Teresa Rodriguez
Last updated: 14 November, 2012

Politicians and activists in Egypt embrace social media to enhance support

Since the 2011 revolution, activists and those in power in Egypt have embraced social media to encourage collective action, enhance communication and gain support both within the country’s borders and across the world.

The majority of activists in Egypt have utilised blogs and social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter since the fall of Mubarak in January 2011, when they were used to spread the goals of the revolution. Egyptian blogger Salma El Daly explains that she, like many other activists, is unhappy about the events following the 2011 revolution and uses the power of social media to reach a real change: “Twitter and Facebook are the ways we keep the momentum going. We campaign there.”

In the same way, one of the most popular Egyptian activists, the blogger Sandmonkey, assures that “Facebook is a fantastic way to share information, post links or organize events; if you use Facebook to do that, you can use it also to organize a demonstration.”

Until 2005, Egypt’s online presence did not exceed more than a few hundred thousand webpages, but according to a 2012 Freedom House Report, the last years has seen it surpass the 20 million mark; mainly due to the rise of independent media, citizen journalism, and bloggers in Egypt.

One of the most important activist organizations behind the 2011 revolution, The April 6 Youth Movement, played an important role in mobilizing thousands of citizens to the streets of Egypt to protest against the Military Council, which gained power in Egypt after the uprising, and in bringing about the June elections that led to the handover to civilian rule.

Activists also launched a campaign on Facebook and Twitter to protest against the military trials that thousands of Egyptians have faced under the military rule, which in total equals more than those held during the 30 years of Mubarak’s regime, according to Human Rights Watch. Nearly 8 000 people have already joined such campaigns on Facebook, and hundreds have taken to the streets of Cairo during the last several months to show their support for the movement.

However, traditional activism is still prevalent in modern-day Egypt. A professor from UCLA, Ramesh Srinivasan, explains that social media networks provide new means of activism and communication, which combined with traditional methods of activism empower individuals to communicate among themselves and reach a wider audience. For example, the Egyptian presidential elections in June 2012 were followed and discussed on Twitter in a continuous stream of consciousness by academics and others expressing concern. At the same time, the ruling party in Egypt, The Muslim Brotherhood, twittered the updated results during the night of the election by installing people at the polling stations to collect live information of its outcome.

The level of real time communication and information during these elections was greatly enhanced due to the effects of social media and its ability to spread information. Zynep Tufekci, a professor from the University of Carolina, states that the Muslim Brotherhood forced a level of transparency, which never has been seen in previous elections in Egypt because they combined “a superior ground game with an active and sophisticated online presence”.

All the parties across Egypt’s political spectrum have engaged in the online community: from aged Egyptian military generals, who have used Facebook to publish announcements, to The Muslim Brotherhood. According to Srinivasan, leaders from the entire range of Egypt’s political factions, as well as activists, have now welcomed social media, not only to gain support but also to undermine the competitors. The “digital war is here to stay in Egypt”, he assures.

The general Egyptian citizen has also joined the social media bandwagon. Different demographics of Egyptian society, including students and blue-collar workers, are increasingly engaged with social media networks. Even the elderly seem to be curious about social media since the revolution.

Naila Hamdy, a professor at the American University of Cairo, has observed from her own online usage that since the revolution older people are exploring the Internet and creating their own Facebook accounts. Statistics from Social Baker reveal the same: Egypt’s Facebook usage has increased from nearly 4.6 million accounts in the end of 2010, just before the 2011 revolution, to nearly 12 million accounts in 2012, placing it in the top 20 countries using Facebook.

Similarly, the number of YouTube users has increased to over eight million, the highest in the Arab world, according to Freedom House’s 2011 figures. In fact, social media has played an important role in many of the significant collective actions that have occurred recently in Egypt. For example, social networks likes YouTube and Vimeo, where Muslims watched the trailer of the controversial movie about the prophet Mohammed, were key drivers behind the anti-US film protests.

“More than ever, many in Egypt have realized that via social media they have an opportunity to shape the political future of a nation in a way they never had before,” professor Srinivasan said on Al-Jazeera.

Teresa Rodriguez is a Spanish Journalist based in London. She holds a bachelor of arts in Journalism and has recently completed a master’s in International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS University, concentrating her thesis on the effects of social media on the Arab spring. Teresa worked as a foreign correspondent in Peru for the international news agency EFE and now collaborates with Prisoners Abroad and Amnesty International.