Regime change at 140 charaters. Egypt give social media its first geo-political victory. Part II

This is Part II of a two part post.  Part I is here.

(first draft – still needs edit) In late 2010, A man named Mohamed Bouazizi, running a small fruit stand in Tunisia set himself on fire as both a protest and a desperate cry against the brutish and tyrannical regime of Ben Ali and the total lose of what little dignity and hope he had to support his family after a police officer basically attacked him and his little fruit stand.  Although successful in bringing economic growth to the country, only a small percentage of those connected to the state enjoyed the fruits of this economic growth.  People living in the outlying areas were still poor, repressed and basically abused by the state and their collaborators.  In previous years and small event like this would have gone unnoticed.  But with the expansion of access to the internet, Tunisian blogs, mostly outside the country, the population was beginning to learn more and more just how corrupt their government was.  The WIKILeaks release of US diplomatic evaluations that seemed to corroborate this point of view only further inflamed the population.

Protest began to popup all over the country and although there was plenty of hacking attacks on both pro and anti government sites, and a number of bloggers and even a rapper was arrested; at no time (as far as I know) were the internet taken down, social media sites blocked and cell phone service taken down as seen in the Iranian protest.  Although the normal pattern of controlling the media, blaming outside influences, violent repression and vague promises were executed, this time the regime was simply too hated, too corrupt to withstand the ever growing number of those dissatisfied with the government.  After 28 days, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the nation.

All of the events in Tunisia were followed by people all over the world. Especially those in Egypt who have been living under there own autocratic state controlled by Hosni Mubarak for the last 30 years.  As with Iran and with Tunisia and other states, the people began to communicate with each other through social networks like Twitter and Facebook about what the people can do if united and perhaps that same revolution can take place in Egypt.

When Wael Ghonim started his Facebook page to bring light to Khalid Sayid’s beating and death; people started to add images and videos to this Facebook page coming to 1/2 million followers. Soon people used this page and others to organize protests… and people started to show up.  Taking pictures and video’s; the word spread further.

Soon bloggers and socmed users were calling for protest and strikes against Mubarak.   As fast as Tunisia erupted, Egypt was faster.  The word spread and people were congregating next to the Nile river in an area called Freedom Square.  The Mubarak administration has also watched what happened in Iran and Tunisia and initially blocked certain website just as in Iran, but people got around it user proxies, just like Iran.  After this did not work, he took it a step further and shut down all web traffic and mobile traffic.

Access to Twitter and Facebook was blocked.   In 24 hours it was announced on the Google Blog, the search giant has teamed up with the incoming SayNow team and Twitter to create a simple speak-to-tweet service for people currently engulfed in the turmoil in Egypt.  From the Google post..

It’s already live and anyone can tweet by simply leaving a voicemail on one of these international phone numbers (+16504194196 or +390662207294 or +97316199855) and the service will instantly tweet the message using the hashtag #egypt. No Internet connection is required. People can listen to the messages by dialing the same phone numbers or going to twitter.com/speak2tweet.

We hope that this will go some way to helping people in Egypt stay connected at this very difficult time. Our thoughts are with everyone there.

As the protests continued the typical recipe that all dictators seem to follow was concocted.  They started to send thugs to repress the protesters, arrested those that were speaking out.. Through the state controlled press the blamed outside agitators and then made veiled promises to reform. However, the protesters would stand for nothing expect the resignation of Mubarak.  Under internal and international pressure, he finally reopened the internet nodes and stopped blocking mobile devices. Finally an announcement was made that he would give a speech and ‘demands will be met.’  During his speech; instead of stepping down he still insisted he would stay in power and offered more reforms.

There was first a wave of disbelieve, then disappointment, then full on outrage.  All of this was picked up by the global news organizations which has set up camp with live feeds and thousands of tweets and facebook messages racing through the social network reinforcing that only his abstention of power would satisfy the crowds.  In less then 24 hours; he resigned and left the Presentational Palace.

As amazing as it is that this non violent protest worked, was the speed.  18 days total.  Less then 24 hours from the reading of his speech where he stated he would not leave office, to getting on a plane. The speed and depth of social media as well as main media monitoring of this network has made the normal path of divide and conquer less and less effective. What was interesting is that only about 20% of the Egyptian population has internet access at home and 40% have cell phones so communications were not stopped by cutting off access to internet, but instead inflamed the population even more.by cutting off internet and cell phone, that actually drove more people to the streets and the square to find out what was going on

Although we did not see a successful change of power in Iran, we have seen it in Egypt; and we have seen many other autocratic countries moving very quickly to address (or appear to address) the needs of their people out of fear of another lightly fast revolt powered by social media.

At the time of this writing, about 2,000 demonstrators clash with police in the Yemeni capital Sanaa in the third consecutive day of anti-government protests. Riot police in Algiers dispersed thousands of people who had defied a government ban to demand that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika step down. President Mahmoud Abbas will immediately ask Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to appoint a new cabinet. And in Iran, where we started this article, reports from Iran say several opposition activists have been arrested and international broadcasters are being jammed. The moves come after the opposition called for a march in Tehran next week in support of the protests in Egypt.

As much as it seems that the ‘tools’ of social media was the foundation of the revolutions we have been talking about, and seem to be coming, its not the service of Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Google but instead the change of thinking that these tools have helped evolve.  By allowing people to exchange ideas and information, social media tools have given people a sense of community and strength through the social network.  Once ideas have been shared and a sense of mission has been formed, blocking access to social media only angers people more and let them know that the authorities are afraid.

The story of the network revolution is not over and perhaps by March I may have another update, but right now, with the last 3 revolutions we have seen, its clear that social media is more then just a tool to allow people to communicate but instead a way for community to form and ideas to not only be exchanged, but solidify as a call of action.  The next 2 months should be interesting.

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