The Sweetest Coup…Egypt. 11.2.11

A selection of tweets i favourited in the 24 hours leading up 11.2.11 Egypt’s day of reckoning….

Data visualization of Egypt's Tweets:

So the Egyptians got their Friday of Departure after all–congratulations to them! This is a heady moment for all of us, Egyptian or not–

What a rollercoaster of a few days! 11.2.11 has proved to be unforgettable for all Egyptians except one: ex-President Hosni Mobarak who probably wants to erase all memories of Jan 25 and its ineluctable aftermath.

I found Pioneer editor Kanchan Gupta’s analysis of the tumultuous events in the Middle East to be comprehensive and useful (though i don’t share his fear of a Muslim alliance):

…As Egypt burst into celebrations, a bitter realisation began to sink in: If the US could abandon Mubarak, it could also say goodbye to others without allowing friendships of the past to weigh too heavily on its conscience.

Ironically, it is this perceived callous indifference of the US towards a beleaguered Mubarak in his last days in office that has left many flummoxed in Arabia. Egypt under the Mubarak dispensation, backed by the Army, was the best bet for peace in the region, especially in regard to Israel. It was also the best defence against the rise of radical Islamism whose practitioners see themselves as the alternative to incumbent Arab regimes. With Mubarak gone, the Muslim Brotherhood is preparing to make a dramatic appearance either through collaboration or alone in Egyptian politics; through Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamists have seized power in Gaza; in Lebanon, the Hizbullah, which has toppled the Hariri Government and put into place a regime controlled by Islamists, increasingly and frighteningly calls the shots; in Tunisia, dormant Islamism has come alive after the long-exiled leader of the till recently outlawed Islamist party Ennahdha, Rachid Ghanouchi, made a triumphant return home; in Jordan, the Friday street protests are being led by Islamists sustained by the Ikhwan’s ideology; in Yemen, Islamists are waiting for the palace to fall under their assault; in Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait, a deep undercurrent of radical Islamism is waiting to burst forth.

A gleeful Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has described the Egyptian uprising as the unleashing of an “Islamic wave”. His protégé and Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has described the Egyptian uprising and the collapse of the Mubarak regime exactly 32 years to the day of the fall of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi on February 11, 1979, as the “emergence of a new Middle East that will doom Israel and break free of American interference”.

A clickable map of Tahrir Square, courtesy the BBC

On the subject of social media’s role in the recent ‘revolutions’ I found Global Voices Online co-founder Ethan Zuckerman’s comments thought-provoking:

– While there’s been extensive debate about whether social media helped organize or promote the protests in Egypt, I think the interesting story to watch will be whether social media can help Egypt in the transition to democracy. Power now rests with a council of military leaders, and there have been suggestions that this group could be complemented by a council of civilian “wise men”, giving a seat at the table to figures like Mohamed El-Baradei.

If this process were to work, it would need to include voices of the youth, the people who led this revolt. One likely spokesman for Egyptian youth is Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who created the We Are All Khaled Said page on Facebook, widely credited as helping rally the original protests on January 25th. After his emotional televised interview on Dream TV, hundreds of thousands have joined a Facebook page authorizing Ghonim to speak on behalf of the protesters. Speaking to CNN today, asked what’s next in revolutions in the Arab world, Ghonim said, “Ask Facebook.”

In lieu of having anything compelling to say myself I’ve decided to put up tweets I ‘favourited’ it in the last 24 hours or so (Twitter’s ‘favourite’ feature is a phenomenal tool which i use with abandon). Some of them reference Egyptian events and some don’t, but for what they’re worth here they are…with the most recent ones from this morning leading…

Sonali Ranade
In Egypt, the military is a ruling caste http://bit.ly/dSM4Ed
»
Sultan Al Qassemi
Hats off to Egyptians, Al Jazeera is showing images of doctors, university students & civilians from all walks of life cleaning the streets.
»
Sidin Vadukut
sidin Sidin Vadukut
During my ‘Punjabi’ wedding I was made a Kashyap. Is this upper caste? Can I get reservation of some kind? Movie tickets?
»
Kellie Magnus
Eleven speakers. Eleven men. Apparently, in the future there are no women in the Caribbean.
»
Kellie Magnus
The average age of the panelists looks like 65. On a conf about the future of CARICOM. Sigh
»
Al Jazeera English
AJEnglish Al Jazeera English
#AlJazeera looks back at the 18-day-old revolution that remade Egypt and the wider Middle East: http://aje.me/eZjHzV #mubarak #jan25 #tahrir
»
Sree Sreenivasan
sree Sree Sreenivasan
Great recap video: 18 days in Cairo in 3 mins by WashPo (via @rajunarisetti): http://bit.ly/e3oOOG #egypt #jan25
»
Damien King
damienwking Damien King
The whole point of a National Water Commission is to have water when it doesn’t rain. Nobody needs water management during the rainy season.
»
Sagarika Ghose
Mubarak quits and Twitter creates history. ‘A moment comes..when an age ends..when the soul of a nation..finds utterance..”
»
WikiLeaks
Assassination of Julian Assange (supporter video) http://youtube.com/watch?v=3Fab1IsCZzY
»
Evgeny Morozov
evgenymorozov Evgeny Morozov
Good first academic study on “slacktivism” http://goo.gl/VNJPn
»
keri m.
MzArebel keri m.
OMG *faints* RT @mamachell: My daddy is on twitter *bawls running *
»
Wayne Jones Jnr
A look at Jamaica’s influence on British Music: A look at Jamaica’s influence on British Music http://bit.ly/hcyGua (via @dancehallusa)
»
Gady Epstein
gadyepstein Gady Epstein
Just asked on Quora: When a dictator opens a Swiss bank account, can he buy “deposed-regime” insurance?
»
Iniva
Talk on the role of #archives in documenting #art history now available online: http://bit.ly/hzLqtG #library
»
Open Magazine
Openthemag Open Magazine
Yoga not as old or Hindu as you think: http://is.gd/z7s8aG
»
Jonathan Shainin
jonathanshainin Jonathan Shainin
Paging Hartosh Singh Bal! One British toff’s shallow impressions of the Jaipur Litfest, on the Paris Review blog: http://bit.ly/gSGBYd
»
Priya Singh
rimeswithcya Priya Singh
Off to my daughter’s school concert in a while…hope I don’t have to deal with any Tiger Mothers.
»
Terry McMillan
MsTerryMcMillan Terry McMillan
Power is a drug. Mubarek has been strung out for 30 years.
»
Gabriel Esler
TheDevilSaint Gabriel Esler
RT @ConvoNation The Revolution WILL be televised, Tweeted YouTubed Facebooked DIGG’d texted, emailed and aired #Egypt #Revolution #Mubarak
»
Nicholas Laughlin
nplaughlin Nicholas Laughlin
“An anthropologist’s diary of the Egyptian revolution”: http://bit.ly/gTDm4j

Egypt, Gladwell and the Social Revolution

Why Gladwell is wrong about the recent revolts in the Middle East from Iran to Egypt.

The Egypt Protests Part 2
Protesters take part in an anti-Mubarak protest at Tahrir square in Cairo February 1, 2011. At least one million Egyptians took to the streets on Tuesday in scenes never before seen in the Arab nation's modern history, roaring in unison for President Hosni Mubarak and his new government to quit. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
The Egypt Protests Part 2
58. Protesters hold a banner during a demonstration in Cairo January 30, 2011. Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei told thousands of protesters in central Cairo on Sunday that an uprising against Hosni Mubarak's rule cannot go back. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

I’d bet my bottom dollar that somewhere in Tahrir Square today they’re blasting Bob Marley’s revolutionary lyrics while chanting down Babylon. We’re going to chase those crazy baldheads out of town–Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights–Rebel Music–Burnin’ and lootin’–almost every one of his songs yields a line of sheer rebellion and his music is all-pervasive. As @kristainchicago said on Twitter today: Universal truth: no matter what country you’re in, there’s a bar somewhere playing No Woman, No Cry.

Clovis, Sunday Observer, February 6, 2011

Malcolm Gladwell has been shooting off his mouth insistently about whether or not social media played a role in the latest set of insurrections in the Middle East. His thesis is that revolutions took place before Facebook and Twitter from which he concludes that the recent uprisings had nothing to do with social media and even if they did, this is ultimately fundamentally unimportant compared to the reasons for the respective revolts.

People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the Internet came along. Barely anyone in East Germany in the nineteen-eighties had a phone—and they ended up with hundreds of thousands of people in central Leipzig and brought down a regime that we all thought would last another hundred years—and in the French Revolution the crowd in the streets spoke to one another with that strange, today largely unknown instrument known as the human voice. People with a grievance will always find ways to communicate with each other. How they choose to do it is less interesting, in the end, than why they were driven to do it in the first place.

A respondent to Gladwell, AliaThabit, succinctly pointed out the flaws in his thesis:

I just got back from Egypt last night. If the internet were of no consequence, the govt would not have shut it down–along w/ the mobile network in Cairo, and FB and the SMS network over the whole country, which is how most people there communicate–everyone has a mobile, and sms are free (calls are not). I spent most of the first week of the revolution in Aswan with a hotel full of Cairo students who were on holiday–we (and the whole town) were all glued to the television, and they were also glued to their phones. Information raced around the country. The French may not have had Twitter, but they would have used it if they had. There are twenty million people in Cairo alone. How many lived in Paris?

There is a crucial point that the prolific Gladwell (whose mother is Jamaican) is missing. The celebrated revolutions of yesteryear all had heroic leaders around whom sustained acts of dissent, rebellion and revolt were mobilized. What is noteworthy about the recent wave of popular uprisings everywhere from Iran to Tunisia to Egypt is that they have been ‘leaderless revolutions’. This marked change in modus operandi between traditional revolution and its contemporary counterpart is worth studying; the reasons for the shift are attributed to the speed with which information is collected and disseminated by groups of people using the new social networks. The era of the charismatic leader may be over.

I’m indebted to Nicholas Mirzoeff and his new blog For the Right to Look for these insights:

Whether or not the revolutions will have been fully successful–and no-one has really defined that success–there is a palpable and electric sense of change, not just in North Africa but globally. The events have revealed that there is already a network for change and how it has worked. One tweet widely circulating from Egypt outlined the method: “Facebook used to set the date, Twitter used to share logistics, YouTube to show the world, all to connect people.” The dispersed co-ordination shows that the network has learned from Iran that social networking can also be used by the police to track down activists. Mubarak tried to cut off all Internet access, hoping that this would quell the street actions. Facebook went first, followed by Twitter, then all connections. It was a revolution watched on social networks, but acted in the streets.

…The result has been the now-characteristic “leaderless” revolutions, as the Western media have depicted them, as if expecting new Castros and Lenins to materialize. Unable to comprehend networked change, those working in hierarchical companies are already writing banal opinion pieces predicting the collapse of the revolutions for lack of the very kind of leadership that provoked the uprisings. Should the revolutions fail, it will be following the combination of local state violence and globalized governmental and corporate hostility. Israel and Saudi Arabia found an unusual point of agreement in opposing the Egyptian revolution, while stock markets plunged on January 29 as it became clear that the revolution was not going to be crushed. Oil prices hit $100 a barrel on January 31, the usual profiteering from democracy. Israel has begun leading a movement to support Mubarak for fear of the unknown.

Cairo Graffiti

On his blog The Pharaohs of My Egypt Ernesto Morales Licea writes:

Tunisia exploded first, and a domino effect spills over multiple countries. Yemen, Algeria, Jordan. And now Egypt, cradle of humanity, that threatens to remove the Mubarak cancer by the force of the protesters…

…I wonder: why not Cuba? As I watch TV, listen to the demands of the volatile Egyptians. Listen, for example: “We got tired of lies, misery. For decades we endured the dictator Mubarak who has ruined this country.” We hear Egyptian scholars say:” I am a lawyer and live like a beggar. I earn $60 a month, and my rent alone is $75.” And we can not avoid the immediate association with our island.

I’ve heard all the arguments of the Egyptians. And I do not think there is one, I repeat — not one — which does not apply to my country. The same hunger and hopelessness, the same distaste for an inept government; the very low wages that don’t stretch even to survive, the underground corruption; the warning, just look at the living standards of the ruling class; and now, ironically, Cuba is also added to the list of countries with high unemployment.

And then there arises, inevitably, the pointed question: Why not Cuba?

If I had to respond I would start by pointing out a subtle reality: The control of information in my tranquilized country is, aberrantly, more fierce than in countries such as those that have just exploded. For those who don’t believe information has such an important role, I suggest they ask themselves: Why has the opening act of every classic dictatorship in History been to seize the methods of communication?

So this is what Gladwell glibly elides–how messages of revolution are transmitted is crucial–this is why as Licea observes dictators and powerbrokers have always tried to control the media, whether these were the drums of the enslaved signaling revolt on Caribbean plantations or more contemporary forms of broadcasting which now include Twitter and Facebook. Sorry Malcolm you can’t just blink this one away…