Similar to millions of people around the world, I have been captivated by the historic events currently taking place in Egypt. Demonstrators poured into the streets of Cairo in late January and demanded nothing less than the end to President Hosni Mubarak’s 30 year autocratic rule. Millions of Egyptians rejoiced as Mubarak signed his resignation on February 11, unable to withstand the pressure of Egyptian revolutionary forces. The uprisings in Egypt are not an isolated event, however. They followed a trend set by Tunisian demonstrators who ousted their autocratic President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in early January. Passionate voices from Tunisia, transmitted instantaneously to all parts of the world with the help of such social media websites as Facebook and Twitter, inspired Egyptian anti-government organizers to take direct action in the streets. As the news from the frontline of Egyptian Revolution spread across the Internet, millions of people around the globe, using social media as a primary source of information, received up-to-the-minute developments of events in Tahrir Square.
President Mubarak, threatened by the viral spread of anti-government protests, shut down the Internet, in effect limiting freedom of speech. While the ban on the Internet was eventually lifted, the implications were profound. Not only did this decision show Mubarak’s vulnerability, it also drew sharp criticism from the world’s leaders, including President Barack Obama. Most importantly, shutting down Internet in the midst of anti-government demonstrations highlighted the true power of social media. Mubarak's authoriatarian government banned Internet because it realized that it gives people the power of social networking, as well as tools for collaborating and organizing.
Recent protests in Tunisia and Egypt truly belong to the people, and crediting social media with the success of the anti-government movements would be shortsighted. However, it is important to note that social media has accelerated the spread of youth revolts by allowing activists to communicate with each other faster than ever before. Social media, unlike traditional news sources, is unfiltered and “by the people”; it has the power to motivate and empower those with similar aspirations.
The growing unrest that is now spreading across North Africa and Middle East serves as the evidence of the power of people when they have the opportunity to connect and unite. As I am writing this blog, protesters are out on the street of Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Bahrain, and Morocco.
Although it is unclear how events will unfold from here, I know for certain that I will be using social networks to follow new developments in real time.