Tag Archives: Egypt

tweetsfromtahrir

Tweets from Tahrir

I am surprised I missed this as the time: Tweets from Tahrir. Its a compilation of tweets from Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring uprisings, edited by Nadia Idle and Alex Nunns.  During the protests I suggested that the protestors in ‘the world’s biggest think-tank’ publish their hopes for the future of Egypt and that new technologies could help them do it very quickly.  Idle and Nunns appear to have got this precise project published within a month.

This book obviously owes something to James Bridle’s TweetBook.  It is also a companion to books like We Are Iran and Diaries of an Unfinished Revolution, two collections drawn from blogs and activists, and supported by English PEN’s Writers in Translation programme.

#18daysinEgypt

A few weeks ago I suggested that a project be launched to publish the thoughts and policies of the Tahrir Square think-tank. The nearest realisation of this I have come across so far is the #18daysinEgypt project, which seeks to retroactively collate and tag all the content produced during the uprising that culminated in the resignation of Hosni Mubarak.

2nd February 2011, in Bab El Luk, Cairo. Photo by gcawflickr on Flickr.
2nd February 2011, in Bab El Luk, Cairo. Photo by gcawflickr on Flickr.

(H/T Sunny).

By Spreading Out We're Harder To Stop

I am sure readers will be aware of the long-running global discussion about the role social media can play in revolutions.  Clearly, Facebook and Twitter can catalyse opposition to authoritarian regimes, and spread news of protests and government oppression between citizens, and to the world at large.

In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak’s heavy handed response to online opposition may actually have quickened his fall.  He and his cronies felt they had no option but to ‘switch off’ the Internet, depriving the entire country of proper connectivity.  This was an obvious ploy which only signalled the regime’s desperation.  The protesters in Tahrir Square were emboldened.

In the future, however, oppressive governments may become more subtle and savvy in their approach to censorship.  In Episodes #81 and #82 of the Rebooting the News podcast, Dave Winer and Jay Rosen discuss this problem at length.   Winer explained out that Twitter and Facebook could be nixed by regimes.  An Internet ‘kill switch’ is bad for governments, because it signals to the people that the protests are working.  Instead, oppressive governments will try to develop tools which simply filter out content which undermines their agenda, yet maintains the appearance of normalcy.  The Chinese regime does this very well, and managed to selectively filter out references to Egypt for Internet users inside China.  Having witnessed the sobering examples of Mubarak and Ben Ali, other dictators will begin to commission tools to achieve this. Corporations (which, we must remind ourselves, include Twitter and Facebook) will be happy to do this, in exchange for access to the emerging markets these countries represent.

Winer expands on this idea on his blog, Scripting.com:

They can do the same with Facebook that they do with Assange. There’s all kinds of crazy stuff you can do at a firewall to make one site appear to be having technical problems. Real technical problems (but fake ones nonetheless). There are consultants calling on generals all over the world, right now, selling them wonderful Internet dashboards that selectively and randomly make sites appear to have problems of their own, not caused by the government. Permanent link to this item in the archive.

Anticipating this, we have to create communication networks on the Internet that require that the whole Internet be cut off in order for them to be cut off. The reason is simple. The people who are being manipulated will know they’re being manipulated. In a centralized social space, there could easily be doubt. I know this is a complicated idea, but the intellects are at work, I promise you. They are smart, we have to be smart too. Permanent link to this item in the archive.

It’s important that people learn to manage their own infrastructure. It’s going to happen, we can do it. We can make servers much easier to set up and maintain, and do more stuff that’s meaningful to people like the people in Egypt fighting for freedom. By spreading out we’re harder to stop. Permanent link to this item in the archive.

This strikes me as being one of the most important ideas for freedom of expression right now, and a crucial lesson from the Egyptian uprising.

More thoughts on the Tahrir Square 'think-tank'

One protester made a helpful explainer for President Mubarak. It says "Mubarak leaves. Yes: Parliament dissolves. No: Protests, disobedience. strikes." Photo: Al-Jazeera English on Flickr, creative commons.
One protester made a helpful explainer for President Mubarak. It says "Mubarak leaves. Yes: Parliament dissolves. No: Protests, disobedience. strikes." Photo: Al-Jazeera English on Flickr, creative commons.

My earlier idea about publishing the thoughts of the protesters in Tahrir Square seemed to cause confusion. Sunny said:

@robertsharp59 so, er, we’re publishing blogposts by people within the square…after the event is over?

Well, that was not quite the intention.  The blogposts I have read from people ‘on the ground’ in Cairo and elsewhere seem to focus on the movements of the security forces and pro-Mubarak counter-protests, or other ‘in-the-moment’ stories.  The use of the word ‘think tank’ to describe the discussions taking place within the square caught my eye, because it implies discussions of policy and new political structures: More forward looking, and less reactive.

It may be that such discussions and ideas have already found their way online, but I’ve not seen many, and in any case they are scattered around the web.  Such ideas that are coming out are filtered, either through journalists or by experts who are not part of the protests.  These reports and analyses are valuable, of course, but I think primary accounts would have a certain value at this precise political moment.  As The Bee said

@robertsharp59 @sunny_hundal Would be really good to get the view from the inside & not “retold” by someone else

(More thoughts in response to my idea on The Bee’s website, which awesomely is in English and German.)

On Facebook, Sophie Mayer was enthusiastic, and reminds me of the We Are Iran project.

I see something on the model of We Are Iran crossed with a conference proceedings… Would be an amazing record of a moment and an opportunity to organise ideas and information. Oh for a mimeograph!

Update

A couple of PEN members may be putting this together with their contacts in Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon and Libya!  Get in touch via the comments if you would like to help.

#Egypt, The Most Important Data Nexus on the Planet

Amid all the uncertainty and violence happening in Egypt, I was struck by a story from Alexandria.  Youths have been organising to protect Bibliotheca Alexanadrina, ‘The New Library of Alexandria’.

The young people organized themselves into groups that directed traffic, protected neighborhoods and guarded public buildings of value such as the Egyptian Museum and the Library of Alexandria.  They are collaborating with the army.  This makeshift arrangement is in place until full public order returns.

The library is safe thanks to Egypt’s youth, whether they be the staff of the Library or the representatives of the demonstrators, who are joining us in guarding the building from potential vandals and looters.

A major early move by the Egyptian government was to ‘flick the switch’ and choke Internet communications.  In the short term this has clearly given Mubarak and his cohort the upper-hand, by keeping the pro-democracy groups divided and chaotic.  However, the short-term gain might weaken them in the future.  As the the freelancer journalist Ashraf Khalil just tweeted from Cairo:

Told Nile TV that the main economic damage to #egypt is from Net shutdown (estimated $90 mill) and images of violence scaring away tourists

The stories of the Library and the net shut-down recall an old Wired article by Neal Stephenson, where he traces the paths of fibre-optic cables around the world (I actually mentioned it last December when discussing Wikileaks). Stephenson’s travels take him to Egypt, where a major new communications cable is being landed in Alexandria, at a most historic location:

If you turn your back on the equipment through which the world’s bits are swirling, open one of the windows, wind up, and throw a stone pretty hard, you can just about bonk that used book peddler on the head. Because this place, soon to be the most important data nexus on the planet, happens to be constructed virtually on top of the ruins of the Great Library of Alexandria.

Just one more reason why we are all bound up in Egypt’s fate.  Let’s hope that the people who marshalled to protect their museums, are the ones to prevail.

Facetious Gaza Post

Gaza Wall
In reporting the recent Gaza border break the BBC reffered to the security “wall”. Now, call me pedantic, but that looks more like a big fence to me, just like the other “security fence” currently under construction around the West Bank.

Oh, but wait! The fence in the West Bank is actually a wall. Now I’m confused. Why can’t we get nomenclature correct on this one?

That’s the problem with dehumanising people these days, you just run into a wall of political correctness. Or is that a fence?

Free Alaa – Egyptian blogger detained

While MK posts on the benefits of the small-web (more on that another time), we find a good example of the ‘large web’ we have all come to know. Demoblogger posts G-B4A as a Test Case in Web 2.0 Activism, highlighting the 21st century methods being employed to hasten the release of Alaa Abd El-Fatah, who has been imprisoned for his part in a peaceful, pro-democracy protest.

The web can raise awareness of these issues, but we must still focus on more traditional channels in order to effect change in this particular issue. Pickled Politics suggests that Google-bombing might not be successful, and in any case should not be an end itself.

[The] free-Alaa campaign needs to become more prominent with mentions in the national papers. But surprise surprise the press has largely ignored the story … My suggestion is: organise or join a demonstration outside the Egyptian embassy or send emails to your newspaper or broadcaster of choice and ask why haven’t they yet written about this story.

Or, of course, TheyWorkForYou.com can allow you to make your MP aware of the issue. The new Foreign Secretary might be prompted to take up the issue of free speech with the Egyptian government.