Six months after they launched a revolution that ousted the regime, Egyptian bloggers have acknowledged that it takes more than a Facebook page on the Internet to overthrow a dictator.
“The Internet played a key role but it was not the only tool. The revolution really belongs to the people,” said Wael Abbas, a veteran Egyptian blogger who has been posting his thoughts in cyberspace since 2004.
The 18-day revolution that brought an end to the 30-year rule of president Hosni Mubarak and his regime was largely played on the street, but bloggers do not underestimate the importance of Facebook and Twitter.
“The Internet helped to speed up things,” said Hossam al-Hamalawy, who is known in cyberspace by the nickname “3arabawy” or the Arab.
“But the revolution would have taken place without it,” he said.
It is true that bloggers used the Internet to mobilise thousands of people, but Egypt’s was not only a “Facebook Revolution” or a “Twitter Revolution,” bloggers like Hamalawy say.
Millions who have no Internet access nevertheless swarmed the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and other Egyptian cities to vent their rage through rallies and strikes.
“For days the Internet was cut off and yet the revolution did not stop,” said Rami Rauf, a 24-year-old blogger, of the Mubarak regime cutting access to the Internet and mobile phone connections.
On January 25, following in the footsteps of the revolution in Tunisia that overthrew an autocratic regime, bloggers in Egypt turned to social networks to mobilise thousands of people.
The venue was Tahrir (Liberation) Square in central Cairo.
Thousands of pro-democracy protesters swarmed the square around the clock for 18 consecutive days until they shook the Mubarak regime so hard they forced it into submission.
One of those who administered a Facebook page that helped spark the uprising against Mubarak was Wael Ghonim, a Google executive who became a national hero after he was arrested by the former regime’s security forces.
The 30-year-old gave an emotional television interview shortly after he was released from 12 days in police custody that is credited with re-energising the protest movement just as it appeared to be losing steam.
Opposition groups including the Muslim Brotherhood, banned during Mubarak’s reign, joined the bandwagon of the uprising after monitoring streams of Twitter messages.
But Hamalawy is adamant that “it takes more to oust a dictator than a Facebook page.”
“One must explain the profound reasons behind the revolution,” he said.
The 18 days of popular street protests that unseated Mubarak have their roots well planted in a movement called “Kefaya” (“enough” in Arabic) which emerged in 2004.
Kefaya launched the first protests, bloggers say.
And they insist that Egypt’s prominent bloggers, those whose words served as the motor that led to change, were militants on the ground striving for democracy even before they turned their focus to technology.
“The strength of Egyptian bloggers lies in the fact that we have one foot in cyberspace and the other on the ground,” said Hamalawy.
Under Mubarak’s rule the media was controlled by the government.
The Internet proved a “tool for freedom,” Rauf said.
By the end of 2010, days before the Arab Spring began to bloom, Egypt had 23 million regular Internet users out of a population of 85 million.
After the demise of the Mubarak regime, “it is no longer necessary as before to turn to the Internet,” says Amr Gharbeya.
“Now we can count on the strength of the street” and the power of the people to protest and make their voices heard, said the 32-year-old.
But as the transition from Mubarak’s regime to full democracy inches its way forward, with the country now ruled by an interim military council, bloggers say they are more determined than ever to “inform” their fellow Egyptians.
The country is hoping for legislative and presidential polls later this year, and organisers of the revolt are demanding that the current rulers on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces push harder to punish Mubarak and his cronies.
Many ex-regime cabinet ministers are facing trial and the country is holding its breath for August 3, when Mubarak, 83, and his two sons Alaa and Gamal are due to go on trial on murder and corruption charges.
The media “is still controlled by businessmen or people from the old regime,” said Abbas.
“The Internet is still a useful tool to spread messages.”