Social media & Egypt: is the revolution happening in the streets or on the web?

..That`s the one million dollar question I have been hearing all around: from newspapers,TV stations, media analysts and even from the social networks themselves. Is Tunisia, Egypt happening because of Twitter and Facebook?

I know how much the Western media get excited about this thought, which is “sexy”  and  might sell really well in Westerns TV talk shows and newspapers. Since the Tunisian “revolution” (although the Egyptian one is still referred to by somebody as “crisis” or “clashes”) has started, I have been receiving calls for books on the topics, invitations to conferences or to contribute to special issues of magazines. I know what this means for the West, as I am a Westerner myself.

But I have been living at the hearth of the Middle East for a while, I have been speaking Arabic with Arabs, sitting with them in cafes and restaurants, going out to concerts, literary clubs,  university meetings, conferences, talks. I have been travelling all around in the Region and experienced different places, from refugee camps to TV meeting rooms, and was lucky enough to have met with youngsters of different social classes and education levels.

The Twitter and Facebook revolution looks very different from where I am sitting now, a place where the daily Internet connection starts with a big question mark, if it is gonna be ok, if there will be enough speed, enough power supply , enough security to talk about the issues you want to talk about.

Egypt is not happening because of new media, Egypt is happening because of starvation, unemployment, injustice, corruption that have reached a limit.

Yet, new media has been playing a role, an indirect role in it. New media, the so-called “social media“, is all about communication among people. It`s about getting closer to people you already know and feeling that you are getting closer also to people you dont know but you get to know them, at least remotely, and they are living different lives, undergoing different challenges, having problems different from yours. And then you learn, and you become aware.

In places like Egypt were the education system is so rotten, where learning has never been put in its right context -which means criticizing, contextualizing or expressing doubts about something- social media have replaced a very key social function. And this was done through peer-learning and peer-cooperation. No old generation telling you the story the way the regime wants you to be told the story (and the History), but you learning with peers.

Egypt is a generation clash, and Westerners sometime dont think of how many youngsters are there out in the Arab world. I have been growing up in a country where young people simply don`t count which is a common “Mediterranean mentality”. But the difference between Italy, Greece, Spain and other Southern-EU countries that share this kind of mentality is that we dont have young people enough. It`s just a minority and can be ignored. But what about Egypt and all the other Arab countries, where more than 65% of the population is under 25? can we really ignore those folks?

Can we really do as Omar Suleiman was doing, few hours ago, on Egyptian TV, talking to the “nation” like a “father” who`s telling his kids that he will forgive them if they come back home after the bad things they did, just because they are young and kind of unconscious?

Is this really still a valid discourse in front of your audience when your audience is all made up by those people that you are blaming at, pretending to know how to guide them into the world?

Well, they know their world much better than Omar Suleiman or Mubarak do. And social media has contributed to this indirectly, by bringing the added value of learning through other peers.

Technology is scary: you just cant give the toy to your kid and pretends he plays the way you would play with it.

Young techies and engineers have already started building cooperative efforts to overcome governments` or any other repressive entity`s efforts to shut down the Internet when they feel not too comfortable about the “technology revolution” that they have previously encouraged for purely business and commercial reasons. In few hours and days, Open Mesh Egypt and  Alive in Egypt initiatives are born. Even Google has set up a web initiative to overcome the authorities` censorship in Egypt over the Internet.

The Arab world is not going to be the same after this. The entire world might not be the same after this. Many of us do hope so, even if we are not as young as the shabbab #jan25.

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