Egypt in revolt
February 10, 2011 Leave a comment
I know a couple of guys from Egypt, and, unsurprisingly, they have been glued to Al Jazeera, as well as getting updates from friends and family in the country. At the start of this week I was feeling a bit discouraged, as it looked like the momentum of the revolution was slowing, but my friends, on the strength of what they were hearing, were still confident that change was on the way. They tell me that the demonstrations tomorrow are set to be the biggest yet, and, now that strikes are spreading and the army is wavering, time seems to be running out for Mubarak’s regime (though he must have missed that memo). A full-scale democratic revolution may still take some time, but even modest progressive change will be a first step.
The events in Egypt have again brought up the question of the degree to which social media have changed the dynamic of such movements – there’s a useful round-up of opinion here. I’m still unconvinced – while the internet may have helped spread word of what was happening around the world, I think the organising within Egypt must have been based mainly on more personal contacts. People may hear about demonstrations via Twitter or whatever, but the decision on whether to join in or not will depend on what family, friends, neighbours and workmates are doing, and any large-scale mobilisation needs the sort of guidance that comes from an organisational structure if it is going to be persistent and effective. That structure may come from a pre-existing political party, or it may arise more spontaneously, but I think it has to be based on something more concrete than the weak ties of social media.
What social media does have to offer, I think, is more in the way of creating a record of what has been happening from the level of the streets, an immediate and intimate history that will serve as a template for future movements.
The situation as I write tonight is still uncertain. My thoughts, for what they’re worth, are with the people of Egypt; I hope I’ll be able to celebrate their victory in the not too distant future.