The start of 2011 has been an eventful to say the least. At the centre of this activity has been the Middle East, in particular Tunisia and Egypt. The highly respected BBC correspondent John Simpson compared the events in Egypt to the fall of the Berlin wall.
Watching a revolution unfold on television is a fascinating experience. What’s even more fascinating is that the internet and social media in particular were key components of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. An army of bloggers and tweeters in Egypt and Egyptians around the world were at the heart of the uprisings.
Tahrir Square was the epicentre of the revolution and once the protesters took control of the square and organised it, at the very centre were the bloggers. The job of blogging was made much harder as Egypt’s internet service providers were forced to shut down in an attempt to make it harder for demonstrators to get organised and limit the flow of information to the international community.
By the time Egypt’s internet was largely shut down the news of the demonstrations had already gone around the world and back again. The speed of information thanks to the internet and social media is what ensured the news of the protests went global in minutes.
Sadly, as is the case with most revolutions, it cost lives. It is estimated that at least 300 people died and hundreds more were badly injured in the Egyptian revolution. If free and fair elections can be held in Egypt within six months, as the military which now controls the country has promised, those who died will not have done so in vain.
One individual really caught my attention during the Egyptian revolution. Wael Ghonim is Google’s head of marketing for the Middle East and Africa. Such is his influence that he was arrested on 25th of January and not released for twelve days. Upon his release and following an emotional interview on television thousands of supporters joined a Facebook page in his honour which states “We authorise Wael Ghonim to speak on behalf of the Egyptian revolution.”
Wael Ghonim is not a politician. He is not a man who seeks power or accepts that he at all special. However, because of his position in Google he was seen as a major threat to the ousted president Mubarak which resulted in his arrest and it could be argued this made him a political prisoner.
For the revolutionist, the demonstrator and the protestor, Facebook, Twitter and blogs are their voice to the outside world. To a dictatorial regime Facebook, Twitter and blogs are powerful weapons that must be contained. The only problem is that the internet and social media has taken root and digging it up is impossible.