A Special Commentary on Social Media: Watching Egypt

Gina .. Today, there has been a serious escalation of journalists and media professionals, has demonstrated thousands of journalists within the trade union of journalists, aimed at bringing down Makram Mohamed Ahmed, chairman of the Press, check out today quorum to bring down the captain of the office, have also been several demonstrations in the press institutions different, to bring down the editors, pro-Toregime and President Hosni Mubarak

Gina .. I’m fine and I hope that you may be fine .. There was a fire exchange between the protesters and supporters of President Mubarak .. I have hit a wall while fleeing from an iron fire .. But now, okay .. Events today very hot, and I expect that there will be mass protests on Friday next.

This is a first-hand, real-life account on the Egyptian revolution…as well as a young person on the scene in Egypt…as well as thoughts from a reform-minded journalist. But most of all, these are messages from my friend via Facebook.

As a follow-up to the piece on this blog last week on social media in the mainstream, I wanted to share my unique perspective on the events in Egypt because while many people throughout the world are seeing this news for the first time, I am seeing the repercussions of a generation worth of actions.

As the first country director for an American organization that worked to promote democracy and participation within Hosni Mubarak’s long-dominated government, I worked with scores of people who longed for regime change. Most of these people were in their thirties and younger. Many had never known a time when President Mubarak wasn’t “President” and all of them were active on-line and with their mobile phones.

In June of 2006, the organization I worked for released the first ever political party assessment report.   We commented publicly that there had not been significant steps toward reform in 25 years of Mubarak rule. Newspapers and blogs picked up the story, which led to me being called into the Foreign Ministry. Our activities were suspended; I was labeled a flagrant interferer and a spy; newspapers ran story after story; Mubarak-backed members of Parliament called for my arrest while members of the U.S. Congress countered by moving to slash Egyptian funding.

Through the weeks that followed as the situation escalated, I was sustained by the supportive texts and messages sent by my Egyptian staff and reformer bloggers like Sandmonkey. But, finally, a newspaper front-page headline screamed, “Eliminate the Spy” accompanied by my photo with a gun’s cross-hairs graphic over it. I left Egypt that week. I could because I was an American. My Egyptian friends could not.

And, of course, they wouldn’t want to. It’s their country and they were (and are) committed to change. So, they continued their reform movement through writings, lectures and postings until they converged on the streets just over two weeks ago.

This brings me back to social media. In many developing democracies, where the government still controlled the land-line infrastructure, the use of cell phones exploded faster than in the United States. SMS campaigns were old-hat even when I had arrived. This technology has helped bring reform-minded people together.

Looking back on my days there, if I were asked on how a revolution of this sort would happen, my hypothetical would be very similar to what we are seeing and reading about every day: Driven by the new generation of Egyptians eager for their voice to be heard, and spreading that eagerness through the  technological platform most associated with their generation, which is social media.

So, in the midst of the glaring (yet impersonal) international headlines, I look inward to my small personal community of Egyptian friends that social media has allowed me to maintain since I lived and worked in Cairo , and as the days have turned into weeks, these notes have helped feel like I have a front-row seat to history, despite being half a world away.

NOTE: This was published just prior to President Mubarak’s speech on February 10th.

______________________________________________________________

Gina London is Vice President for Strategy and Development for Make Me Social. She currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland and in 2006, was Egypt Country Director for the International Republican Institute. She is active on a number of social media channels, and a member of a number of groups including the Egyptian Association for Change.

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1 Comment

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One response to “A Special Commentary on Social Media: Watching Egypt

  1. Social media technology truly is amazing. Thanks for sharing the story of your experiences and perspective on what’s going on in Egypt. I plan to share this tonight at the dinner table.

    Your tale of the front page photo with crosshairs made me think of another recent news story. That sort of imagery is cause for concern whether it’s in Egypt or in our country.

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