On what has become known as “The Day of Revolt” — January 25, 2011 — thousands of Egyptians took to the streets to protest the regime of authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak, and so began one of the most successful and influential peaceful protests in history. Inspired by the effective Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia earlier in January, which succeeded in ousting Tunisian president Ben Ali from power, the Egyptian revolutionaries raised their voices in opposition to the extreme poverty, rampant unemployment, increased police brutality and government corruption that had enveloped their nation during the 30 years of Mubarak’s rule.
The Egyptian revolution has been hailed in the media as Egypt’s “Berlin Wall moment,” and deservedly so. Egypt has the strong financial and political backing of the US, and is a major power broker in the Middle East… not to mention, it has always served as a key mediator in negotiations between Israel and Palestine. The fate of Egypt will undoubtedly have an indelible affect on the entire Middle Eastern region and the world.
There is, however, another prominent reason why the Egyptian revolution stands out as different from anything that has ever occurred in history: it was organized, inspired by, and executed by an Egyptian youth movement that utilized social networking sites as tools to inspire and create real, tangible political change. Clearly, the demonstrations were too well organized to have been entirely spontaneous. A well-organized movement was behind them.
The Facebook group We are all Khaled Said, at over 800,000 members, is an important part of that movement. It was created by Wael Gonhim (age 30), who was then anonymous, along with other anonymous activists in 2010 shortly after 28 year old Egyptian Khaled Said died under suspicious circumstances, allegedly at the hands of the Egyptian police. The group was responsible for putting average Egyptians in touch with human rights organizers throughout the course of the protests, and Khaled Said has been hailed as the silent hero of the revolution. Reports claim that it was on this Facebook group that the idea of protesting on January 25, a national holiday honoring the police in Egypt, was first suggested.
The April 6 Youth Movement, another activist group, also played a pivotal role in the demonstrations. Originally created in 2008 in support of the workers of the Egyptian city El-Mahalla El-Kubra, who planned a strike on April 6, 2009, it has since grown to almost 70,000 members and has been actively organizing opposition to the government’s oppression ever since.
Additionally, there were a number of Twitter accounts that participated in the instantaneous spread of information.
Social networking was an invaluable tool for Egyptian activists during the revolution, making information quickly and easily accessible to millions of people. In fact, so much weight was put on the importance of social networking that on January 27th, the Egyptian government blocked access to the Internet for the entire country. Although they succeeded in cutting off communication for a few days of the protests, the government’s purpose — quelling the unrest — was unsuccessful. By that point, the Facebook groups had served their purpose, and the protests were already well underway.
It is of the utmost importance that we note who the real heroes of the revolution are: not Facebook and Twitter, but the people behind the groups and accounts that thought to utilize them as tools, and innocent people like Khaled Said who lost their lives. All of the activists who played critical roles in the demonstrations (except for those who are anonymous) were under the age of 35 years old (not yet old enough to run for president). They faced arrest, torture, and even death for their actions, and still they persevered.
These young leaders have singlehandedly managed to bring together the impoverished people of a country who have suffered under the hands of a cruel and selfish authoritarian ruler for over thirty years. Needless to say, their accomplishments are historic and inspiring. They have not only changed the history of their country for the better, but they have shown beyond a doubt what we as the youth of the world are able to accomplish.