This Week on teh Interwebs

Brief thoughts on Egypt and digital activism


Even though this is my last day at Lift11, I can’t help but think of what is happening in Egypt right now. I’m deeply ashamed to be American, ashamed of the Obama regime’s flipflopping between silence and complicity. Worse, I am so tired of people talking about Twitter Revolutions when Twitter isn’t central to the real story at hand. Digital activism is not a panacea for the guilt of armchair liberals who want to be unique, but it can be a tool as part of a greater social movement accompanied by GROUND ACTIVISM. Some brief thoughts to be expounded upon later on in a cleaner, less sleep-deprived post:

1. Like I said above, everyone knows that I am an advocate of the idea that digital activism does not replace activism on the streets. While we are tweeting and retweeting from the relative comfort of living rooms, universities and conference rooms, people are dying in Egypt for what we find nice to RT. It is all fine and good to tweet that you want to go to Tahrir but meanwhile there are people in Tahrir who are getting rocks thrown on them and beaten down with sticks by Mubarak’s thugs and not getting access to medical care. We know how bad this is but we aren’t living it. I qualify this statement- I think Egypt-based digital activists have a special role in this situation and, just like journalists and traditional activists, are also now targets. The Egyptian diaspora should also not be ignored because the old school “Expats in their ivory towers don’t know what back home is really like” idea is also in a state of flux. Egyptians online, be them here or there, have really taken the lead in the face of the internet cutoff, but they have also put themselves in danger both at home and abroad- it is a new category of activist facing the same problems traditional activism faces.

2. That isn’t to say that I don’t think “Tweeting the Revolution” is useless, otherwise I wouldn’t sit my ass on Twitter all day (lest I be accused of being a Self-Hating RTer). If anything, our online presence shows that the public can no longer be duped (see point three) and that stuff that got swept under the rug before is getting disseminated, talked about, RTed and entered into the collective consciousness. I believe that we are in a transition period where the role of digital activism in changing, as is the role it plays in grassroots activism. I think we are heading to an overlap of complimentary roles – bloggers and tweeters are out in the streets as well. The mix of telephone, street and online communications and the way the word is spread. And speaking of bloggers and tweeters out in the streets, they now are becoming targets like traditional activists. We will soon enter a time where the roles are either complimentary (which has already happened) or inseparable (which admittedly is much farther away). The “inseparability” hypothesis is another topic for another post- so don’t get me wrong. I would not be so quick to dismiss the role of online activism in recent events in Tunisia and Egypt, I think this is just the beginning.

3. I only have a BA in International Studies, I’m not highly educated, but I am not stupid either. I’m not impressed when people throw me bullshit about Mubarak and stability, and Israel’s ally, and Obama and foreign aid like I don’t know what the deal is. Yes, Tunisia is a small country with low economic and strategic impact blah blah blah. Yes (sarcasm) it is easier to sell out Ben Ali than it is to sell out “Israel’s only friend” Mubarak. ZOMGS if Mubarak leaves, the MB will take over. Of course. I call bullshit. I think anyone with half a brain knows that Egyptians on the street don’t want the MB. And who cares if they do? What, is Mubarak better? People aren’t stupid. There is a reason the MB were allowed to organize into opposition. To be the Muslim bogeyman and fall guy. As mentioned in a couple of talks Wednesday at lift11, old models of geopolitics are getting harder and harder to adapt in an increasingly connected world where transparency is key. I think the idea that a stable dictatorship is better for geopolitics than an unstable democracy is more bullshit than ever. I don’t buy the idea that the Egyptian people are going to pick some goat fuckers in caves to lead their country after shedding blood to get Mubarak out of there. I think our ideas of governance and transparency need to be reworked and rethought for the digital age.

So yeah, these days, digital activists have a role to play in the dissemination of information in the face of reticent governments and organizations who tend to (and embrace) the shady. For those of us that are wannabe digital activists, our role in social networks is to absorb the information we get, re-dissimenate it via RTs and links (and blogs!) and make our numbers legion so as to say no, we won’t be fooled. But the error in thought is thinking that tweets replace groundwork (they compliment, and then depending on who it comes from).

One final side note: as I have mentioned in my Twitter Policy, I want to talk about Point 4 of my Twitter manifesto: people who try to impose curation on other users. I got unfollowed by someone I thought was a friend during the World Cup because I tweeted Algerian soccer too much. I think a lot of people after weeks of Tunisia and now Egypt are having social network fatigue. This is heavy news and sad times and a lot of us have been touched personally by recent events either involving our person, our families and friends being “close to the action”. But you know, sometimes people need to disconnect. People deal with drama in different ways. Some people have drama but don’t want to think about it or talk about it. Some people don’t even have any drama and think they do. Don’t hate on people who aren’t tweeting your topic du jour because you think that is what they should be interested in. The only thing you should care about is if they read it, and even then…


Author: Nicole Cunningham

American Expat and convert to Islam living and working between Lausanne and Zurich, Switzerland.

8 thoughts on “Brief thoughts on Egypt and digital activism

  1. Thank you on your final side note. That is why I disappeared from Twitter for a week.

    • Keep in mind that I wouldn’t unfollow someone for “only tweeting egypt” or “not tweeting egypt” so I practice what I preach. But yeah. I have no patience for external curation. In a related note, I also think people read too much into follow and unfollow- I must follow a couple of hundred people who don’t follow me back. The reason they don’t follow me back is because my tweets aren’t interesting to them. So I am not a speshul snowflake boo hoo. We have got to stop having egos on social networks and just go for the information.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Brief thoughts on Egypt and digital activism « --


  4. Salams,

    Kudos to this post.

    Slightly off-tangent, but you know what makes me so happy (+ optimistic) about the recent Tunisian and Egyptian
    Revolutions? The absence of “ISLAM IS THE SOLUTION!!!” bullshit sloganeering. Seriously, alhamdulillah!

    A week ago or so, (UK) Channel 4 news anchor Jon Snow interviewed a niqaabi on Tahrir Square who said: “This is NOT an Islamic revolution, we don’t want a religious government, we want democracy. This is an Egyptian revolution, the (Mubarak) government wants to separate those who cover and those who don’t but we are all standing against them together as one nation.”

    I could’ve hugged that sister on the spot though I’m quite sure she’d (rightfully) kick my ass 🙂

  5. FYI :

    The wonderful Nawal el-Saadawi on the Egyptian revolution.

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