(3/3) Facebook and Political Mobilization in Egypt

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An Academic Paper by: Aly El-Raggal, February 2010

 

This paper was submitted to Professor Alvaro Sierra as an assignment of the Program of MA in Peace, Development, Security and International  Conflict Transformation Studies at the University of Innsbruck, Austria.

 

Part 1Click here

Part 2: Click here

 

Security and the New Media


The new media, particularly social networks as Facebook, is imposing a lot of security challenges. I argue that in Egypt Facebook as a social/information network and a sort of a new media succeeded to break down the chain of power being imposed and practiced from the authority for a long time now. This chain is formed through three stages: surveillance, control and punishment. Now the authorities are confronted with the new fact that they can not put more than 1,232,480 persons under surveillance. The broken joint –surveillance- in this chain had broken down the whole chain; as the things went or could go out of their control. It is true that the authority had punished Esraa Abed El-Fateh and others after the 6th of April 2008, but they could not punish the 75,000 members of the Facebook group. They could not also punish the masses which did not go to their jobs and made a public disobedience at this day. “That Esraa herself has been deterred by the security-oriented mentality does not, argues Nabil Abdel-Fattah, suggest that that strategy will be successful in other cases. There are “hundreds of other young Egyptians who will replace Esraa and use cyber space to express their socio- political demands; no censorship or deterrence strategies can stop them”.”

 

Moreover, the political and social activists could easily –and some of them already did- develop new techniques to counter the government actions which were taken against them. Simply they can use fake names and change their IP addresses. Playing with these new tactics the new technologies offer is not that difficult. In August 2008, the Egyptian authorities imposed new monitoring measures by demanding that Internet cafe clients must provide their names, email and phone numbers, before they can use the Internet”. It is now 2010 and you can find a lot of Internet cafes which are not going to ask for your ID, no one even is going to ask for your name. Also the easily build relationships between the clients and those who run the Cafes in Egypt can be a real obstacle in front of the authorities even if they tried to impose these measurements by the harsh force.


Micheal Dillon, one of the famous scholars in the field of the security studies, argues that the contemporary global security concerns can be distinguished from those of previous eras by developing three analytical terms: circulation, complexity and contingency. Dillon`s analytical paradigm, in my point of view, is not only helpful to understand the new security challenges and concerns on a global level, but on national and local levels too. The complexities being imposed by Facebook and the circulation of information and data are unpredictable. Moreover, it succeeded to integrate different spheres in the same pot. These interactions between the techno, politico and social spheres are putting the security mentalities in Egypt in a real confusion and a total state of flux. This, no doubt, creates a complex systems which in Dillon`s words “are not only adaptive entities behaving more like living systems, they are a combination also of social and technical elements”. As I mentioned before, Facebook is really successful in bringing ordinary people to the game. Moreover, politics have been socialized. “Even the phrase ‘6 April youth’ is enough to ruffle the feathers of the government. The security apparatus clearly believes that this kind of opposition has the ability to incite people to demonstrate”. This is in addition to their manifesto which clearly more societal rather than political. Amr Elshobaki argues that “it is unwise, not to say impossible, to deal with Egypt’s virtual community with the same security-oriented mindset the state uses in confronting on-the-ground challenges”. Following Dillon`s line of argumentation could also allow us to see the must of the change in governmentally of the Egyptian authority regarding its old security apparatus. Dillon is saying that “the interface between the human and the technical elements is integral to the dynamic of the whole system”. He goes further saying that the interface, where the human is also the social, which is most difficult to comprehend and command. This in turn requires a cognitive shift in the way in which the natural and the social world are studied scientifically – together not separately”. The main point which could also be very important to my argument is Dillon`s conclusion that “any transformation in the way in which the world is understood technically and socially will entail a cognitive shift in the way in which security becomes problematized and in the conduct of security policy”. Dillon is arguing that “we are undergoing such a historical shift now”, which if I would take it on a national level I would argue that the new techniques and tactics which had been adopted by the political activists in Egypt is strongly shacking and threatening the authorities in Egypt.


El-Gamal believes the 6 April arrests expose how the ruling system now sees security as its only available response to Egypt’s problems. The response to the strike, says El-Gamal, is proof that we are in an urgent need of a new political mind set. Historian Qassem Abdu shares the same with El-Gamal. The detentions are an example of the security-oriented mind set of the state in dealing with any crisis situation caused by socio- economic or political conditions, he says.


El-Sennawi, a well known Nasserist writer says that there was a dire need to look into the usage of the new technologies. Weapons and armored vehicles come face to face with the new realms of technology.

 

In all this flux, there were some rumors about the regime intention to shut off the Facebook. “From a purely practical point of view, Elshobaki points out, shutting Facebook will have little impact since the pages that are closed can easily be re-loaded on other sites”. Nabil Abdel-Fattah believes any attempt to block Facebook will only indicate the state’s weakness and inability to confront the digital era in which we all now live. “It is as if the state can come up with nothing but old policies in facing new, revolutionary techniques. This is very unwise and will never work.”

 

At the beginning I argued that Facebook is an information network as well as social one. “Information networks make it impossible for politicians to maintain effective control, try as they might. The networks are simply too fluid, too leaky, too undisciplined and too rampant to allow the politicians to maintain an effective hold” (Frank Webster, 2001; p.7).

 

Conclusion

 

This paper argued that Facebook is not only a social network, but it an information network and a sort of New Media. It also argued that briefly the notion of Foucault Power/Knowledge and it concluded that the New Media will produce new sorts of Knowledge. This will have a lot of impacts on the exercises of power and its centralization and marginalization. The second part of this paper, discussed the role of Facebook in Egypt in the different spheres particularly the socio, politico and cultural one. It also discussed the role of Media –both of them- and the Facebook effective role in the 6th April strike, and it proved that they were very influential in moving and shaping opinions and perspectives towards the strike particularly and towards the whole system in Egypt generally. The last section of this paper argued and discussed the challenges imposed by this new technology and its impacts on the governmentally in Egypt. Which could be concluded to the following: seeking security through the old securitized orientated mindset of the regime to oppose any kind of political activism through Facebook will never be fulfilled. Moreover, it could end with a huge amount of violence which the authorities and the regime themselves are not going to stand.

 

References:

 

Al Ahram, 2008: “Seasons of Protest”, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2009/928/eg6.htm

Chris Van Buren, 2009: “Egypt and the Facebook Revolution”, available at: http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/idblog/2009/01/27/egypt-and-the-facebook-revolution/, last reterived 13 Feb, 2009.

Gamal Nkrumah and Mohamed El-Sayed, 2008: “Politicising the Internet”, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2008/894/pr1.htm, last reterived 13 Feb, 2009.

International Telecommunications Union, “ITU Internet Indicators 2008, retrieved on 02/09/10 from http://www.itu.int/ITUD/icteye/Reporting/ShowReportFrame.aspx?ReportNam….

Magda El-Ghitany, 2008: “Facing Facebook”, available at: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2008/895/eg5.htm, last reterived 13 Feb, 2009.

Ibid, 2008: “Politics or Security”, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2008/893/eg5.htm,

Mohamed El-Sayed, 2009: “Face-off with Facebook”, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2008/908/eg7.htm, last reterived 13 Feb, 2009.

Salonaz Sami (2008): Virtual politics, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2008/909/fe1.htm

-A Tool to Mobilize?, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2008/909/fe2.htm,  last reterived 13 Feb, 2009.

Wetherell, Taylor and Yates, 2003: Discourse Theory and Practice, Sage Publications LTD, London.

Wim Donk (2004): Cyber Protest: New Media, Citizens and Social Movements, available at: http://books.google.com/books?id=vm_Ox6lyyt0C&printsec=frontcover&dq=new+media+and+social+movements&cd=1#v=onepage&q=&f=false

Frank Webster (2001): Culture and Politics in the Information Age http://books.google.at/books?hl=en&lr=&id=1oGFwjQ30t0C&oi=fnd&pg=PA32&dq=new+media+and+social+movements&ots=D6hLIt5cM_&sig=SUSl_gobMpEwB0RYdWwtT-uvVys#v=onepage&q=new%20media%20and%20social%20movements&f=false

Open Net Initiative (2009) : Internet Flitering Media in Middle East and North Africa, http://opennet.net/research/regions/mena, last reterived 13 Feb, 2009.

Berkman Center for Internet and Society (2009) Mapping the Arabic Blogosphere: Politics, Culture and Dissent http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/publications/2009/Mapping_the_Arabic_Blogosphere, Issue of June 2009, last reterived 13 Feb, 2009.

David M. Faris (2009): The end of the beginning: The failure of April 6th and the future of electronic activism in Egypt  http://www.arabmediasociety.com/ , last reterived 13 Feb, 2009.

SAMANTHA SHAPIRO (2009):Revolution, Facebook-Style http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/magazine/25bloggers-t.html

i Ben Gharbia(2009): Egypt: Facebooking the Struggle http://advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org/2008/04/30/egypt-facebooking-the-struggle/

 

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