February 20, 2011

Egypt Trip Report: Part II

I am rather busy today, traveling around looking for answers to some of the security-related questions I posed in Part I of my Egypt Trip Report (see below). I want to briefly share, though, an interesting wrinkle to a rather polarized debate that has developed concerning the role the Internet and social media played in the protests in Egypt and the eventual downfall of Hosni Mubarak. Both sides of the debate, a friend told me last night, are essentially correct: yes, the Internet, Facebook and Twitter played a terribly important role in mobilizing the Egyptians who filled the streets of Egypt to protest the regime. But yes, too, it took ACTUAL BODIES out there in the streets and not "Facebook Revolutionaries" just re-tweeting the struggle from the comfort of their homes. One interesting piece of analysis I have now heard from several smart observers is that by shutting down the Internet and the cellular phone networks, the Egyptian regime actually *increased* the number of Egyptians on the streets protesting. Not only did shutting down the Internet force people to leave the house and physically connect with their fellow protesters, but one friend noted that if you really want to piss off all of Egypt, a good way to do so is by shutting off cell phone service. More than Facebook or Twitter, cellular phone service unites Egyptians in a virtual community. And by shutting down cellular phone service, you're sure to anger Egyptians of all generations and classes -- and not just the college kids with Facebook accounts. So score one for the enduring power of 20th Century technology, perhaps.