The world watched the mass uprisings unfold minute by minute— first in Tunisia, then in Egypt, Yemen, and now in Libya, Syria and elsewhere in the Arab World. This, despite the brutal authoritarian regimes in the Arab World trying to stop information getting out.
Former President Hosni Mubarak imposed an internet blackout when he realised that the uprisings had been organised and planned on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. But his efforts to block information channels failed.
Google engineers managed to find a way to circumvent the internet blackout, setting up a system that allowed the pro-democracy activists to leave voice messages informing the world what was going on in Tahrir Square.
Opposition activists taking part in the protests used their mobile phones to take pictures. send sms, upload videos, tweet and generally share information. The regime failed to realise that in today’s world –with the available technology— practically anyone can be a journalist.
**State Media: Thirty Years of Distortion**
Egyptian state media also attempted to mislead the public, giving a distorted picture of what was happening
Not surprising. It is a well known fact that autocrats often use state media as a propaganda tool to help them tighten their grip on power and Mubarak was no exception.
For thirty years, he used state media to further the interests of a corrupt and ruthless regime.
**Denying The Evidence**
At first state media was in denial –refusing to acknowledge that anything major was happening in the country–even though Tahrir Square is just a short walking distance away from the state television building.
There was hardly any mention of the protests that were going on and the presenters and news anchors on TV focused on other news from around the world.
**Foreign Media, Harassed And Attacked**
Then days later, they changed their strategy and went from denial to attacks. They called the protesters “traitors ” and “foreign agents” claiming that they had been paid in dollars and that Kentucky Fried chicken was being distributed in the square.
International journalists covering the protests were harassed and physically attacked by Mubarak’s security forces.
Some were detained and had their equipment taken away from them… their offices were ransacked…all this in attempts by the regime to stop word of the protests getting out. But all attempts were futile.
**State Media Changing Face**
Then, when it became apparent that the regime would fall, state media coverage changed dramatically and the ‘traitors’ abruptly became “heroes” worthy of lavish praise.
State TV anchors and presenters back peddled furiously falling over themselves to sing praises of the revolutionaries. But it was already too late… state media had lost credibility and it will take them a long time to regain the trust of the public.
**The Key Role Of Communication**
Communication has opened our eyes to the fact that we share commonalities. Whether we live in the North or the South, we face common challenges like climate change and depletion of resources –water, energy.
And we also have common aspirations –we all want to live better lives and dream of living in a better world…one where there is social justice, freedom and democracy .
Young activists using social media networks in Egypt communicated online with counterparts from around the world and came to realise that change was possible in their country.
**Freedom And Dignity**
They learnt that other people elsewhere were free to express themselves and to live in dignity without being arrested and detained for expressing their ideas and beliefs —and they wanted to be able to do the same.
It was the exchange of ideas and sharing of information that was the first spark that brought about the so called Arab Spring– igniting the revolutions.
The young activists in Tunisia and Egypt found out that there was an alternative to life under oppressive regimes—regimes that stifled free expression.
When Egyptians watched the uprisings in Tunisia, they immediately began debating on Facebook whether change was possible for them too.
In countries where there is limited freedom, the internet was the one place activists could go to express themselves freely.
Had they not seen the scenes on their TV screens and on the internet, read about the Tunisian uprising in newspapers and online and exchanged information with Tunisian activists via social networks– would the Egyptian uprising have taken place?
Yes, the revolution was inevitable because people were fed up with the rampant corruption, the social injustice, the police brutality , the repressive atmosphere.
**The Uprisings Would Have Taken Place Anyway**
The uprisings would have taken place anyway but the exchange of information was a catalyst for the uprisings. it made them happen quicker and sooner rather than later.
We learnt some time ago that what happens in one part of the globe affects other parts…Nine eleven taught us that.
We saw how young men who were frustrated with US foreign policy vis a vis the Middle East and who were just as angry at their own governments for failing to deliver…turned their wrath on America and carried out the terrorist attacks that horrified the world.
Nine eleven was a wakeup call not just for America but for the world at large.
It taught us never to feel too safe… as long as there are others out there who are unemployed, who have no roofs over their heads, who are unable to afford to get married, who have their rights usurped or their lands seized …then everyone should be concerned.
The wronged and downtrodden may at any moment decide to vent their anger– anger that is usually difficult to contain. There is no turning our back.
People get dragged into other people’s problems whether they want to get involved or not .. especially if there is proximity. People in the Mediterranean region share more than just one sea…they share a common destiny.
**Migrants Without Hopes**
We’ve also seen this with the people who risk their lives crossing the sea seeking better opportunities. It is a perilous journey but for people with no hope, it is one that is worth embarking on.
When they have no hope for the future, what do they have to lose?
Are countries in the North impacted by this influx of migrants from the south? They certainly are.
They are being asked to open their doors, provide job opportunities, give shelter to the migrants who arrive on their shores.
And the migrants bring with them different norms, age old traditions, their own language, religion, their own culture. And it is never easy for them to gain acceptance and to integrate into the mainstream.
**Back To The New Egypt**
After the uprising in Egypt, many Egyptians living abroad chose to return home.
They felt that this is the new Egypt—a country where there is opportunity and hope for the future, where the poor will no longer be invisible, where their voices will be heard ,where they can make a difference.
In the early days that followed the uprising, the world watched as young people cleaned the streets and removed garbage, painted the pavements and patrolled the streets to make sure their neighbourhoods were secure.
**Egyptian Migrants Feel They Have A Stake In Their Country**
It was as if they felt they now have a stake in their country and they were willing and eager to take control.
Under Mubarak there was so much apathy –it was clear in the November 2010 legislative elections where voter turnout was extremely low and citizens stood by watching as the elections were rigged and flawed.
In stark contrast, voters –men and women —stood patiently in long queues to cast their ballots in the March 2011 referendum on constitutional changes.
For many it was their very first time to vote and they said they had never bothered before because they knew that their votes would not make a difference during the Mubarak era (but now, their votes would matter).
It’s been six months since the revolution and the energy is still there.
**New Parties, New Civil Society, New Media**
New political parties are being formed, new civil society organisations are emerging with causes ranging from promoting women’s rights to protecting the environment and citizens are engaging like never before.
Women are joining political parties, many for the first time. Everyone wants to be on board.
New independent TV and radio channels and newspapers are being launched.
Public debates about the way forward are being held at cultural centres and universities and peaceful rallies are being organised to push for the purging of state institutions and for faster reforms.
It’s a new exciting atmosphere of energy, action and most importantly, hope.
**Breaking The Fear Barrier**
And it’s irreversible–there’s no going back to the apathy and despair.
The fear barrier has been broken and people everywhere are making sure their voices are heard. The views of opposition activists are being aired on TV channels for the first time.
Bloggers are sharing their views online despite efforts by the new military rulers to intimidate and silence voices of dissent.
These efforts include military trials for civilians, arrests and detention of activists and summoning journalists and bloggers who are critical of the armed forces for investigation by the military prosecutor.
**Egypt Is Now A Different Country**
But the old repressive ways are no longer working, as the military generals are realising. It is a different country and people know their way to Tahrir Square.
They organise million people rallies to pile pressure on the rulers to fulfil the demands of the revolution.
We have seen how after one of those million people rallies, Mubarak, his sons and the former interior minister finally appeared in court behind bars. The trials for the former regime men are ongoing and people are eager to see justice done.
**But This Is Just A First Step**
But this is just a first step on a long and difficult road to democracy. Egyptians are looking forward to an independent judiciary, an open and free media and democratic institutions free from state control.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for November 2011 and preparations are underway for these elections which everyone hopes will be free and fair.
**“We Can Do It On Our Own”**
They hope these elections will pave the way for a smooth democratic transition.
There is now a new sense of patriotic pride and a feeling that we, the Egyptians can take care of our own affairs, that we can do it on our own –the way we were able to overthrow the ruthless regime in just eighteen days. (Human Wrongs Watch).
Shahira Amin is a well know Egyptian journalist and analyst. Currently she is Senior Anchor/Correspondent, Nile TV, and CNN contributor. Amin resigned from NileTV in an open protest against the biased, pro-regime coverage of the Egyptian revolution, which she actively joined in Tahrir Square. Shahira Amin is known for her unwavering defence of freedom, democracy, social justice and gender equality.
Copyright © 2011 Human Wrongs Watch
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