“The Facebook revolution”

What is known as the “Arab Spring” was allegedly the result of social media and its power to organise and mobilise demonstrations in 2011. But, how accurate is this picture? Poet and blogger Evronia Azer gives us her views on the matter.

September 10 2014 Text: Evronia Azer

Many people think that the Egyptian revolution that started on January 25, 2011 was planned on social media. Some even call it a “Facebook revolution.” Mostly, it is known as “the 2011 uprising.” All these ideas are completely inaccurate as far as I can tell.

First of all, what happened in 2011 wasn’t an event that took place in Tahrir Square for 18 days and ended; this is why I refuse to call it an uprising, because this implies somehow that it is now over. The first 18 days after January 25 marked the beginning of a revolution that had been in the making for years before 2011, is still on going, and will go on for years.

Secondly, what caused the population to march through the streets chanting, “Down with the regime” and “Bread, Freedom, and Social Justice” had to be much stronger than just social media planning. The people, who witnessed violations of their basic human rights every day and faced torture in police stations as a regular practice, didn't risk their lives, take part in demonstrations, and clash with the security forces only because they were mobilized by a Facebook event.

The social media revolution?
On January 25, the political groups planned marches against the ministry of interior, demanding social justice. However, as thousands more gathered, the protest broadened to include chants of “down with the regime.” On January 26 and 27, Twitter was partially blocked in Egypt, followed by an internet and telecommunications cut off for 5 days.

In 2009, the percentage of Egyptian households with TV access was 96.8 percent, while internet access in homes was only 25.3 percent. In 2010, internet users were 26.74 percent of the population1. Therefore, if we are to assume that the mobilization of huge numbers is because of media, then mobilization would work for the regime, not against it, since people would be inclined more towards TV lies, as national TV was almost everywhere. Blogs and other social media tools were blocked, than cut off, during the most crucial first days of the revolution. However, people were unlikely to revolt if they were only mobilized by media, whether through TV or internet, because the revolution was more spontaneous and inevitable: it had to happen given the outrageous oppression and widespread poverty.

Before 2011
We can never explain January 25 without looking back on different struggles during Mubarak’s rule, mainly those of students, workers, and movements like Kefaya, the national association for change, and April 6, which organized the El Mahalla El Kubra April 6 2008 strike. Therefore, January 25 was the “official” beginning of a revolution that had been in the making for years and was rooted in years of tyranny faced by the people. It can be considered that January 25 was the inevitable result of the oppressive regime’s practices and lack of social justice.

Nevertheless, social media played a key role, despite the fact that during Mubarak’s era, it was more difficult to expose human rights violations than now. This role emerged because traditional media channels have always been pro-regime, and blogs have been one of the main tools of breaking the taboo of criticizing the regime, via publishing videos, stories, and news of protests—along with reports of orchestrated sexual assault, torture, oppression, and other violations. On the other hand, it cannot be assumed that blogs mobilized the huge population that marched through the streets on January 25, because internet penetration was very low, especially in the lower social class (to which a large fraction of demonstrators belong).

The march occurred because general satisfaction about the regime among people in their day-to-day lives was very low, with poverty levels and unemployment rates increasing, and a dramatic deterioration of public services, mainly health and education. Blogs had documented the signs of people’s deep frustration with the regime, depicting an anticipation and expectation for a wide movement from the people against the regime.

Three years later
The revolution uncovered the extensive mess that the country was buried in for years, and the suffering of Egypt’s people. In a sense, the revolution didn’t bring chaos to the country, but the explosion of the people’s rage towards the regime revealed the inescapable destiny of years of pervasive corruption, and lack of transparency and accountability: the destiny towards an inevitable revolution.

It can be looked at as if the shield that the regime used to protect itself was torn down on January 25, and more people became active and brave. Before January 25, most people who weren’t activists were too scared to join protests or criticize the regime publicly, but January 25 broke the barrier of fear for thousands of people, and resulted in the evolution of many revolutionary and human rights groups. These groups, consisting of energetic youth across the country, fought military trials for civilians and achieved success in pressuring the Supreme Council of armed forces to release many detainees. Groups like these increase the public’s awareness of their legal and constitutional rights to fair trials, and their work combines legal, human rights, and humanitarian support, which allows young activists to become more experienced with tactics and methods they can use to fight injustice.

Nevertheless, the revolution still hasn’t resulted in a real political reform, because the same old faces have been in power in different regimes that have ruled Egypt since January 25 till now. Crackdowns on dissent and violations of human rights are on the rise. So what have we gained from January 25?

In addition to what was just mentioned, we also learnt from mistakes. We’ve also seen without a doubt that the people are in power, they cannot be manipulated by any political or religious group, and people’s power lies not in social media, but in their bravery and willingness to sacrifice their lives for the “Bread, Freedom and Social Justice” cause, which, in reality, is a lot deeper and more powerful than an overused revolutionary cliché.

The future
Families who have seen their beloved killed, injured, or unjustly detained throughout three years of the revolution, will not rest until the injustice they have faced is avenged and the responsible authorities, whether in power now or not, are held accountable. The more the revolution continues with tragically more bloodshed, the more the people will not rest until justice is fulfilled.

The revolution is not a struggle between oppressive Islamist and military regimes, but rather a struggle by the people for the basic demands of freedom and social justice that will not be fulfilled until the people create their own path and the capitalist class structure is eradicated. We have hope, because as long as oppression exists, Egyptians will be mobilized, and the revolution will continue to be strong, spontaneous and inevitable, even if it takes years to reach real social and political reforms, because we do understand that tens of years of corruption don’t end in 18 days or even months. Revolutions take years to happen, but the will of the people shall one day prevail.