag that contained marijuana.

Finding that account suspicious, relatives bribed a guard at the morgue to take a photo of the corpse. It showed Said’s skull had been cracked and his face disfigured.

After local prosecutors expressed little interest in pursuing the case, Kassem, who was a father figure to Said, began holding news conferences. Said’s cousins created a page on Facebook to expose what they called police brutality.

Under pressure, regional prosecutors opened an investigation that led to the arrests of two detectives who are charged in the beating and an officer accused in the coverup. The case has not gone to trial.

For years, human rights groups have documented a pattern of abuse by Egyptian police officers, a problem government officials have played down and in some instances denied.

The issue has long alarmed U.S. officials. In 2009, U.S. Ambassador Margaret Scobey wrote in a cable that police brutality in the country was “routine and pervasive,” according to one of the leaked documents recently released by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

“Contacts describe the police using force to extract confessions from criminals as a daily event,” Scobey wrote in a cable in January 2009.

Said’s mother and sister have been among the demonstrators who have attended daily protests in central Cairo since the movement began.

Kassem, 65, said supporters have approached him during demonstrations in Alexandria in recent days to remind him of a tradition in Egypt. The ritual says that families should not accept condolences for loved ones killed unjustly until their deaths have been avenged.

“The youth now feel that through this revolution, they have avenged Khaled’s death,” Kassem said. “Khaled’s soul gets more peace every day thanks to the effort and determination of the youth to bring down this corrupt government.”

Special correspondent Ingy Hassieb contributed to this report.

By Ernesto Londono