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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs