Egyptian Pro-Democracy Protests Aided by Social Media

Egyptian-Pro-democracy-Protests-Aided-by-Social-Media

The world watches in amazement as one Arab country after the other rises in revolt against the undemocratic despots that have ruled them for decades. The region-wide unrest began in the form of street demonstrations in Tunisia. The demonstrations and rioting began over issues like corruption, unemployment and free speech and led to the resignation of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali; a man who had ruled Tunisia with an iron fist for the last three decades.

The success of the now-called “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia has prompted a similar movement in Egypt. Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets of Cairo and other major Egyptian cities asking President Hosni Mubarak to resign immediately. The street protests have been continuing for six weeks now and show no signs of cooling down.

What has surprised international observers the most is the successful use of social media websites like Facebook and Twitter to organize protests and attract more sympathizers. The effectiveness of these websites can be gauged by the fact that there is a photograph of an Egyptian protester reading “Thank You Facebook” which is being distributed via e-mail and blogs all over the world.

The use of social media websites in the mid-east/west Asia started with the controversial elections in Iran last year. Iranian moderates and pro-democracy activists used Twitter to campaign against the Iranian government. Unfortunately Iran and most other middle-eastern countries have little or no freedom of speech and the governments regularly censor the internet and block “un-friendly” websites and services.

Egypt is no different. Even as the protests catch on; the Egyptian government has banned all social media websites, shut off mobile networks and banned SMSes to quell the rebellion. On their part, Egyptians have improvised by using dial-up phone modems, satellite connections and other short cuts to access social media websites. A Twitter application named twitter.com/speak2tweet which converts phone messages left by people into tweets has also been exceedingly used by Egyptians.

Even as Egyptians march for an end to repression and dictatorship, the world has just been introduced to the massive political power of social media.

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