The Egyptian Revolution and the Free Web

July 18th, 2011   Theme: Internet Freedom

The street protests at the Tahir square in the Egyptian capital that started on January 25 and culminated with the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak less than one month later profoundly changed the political landscape. The importance of social medias during the protests has been heavily discussed during the latest year, and far from everybody feels comfortable with the description of a “Twitter-revolution,” while the future seems more and more uncertain.

Wael Ghonim, head of marketing for the Middle East and North Africa at Google, was received a hero during the last days of the revolution. Then newly released from custody, Ghonim had one week earlier been captured by Mubarak’s forces and held imprisoned with no contact from the world outside. The reason for Ghonim’s arrest was the Facebook page “We are all Khaled Said” which he had created to honor the young Egyptian who was beaten to death by the police in Alexandria last June. The Facebook page became an important arena for the protesters as it delivered news and helped mobilizing the protesters. It is this development that Freedom house and others recognize as a “Twitter-revolution.”

In tandem with the arrest of Ghonim, the authorities shut down the internet access and cell phone networks. According to Navid Hassanpour from Yale University, it is this blockage that accelerated the revolution. In the paper Media Disruption Exacerbates Revolutionary Unrest : Evidence from Mubarak’s Natural Experiment, from August 2011, Hassanpour runs the thesis that full connection and accessibility to social networks rather diminishes the number of protests. It is when the access to social networks is blocked that the protests increase, and it was indeed on the evening January 28, the same day as Mubarak restricted the internet access as the protests accelerated and the military was called in to guarantee order. Mubarak’s intention to restrict the protesters had the opposite effect.

As Mubarak resigned February 11, the Egyptian army came to power and most of the captured journalists and bloggers were released. But the tensions between citizens and the army are still severe after the revolution. On Mars 25, the military arrested the blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad who had criticized the lack of transparency within the Egyptian military and posted articles on his blog about abuses made by the army during the protests at the Tahir square. One month later, on April 11, he was sentenced to three years imprisonment by a military court and since August 23, Maikel Nabil Sanad is on hunger strike. The Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, concludes that far too little has changed since January 25.

Text: Jonathan Olsson
Photo: Fotoakuten

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