Last Friday there was fire in Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez and the CBC’s main story was about a TTC driver caught texting. Two governments are overthrown in key Arab countries and all the major Canadian networks appear to be clueless. The funny thing is that this is not surprising. For my generation, it is a given that if you want to know what is going on in the world, you have to go online. It is because of this that Mr. Mubarak’s decision to shut down part of the internet was a huge mistake.
An Al Jazeera analyst–whose name I sadly could not retain–explained the consequences of Mr. Mubarak’s mistake. If you deprive people of freedom they will, understandably, get angry. If you take away their Facebook, they will take the streets. Depriving people of Facebook is is ill-advised, to say the least.
The first consequence is quite straight forward. If you kill the virtual world, you force young people to get their information from the real world (TV? Not for this generation!). In other words, they will have to go outside and talk with each other in squares and streets. They will get angry, and they will not be able to tweet about it.
The second consequence was less obvious; Mr Mubarak’s decision sent a very strong political statement not only against freedom of speech, but against Egyptian youth and their very specific means of communication. For a generation that was born in an already wired world, attacking the Internet was unconceivable. For these youths, it could be equivalent to banning print or radio all together. That single action represented an escalation that could not go unchallenged.
Finally, the social media ban affected a segment of the population that is highly educated and has access to technology and resources. It was an affront to the educated middle class. Mr. Mubarak’s decision had generational and class consequences that his advisers did not foresee. His strategy to control a whisper likely produced the major battle cry that is reverberating in the streets of Egypt and sending waves throughout the Middle East.
As far as we know, one hundred people have been killed, hundreds have been injured and the army is in the streets. Social media are not the cause of these events. Like Tunisia, political, economic, historical, demographic, and cultural factors have all interacted to give rise to the events we are now witnessing. The implications of these events will affect the entire region. In the big picture, social media plays a very small role in the events taking place and it may seem trivial to be talking about it. We do not need to understand social media to understand what is taking place in Egypt, but we do need to to understand what is taking place in Egypt if we want to understand the role of social media in its politics.
– By Jose Javier Iguiniz