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
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

Beijing Warns Hong Kong Protesters, Cracks Down at Home

In suppressing protest news, China reportedly has arrested more than 20 people on the mainland who acted in support of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters More

Competing Goals Could Frustrate Efforts to Fight Islamic State

As alliances shift and countries re-define themselves, analysts say long-standing goals of some key players in Middle East may soon compete with Western goals More

Child Sexual Exploitation to Worsen in SE Asia

Southeast Asia’s planned economic integration is a key step for boosting the region’s productivity, but carries downsides as well 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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid