Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Egyptian Use of Socal Networks for Protest

Last week, I posted on how Saudis were using social networking sites to protest when physical protests were limited. The New York Times ran a lengthy report on the same phenomenon in Egypt:
"Freedom of speech and the right to assemble are limited in Egypt, which since 1981 has been ruled by Mubarak’s National Democratic Party under a permanent state-of-emergency law. An estimated 18,000 Egyptians are imprisoned under the law, which allows the police to arrest people without charges, allows the government to ban political organizations and makes it illegal for more than five people to gather without a license from the government. Newspapers are monitored by the Ministry of Information and generally refrain from directly criticizing Mubarak. And so for young people in Egypt, Facebook, which allows users to speak freely to one another and encourages them to form groups, is irresistible as a platform not only for social interaction but also for dissent."
The article discusses how social networks (Facebook in particular) and blogging was used to protest and discuss various aspects of the Gaza conflict:
"In most countries in the Arab world, Facebook is now one of the 10 most-visited Web sites, and in Egypt it ranks third, after Google and Yahoo. About one in nine Egyptians has Internet access, and around 9 percent of that group are on Facebook — a total of almost 800,000 members. This month, hundreds of Egyptian Facebook members, in private homes and at Internet cafes, have set up Gaza-related “groups.” Most expressed hatred for Israel and the United States, but each one had its own focus. Some sought to coordinate humanitarian aid to Gaza, some criticized the Egyptian government, some criticized other Arab countries for blaming Egypt for the conflict and still others railed against Hamas."
The article then looks at internal protest within Egypt, in particular, the April 6 Youth Movement that attempted to organize a national strike in Egypt. The case study not only shows how social networks can be used for protest but that they are not risk free:
"[Facebook] ...members who identified themselves as government security agents joined the April 6 group, too, posting comments under the insignia of the Egyptian police, and as April 6 approached, the government issued a strong warning against participation in the strike."
Shortly after, the Facebook organizer, Esraa Rashid was arrested.

The popularity of Egyptian and other online protests has caught the attention of the U.S. State Department:
"State Department officials ... believe that social-networking software like Facebook’s has the potential to become a powerful pro-democracy tool. They pointed to recent developments in Saudi Arabia, where in November a Facebook group helped organize a national hunger strike against the kingdom’s imprisonment of political opponents, and in Colombia, where activists last February used Facebook to organize one of the largest protests ever held in that country, a nationwide series of demonstrations against the FARC insurgency."

Revolution, Facebook-Style

1 comment:

Charlie T said...

In a way I find this article somewhat bittersweet. The Egyptians, as the article indicates, have been suppressed from freely stating how they feel about certain government issues for more than 25 years now. Their so called "democratic" government has a strong hold on the population, as it is legally allowed to ban political organizations and can break up even the smallest protests. The internet, however, has allowed for many of the youth in Egypt to freely (at least for now) to share their views about very important political happenings in their region and throughout the world. Moreover, they are not only sharing their ideas, but brining them to action by coordinating humanitarian aid. Unfortunately, the government caught wind of the youth's upheaval, and some people have been arrested. Despite this, it will be impossible for the government to continuously monitor people on Facebook, and then jail those who are acting "unlawfully," so either way, through the internet these voices are going to be heard.

I also found the closing portion of the article to be intriguing as well. Although we are talking about Facebook, it seems as though there is some type of internet warfare brewing beneath the surface. The US State Department see Facebook as a means through which democratic ideals can be disseminated among thousands of youth in the Middle East. So instead of fighting to instill democracy in those areas, it seems as though the US is going to appeal to the youth in this area and attract their attention to a form of government that is most likely foreign to them. Whether or not this ploy will work is another story, as it is possible that these nations will invade on people's privacy and monitor the social network, but only time will tell if such a means to promote democracy will work