For the past few days that I’ve been following the unfolding of events in Egypt where citizens are still taking to the streets demanding President Mubarak’s resignation despite the violent government crackdown and heavy telecommunications block out, I remained skeptical that Twitter, Facebook and the internet at large sparked the on-going revolution.
If I recall it right, the Egyptian government cut-off Internet access to most of the country by ordering ISPs and telecoms to disable their services last Thursday, January 27. However, days before that, people in the thousands have already been taking to the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez calling on Mubarak to step down from power.
Despite being ‘disconnected’ to the rest of the World Wide Web, the protests continued with more and more people defying government-set curfews. It only proved that with or without the internet and its social networking services, the revolution will continue sans this powerful new tool.
And that is what precisely the internet by large, and social networking sites specifically are – modern tools of communication.
Matthew Ingram drives home the point over at GigaOM:
In the end, the real weapon is the power of networked communication itself. In previous revolutions it was the fax, or the pamphlet, or the cellphone — now it is SMS and Twitter and Facebook. Obviously none of these things cause revolutions, but to ignore or downplay their growing importance is also a mistake.
Fellow Global Voices Online Author Jillian C. York has a wonderful post about this from her experience of keeping tabs and connecting with Tunisians as they started their own revolution before the Egyptians did.
By all Tunisian accounts, WikiLeaks had little–if anything–to do with the protests; rather, the protests were spurred by unemployment and economic woes. Furthermore, Tunisians have been documenting abuses by the Ben Ali regime and the first family for years, as Zuckerman notes. In fact, Dickinson seems to realize this herself, and yet for some reason still attempts to argue that WikiLeaks was a catalyst in the unrest.
Having read that, I am confident in saying that in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez, it no longer matters for an Egyptian protester whether he can connect to the web or not, what’s paramount is that President Mubarak must go.
This it not to say that social networking tools and the internet are to be discounted, as I’ve pointed out earlier, it is just one of the tools of communication available to us today.
The experience in Egypt just shows that indeed, as Malcolm Gladwell put it, the revolution will not be tweeted.