Egypt’s Tahrir Square and Social Media

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In Tahrir Square, Egyptians using social media networks have emerged as one of the greatest markers of the revolution; seen as a new twenty-first century mode of protest.

tahrir-square-revolutionIt seems as if the spirit of the January 25 Tahrir Square Revolution lives on. Though the enemy has changed it colors the same familiar authoritarian response continues. Police tanks, tear gas, and an intransigent state regime reflected through its negligence of the reality of the opposition. If you were to believe the news emerging from Ikhwanweb, you’d think that today’s protest was nothing more than a meager bunch of teenagers getting carried away with themselves on a cold November day.

However, this is not just a haphazard group of young “thug’s” as Mohammed Morsi may wish to portray. Rather what we are seeing is the continuing of the January 25 Revolution of 2011 but with a much more coherent face. The opposition last year, as is well known was a collection from across the whole cross-section of Egyptian society – the great dispossessed as one might call them.

Students, public sector workers, intellectuals, professionals all turned out to Tahrir square and their metropolitan equivalent in Alexandria and Aswan. The means of organizing themselves through the use of social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook emerged as one of the greatest markers of the revolution; seen as a new twenty-first century mode of protest.

Now the same means of protest is being used again; except this time against President Mohammed Morsi and his supporters from the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).

The FJP and Morsi are well aware of the advantages of social media

They, like the opposition forces know that it has worked as a means to undermine traditional state media outlets which have suffered a major legitimacy deficit following prejudiced and unreliable reporting of the uprising last year. With this in mind, it is interesting to see a war of words or rather a trial of tweets taking place since Mohammed Morsi’s ill-fated president decree where he gave himself unprecedented powers last Wednesday.

Following Ikhwanweb, and opposition leaders such Mohamed ElBaradei and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh; one could be mistaken for thinking that they were observing two very different countries. In one, we have the heroic president protecting victims of the revolution by ensuring that the remnants of the old regime, or “feloul” as they are called in Egypt, are not allowed to impede the retribution process.

On the other side, we have the angry opposition, infuriated that the president would have the nerve to make such an audacious authoritarian move considering the democratic demands of the population in Tahrir last year. Finding your way through this entanglement of tweets is a difficult task in negotiating the truth; but what is of stark relevance to the process is not the polemical statements on either side, but rather the visual evidence.

The Egyptian populace is no longer in a slumber of either apathy or fear

Rather, it would seem that the revolution last year has awoken a very politicized, if not polarized population. The problem for Morsi  and company, is that this is not something that can simply be switched off. The lessons from Tahrir can been seen on the thousands of tweets popping up throughout the present protest. Take for example the voluntary group, “Tahrir Doctors.” They were a group of voluntary doctors who began organizing themselves following the violence that took place in the square during last year’s uprising.

Through social media they have joined forces with a Facebook group, “Salafi Costa” – a cross-section of youths both secularist and Islamist; aiming to organize grassroots campaigns in activities such as health services and educational reforms. During the present protests the two groups are coordinating via social media in terms of organization and awareness. As a war of words is streaming across the “Twittersphere,” groups such as these have no political agenda.

Indeed, when interviewing these groups, I was struck by how many dissenting views there was within the organization. Here was a selection of voters ranging from Salafist Al Nour supporters right across to some hardcore Revolutionary Socialist members. However they joined together to help provide essential health services in poor neighborhoods where people were incapable of paying for healthcare.

What started in Tahrir as a response from doctors to help protesters has emerged as a full fledged charity provision without a political agenda attached. Now standing on the precipice of a serious clash between a large scale opposition movement and the police in Tahrir; apolitical groups such as these can be viewed as an objective voice amidst the contesting voices of thousands of noisy tweets. Through their photos and calls for medical supplies it is shown that no matter how much Ikhwanweb and its supporters may deny the existence of the opposition march; its reality is undeniable.

The is a fragile moment in Egypt’s transition to democracy. A lot is at stake. The economy has been slow to recover in the aftermath of the revolution, Egypt’s stock exchange appears to be continuously unstable in light of reoccurring crisis. Added to this an opposition growing in confidence and more importantly, learning the prudence of pragmatic coalition building; and together you have a cocktail of revolutionary proportions.

Morsi and his Brotherhood backers would do well to listen to the protesters across Egypt today. It’s voice is loud and clear. It has the medium of social media to carry it’s message: The Revolution is not over.

This article has been updated since original publication in Sharnoff’s Global Views.

Gillian Kennedy graduated from University College Dublin with a BA (Hon) in History and Politics, and later completed an MA in International Relations at Dublin City University. Having had a successful post as a Press Officer for the Tamer Institute for Community Education in Ramallah, Palestine last year, Gillian is now a PhD candidate in Middle Eastern Studies at King’s College London. Her PhD examines coercive and consensual counter-hegemonic strategies within the Egyptian Islamist movement from Egypt’s independence from colonial rule up until the dramatic demise Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian regime. For more information, visit Gillian’s website.

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