News / Middle East

Social Media a Critical Tool for Middle East Protesters

Mona Eltahawy, Egyptian Journalist/Blogger, right, and Carl Gershman, President, National Endowment for Democracy
Mona Eltahawy, Egyptian Journalist/Blogger, right, and Carl Gershman, President, National Endowment for Democracy
TEXT SIZE - +
Alex Villarreal

Social networking websites have played a critical role in the anti-government protests sweeping the Middle East and North Africa. But media experts say the people, not the technology, are driving the demonstrations.

Organizers of the protests in Tunisia and Egypt used Facebook and Twitter to mobilize supporters.

In Egypt, the Facebook page "We Are All Khaled Said" quickly amassed thousands of fans and is now up to nearly 1 million followers. The page, honoring a young Egyptian businessman allegedly beaten to death by police last year, was instrumental in organizing Egypt's uprising.

Protesters' online efforts have shown the power of social media as a tool for political change. But Egyptian journalist and blogger Mona Eltahawy says those calling the Middle East movements Facebook or Twitter revolutions are not giving the credit where it is due.

"Facebook and Twitter did not invent courage. And I think we owe it to these incredibly courageous people. I mean look how many people are being slaughtered in Libya, to recognize that this courage has been there for decades, whether people outside of those countries saw it or not. Facebook allowed you to see it. Facebook allowed them to connect. But at the end of the day, it's their courage to go out on the street and topple those regimes that must be saluted, before we salute anybody else," she said.

Eltahawy shared her views Tuesday at a panel discussion in Washington hosted by the Center for International Media Assistance and the National Endowment for Democracy.

Abderrahim Foukara, chief of television network Al Jazeera's Washington bureau, also spoke at the event. He said social media were incredibly important in publicizing the protests. But he said he doubts the websites could have spread that spirit of democracy alone, adding that other media also played an important role.

"There were a lot of young people using Tweets and Facebook, and they still are, to convey a sense, in the case of Libya, of the atrocities being committed against civilians.  But in the case of Egypt for example, you needed a television medium, whereby Egyptians can have a conversation with each other in real time in a way that put what was going on in Egypt in context, not just for people in Egypt but also for other people around the region," he said.

Social networking websites also can be fragile. U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff said Facebook and Twitter have become "vital platforms" for mobilizing dissidents, but he pointed out that the tools are not immune to government influence.

"In Egypt, the government successfully shut down the Internet for five days during peak demonstrations, cutting off protesters' access to online resources. Similarly, in Libya, Tunisia and Bahrain, governments have worked to censor online content and slow down Internet connections. And in Iran, authorities have used Facebook user accounts to shadow and capture members of the opposition. These protests make it clear that digital media can be used to accelerate political and social change, but they also highlight the ability of authoritarian regimes to use the same tools to stifle it," he said.

U.S. officials have spoken out strongly against governments' efforts to block Internet services. Schiff said the U.S. government also is discussing how it can use social networking technologies to support democratic growth.

Michael Nelson, who teaches Internet studies at Georgetown University, says those seeking change have not let online crackdowns stop them. He said Internet users in the Middle East and elsewhere have found ways around the restrictions - using proxy servers, online gaming worlds and even dating sites to keep up communication.

"In many of these countries, the most technologically sophisticated 10 percent of Internet users will find a way to get what they want. The other 90 percent are often held back, they are often blocked. But as long as there's that 10 percent and they have relatives and they know other people, you can spread the word," he said.

Even after the revolutions, the panelists say social media will continue to play an important role, with citizens using the tools to discuss what kinds of countries they now want to build.

You May Like

'Exceptionally Lucky' US Boy Survives Flight in Wheel Well

The boy was unconscious for most of the flight, and appeared to be unharmed after enduring the extremely cold temperatures and lack of oxygen More

US Anti-Corruption Law Snags Major Tech Company

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in December, 1977 More

Cameron Criticized for Calling UK 'Christian Country'

Letter from scientists, academics and writers says the prime minister is fostering division by repeatedly referring to England as a 'Christian country' More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid