I have been digging into the background story on the 2011 revolution in Egypt. Follow that last link for a good recap of how the police beating of Khaled Said created a maelstrom that has turned into massive protests and labor strikes in Egypt. A man named Wael Ghonim has emerged as a symbol of the revolution in Egypt after his CNN Interview as a rebuttal of Omar Suleiman, the General now promoted to a VP, did an interview with ABC News.
Regarding the politics of Mubarak’s autocracy, I think we can agree on some fundamentals:
- The killing of Khaled Said was unjustified and horrible.
- The government response to these allegations in Egypt was insufficient.
- The protests are right to object to 30 years of “Emergency Rule“
- Mubarak should step down immediately
- The US historical support for Mubarak, while unlike the situation with the Shah in Iran, will likely not win us many friends in post-Mubarak Egypt.
- Social media has played a key role in the protests as evidenced by the Internet blackout implemented by the government.
Wait. I’m not so sure about number 6. The role of social media is unclear.
Working in social media I was curious and looked up the facebook group and the twitter accounts. What struck me was that for a country with a population of 77 Million, the page and the twitter account have relatively few followers. Right now Wael Ghonim on twitter has 46,035 followers
and the Khalid Said page on Facebook has 61,687 fans
Both of those numbers seem small to me given the scope of the protests. My first thought was “you must be looking at the wrong page. Surely there is an arabic page that is the real FB connector. I emailed a politically active Egyptian friend (Fayza!) and her response was:
I think that’s probably as good as you’re going to get. It’s a very active page, so my guess is that it’s the best resource for his supporters that Facebook has to offer. Lots of Egyptians speak fluent English because of the prevalence of tourism. It doesn’t surprise me that the primary FB presence is in English at all.
Perhaps Gladwell is right that the Revolution will not be tweeted. When Gladwell in his post talks about networks he says:
The drawbacks of networks scarcely matter if the network isn’t interested in systemic change””if it just wants to frighten or humiliate or make a splash””or if it doesn’t need to think strategically. But if you’re taking on a powerful and organized establishment you have to be a hierarchy.
So either social media isn’t the huge driver for change, or it is a very small subset of the population communicating through social media that is facilitating the action. But you certainly can’t say that hundreds of thousands are responding to direct tweets with a central call to action.
So to me the role of social media in the revolution is still a conundrum. And as I type this, it looks like the rumors of him stepping down tonight on 2/10/2011 were false.
More to follow….