From Lambs to Lions: Self-Liberation and Social Media in Egypt

Article excerpt

Globalization has increasingly wired the world for the rapid transfer of information. In Egypt, the Mubarak regime recognized that information is power and created repressive institutions to control these flows. Torture, censorship, and murder kept Egyptians in fear and impeded them from organizing and opposing Mubarak in a large-scale manner. But then, with the click of a button, the situation changed. Pictures exposing murders and torture were posted on blogs; groups and discussion forums criticizing the regime's reactionary nature appeared. Moreover, the decentralized character of the Internet impeded Mubarak's coercive apparatus from stopping this process. Thus, the widespread use of the Internet and social media--Facebook, Youtube, and blogs--allowed the formation of networks that reduced the obstacles to individuals acting collectively against the Mubarak regime.

For the last 30 years, Egyptians have been subject to an unjust emergency law that suspended many constitutional rights and expanded the powers of the government's coercive apparatus, reducing the possibility of popular expression. Under this law censorship was legalized, the powers of the police were expanded and the rights of habeas corpus suspended. Thus, the powers of the government to silence its people and propagate lies favorable to the regime seemed nearly insurmountable. Under these conditions, the barriers to collective action seemed insurmountable. People thought that their participation in a demonstration would be inconsequential; they would ask themselves the question: "What difference can an individual possibly make in the balance of power between a heavily armed police force and a rabble of unarmed dissidents?"

The obstacles posed by this collective action problem can only be overcome if individuals are given a personal stake in an issue's outcome; this is usually done through party organizations, which can forge inter-personal links among their members.

However, party organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood were banned from politics because Mubarak deemed them too extremist. Thus, the social media has been essential to dissidents in Egypt because its decentralized nature permitted them to bypass the government's coercive apparatus and expose gross cases of police brutality. For example, when photos of the maimed corpse of Khaled Saeed were released on the Internet, individuals became more personally affected and sympathetic to victims of the Mubarak regime. A Facebook memorial page for Saeed then facilitated a process of networking that could not be stopped by Mubarak's police forces due to its virtual nature. These networks were then used to encourage people to go into the streets and protest. …

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