Arab Youth: Twitterizing Mercurial Generation [1]

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Friday of Victory at Tahrir Square – Al-Masry Al-Youm

 By Ismail Alexandrani

What a dodgy generation?“, “elusive“, “wily“, “devious“, “rigger“, etc… are examples of the horrible, or at least the significant, attributes Arab youth were stained and smudged by. No chance for dialogue, nonstop judging and parental evaluation definitely made us careless of defense. Did it really deserve?

It was common, both security-wise and socially, to address the famous question to any political or Human Rights-wise involved person with a “respectable” background or affiliation; “what is the relationship between you and those kids?“. Those unarmed kids actually were in their route to the historical day when they surrounded the Apparatus (Security State) and physically won that unequal battle (Alexandria, March 4, 2011). 

Conclude!“, “Be brief!“, “Start from the end!“, “And finally…?“, are among phrases and expressions I have heard from my peers since I was a high school student more than a decade ago. Sometimes, this rhythm of life was a matter of criticism and a call for nostalgia to the “beautiful era“, when a whole family listened to the radio waiting for a two-hour concert of a single song by Om Kolthoom. It was also an approach to excusing pressed depressed people in many Arab countries, where two full-time jobs might not secure a decent life. Actually, it was worth studying as an indicator of the upcoming style of actions, but “who cared?!

 

Twitterizing not Twitterized

Post-revolutionary referendum on constitutional amendments[2] in Egypt has assured that digital media and networks may reflect the reality or an aspect of it, but do not make it for sure. When the elitist campaign for “NO” was optimistic by the online surveys, I published my expectations as the “Result of Referendum from the Control Room“, a week before the referendum[3], where I estimated at least 70% of votes for “YES[4], and alarmed to the way the “elite” follows to assess and evaluate. The main teaser is about conceptualizing the real role e-social media does play in the Arab world. If e-meetings are safer than physical ones, and if complicated networking is familiar to the web-sphere, does it mean that e-social media is changing the culture of acting and practicing?

I may argue, depending on my ethnographic participation and observations at least, that Facebook has been politicized, and there is no doubt that it was not a politicizing tool in Mark Zuckerburg’s plans when he built it as an e-social network, or even when he and his partners developed it to a business corporation[5]. The same argument is existing concerning YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, etc. When we realize that the general percentage of illiteracy in the Arab World is approximately 30% (and 40% among adult females)[6], it may be more understandable that the numerical majority of Arabs are not familiar with the internet itself, especially when we consider that Arabic domains and URLs are not used yet.  

The counter argument says that we did not need the majority to spark the revolution, even if literate and illiterate citizens made it. It sheds lights on the concept of “critical mass” which change requires. Here, I may wonder what would happen had YouTube been a platform for sharing Om Kolthoom’s songs’ rhythm! Or if Twitter were a forum for more than 140 thousands characters!

I do believe that the success and effectiveness of e-social media is based on its compatibility to its users’/interactors’ culture of practicing their ordinary life. That culture is a fundamental factor of understanding why the equal usable e-platforms get different popularity. So, the web-sphere had been ready to the globalized twitterized youth, before launching Twitter itself. Arab youth are a part of this culture of “Conclude!” in the era we have stopped to name it as “the era of speed“. It is usual to seek for minimizing digital devices, reducing search time and thinking in how we shall make everything faster without disruption of any other earnings. Does it remind us about the issues of fast-food?

Actually, the motivation of preferring fast-food may be typical to creating the e-feed, and may also be a good perspective to understand why they have been Twitterized Revolutions. It is the difference between two-hour concert of a single song with a legion of band members and a three-minute rap clip with digital music, and probably mono-production. After participating in twitterizing the global web-sphere, even if by using and interacting, Arab youth have twitterized the historic changes and reduced the processing time from years and months to weeks and days.

 

Mercurial Properties

If all metals are solid and all liquids are dim, mercury is the only shiny liquid metal. Only mercury does not care how solid metals underestimate it and why other liquids are depressed enough not to shine, because they simply are not mercury. That’s how Arab youth are! With exceptional self-confidence and significant ambition, they act indifferently to what parents tell at home, teach at university and apply at work. It would be a bloomer if we perceive it as a generation conflict. What kind of competition might be between horsemen[7] and Facebookers? It is very important to recognize that absence of harmony between Arab different generations does not mean a crisis, because peace is not absence of conflict.

It may be a post-conflict status, and sometimes it is a negative peace between Arab youth and whom start their speech by “Oh, my son” or “Look, my daughter!” Ironically, adolescence symptoms appeared suddenly on parents after the revolution. In many public events, they express their feelings of persecution and marginalization, and the surprise is that young persons in charge do not take revenge. It became strenuous to the young organizers of events to contain and deal with these current revolutionary side effects, but the real challenge is to convince the older generations that we have been tolerant with them for a long time and they did not notice. It started when we believed that they mostly disliked to understand us, or were incapable of that, and when we stopped waiting for their support and continued our struggle, not only politically but also socially and career-wise.

We did stop explaining our different approaches and thoughts, lost our former destitution to their understanding, and also excused them, because we believed that they were doing their best to guarantee a better future for us, not to highhandedly control our breaths. We all were in the same trench fought by the authoritarianist regimes which enjoyed narrowing their income rates and opportunities and smashing our dreams and hopes. Simply, we went ahead and saved our energy not to lose it in such sterile debates.       

On the other hand, Arab youth, mercury which does not compete other liquids or other solid metals, are not servile. Dictator regimes were conceited enough to ignore mercurial toxicity and thought that they could swallow them. On January 25, the starting of Egypt’s revolution, I co-led one of seven simultaneous demonstrations in Alexandria, where we started in dozens of activists and semi-activists. We choose to go from margins and poor areas where police forces had to not be aggressive and tried to stop our marching by negotiating on keeping it as a stand-up protest. In Al-Ma’had Al-Dini Street, eastern Alexandria, the light police force could not stop dozens of us. When we arrived to 45 Street in hundreds, they deployed the Central Security forces to block the way to the near Church (as a security precaution). Spontaneously, the marching demonstrators avoided the physical clash and detoured in a narrow side street, where we crept to Sidi Beshr (another neighborhood) and became thousands, and activists lost the control of directing it, even before continuing to other neighborhoods along the miles in the route to the center of the city, where the smallest demonstration became more than ten thousands persons. This was an example of how it evolved from wide demonstrations to an uprising, and then to a revolution.

It may be funny now to liken the metaphor of swallowing mercury to the fake forensic report which claims that Khaled Said[8] died because he tried to swallow a roll of drugs to escape legal punishment. Indeed, Mubarak’s regime was trying to swallow its crimes to hide them, but they did not know that recent youth generation is mercurial, which means poisoning.  

 

Arab Regimes and Fluid Poisoning

What may a piece of wood do with a jumbo bulk of concrete? Or, let’s say, what may structured institutionalized political organizations do with the best built, strongest and most wanton regimes? But, what about facing the concrete with water? And deconstructing metallic structures by fluid solutions?

According to Mr. President’s instructions” was one of the most silly and lumpish sentences we used to hear from the state media in the Arab region. We did not imagine that once a day we would say: “the revolution could not succeed except according to Mr. President’s instructions“. And this is true!

I argue that many Arab revolutions and uprisings might be discharged if the regimes were not too arrogant to take the initiative and responded to the basic demands. Anger Fridays should have not evolved to be uprisings if martyrs were not shot, and the uprisings might be contained if the courtiers were not stupid enough to send un-uniformed cavalry, nomadic (Hajana) and thugs. This brilliant tactics were capable to guarantee, at least, the continuity of uprisings/revolutions. Most importantly to study is which order those tactics occupy in the long term mercurial suicide.

Pressure generates explosion” is not enough to describe the frozen boiling which was observed. Ahmad Nazeef’s, Mubarak’s last Prime Minister’s; government boasted that it was running forward to “smartizing” (digitalizing) Egypt. It is well known that all related deals with multinational corporations are smudged by corruption suspicions, but a positive aspect of those procedures is to support spreading the culture of using the internet among wider sectors of youth, even in poor areas where individuals/families have no PCs and usually use internet cafes. As a purely security mentality, the Ministry of Interior Affairs tried to rule the public use of internet cafes and to practice primitive censorship. In addition to other several reasons, it encouraged the illegal DSL networks, with a very good societal experience in illegal satellite cables, which means more online hours to spend and higher female participation.

Linking the computer and internet use with playing, entertainment and having fun was the fatalist strategic mistake stored in parental regime’s subconscious. Pharaoh Mubarak’s unforgettable comment on the Parallel Parliament in the parliamentary assembly on December 19, 2010 by saying “let them entertain themselves” was a serious indicator of the gage of disregard they paid to the under-surface mobility as well as the above-surface interactions. Steven Heydemann attributed the Arab regimes as “earthquake resistant[9], as they enjoyed a unique ability to contain all opposition actions, but actually they were trying to contain the poisoning mercury. Banning all public spheres irrigated all kinds of private activities, facing the keyboard by handcuffs let nothing to do except announcing discontent, and finally blocking all sorts of communications forced people to get out and go to know what was happening.

Mubarak’s and Bin Aly’s regimes monopolized the structural efficiency and the hierarchy agency, which missed any chance to healthy structured political bodies. It was like a huge tree crumbled all competitive shrubs to thorns, where their movement became faster and easier, and then surrounded, jabbed and finally pushed it down. It is the same situation for an elephant attacked by ants’ army in comparison to fighting a couple of little donkeys. Here, Asef Bayat’s term of “encroachment of ordinary people[10] in the context of studying the Social Nonmovements may be suitable.

Twitterized Mercurial Revolutions and the Master Transition

This exceptionalism is uninhabitable in both conservative metal and liquid minds, where both modern and postmodern approaches are incapable of explaining what exactly has happened in Tunisia and Egypt, or even to analyze what is running in the whole Arab world. It is the academic historic shift where western academia in its worst situation, and when the political process model and classic, or even postmodern, political sociology are expired. Where they principally valid to the Arab region?

How many imported fibs on institutionalism, missing the political opportunity, resource mobilization, structure agency, etc did we study in a totally different soil? How negatively-romantic, absurd, chaotic and useless was the Arabization of postmodernism? What would our aspirations and visions be had we deleted these elapsed three months from the memory of history?

Post-leadership, post-organization and post-ideology are the terms and concepts which disqualified a paper of mine to be published by a prestigious academic institute in 2010. Aly El-Raggal, a young researcher has been working on the concept of rhizomatic forms and networks in opposition to the tree/hierarchy shapes, faced also a lot of ignorance to his thesis by Egyptian scholars who obtained their PHDs from reputable universities around the world in accordance with the “scientific” social theories and methodologies. There are just two examples for what is running now, when those concepts are going to be golden keys for understanding, analyzing and explaining a lot of real proceedings. Many Arab youth’s academic aspirations on having our own theories and models were rewarded by huge neglect, and this is a subject of academic revolution during the upcoming years.

Not only the academic illusions have been outdated, but also many political, social, and security myths have been broken by Arab revolutions sparked by youth. One of those superstitious beliefs is regarding the nationalistic disintegration between Arab peoples. Ongoing revolutions and uprisings assure that the Arab Regimes Club, the League of Arab States, does not represent the organic correlation between the Arab nations. Sooner or later, it is expected for the Saudi regime to be poisoned by the fugitive mercurial stalkers, and also expected to the whole area to start a new era of democratic post-islamist empowerment of people’s rule. Definitely the political and economic maps are going to be redrawn, but the question is about the demographic and lingual maps in the upcoming ten years, not why but how!


[1] The original copy of this article is in press in French, Spanish and Portuguese in Afkar/Ideas Magazine, issue no. 30, summer 2011. (http://www.afkar-ideas.com/), and the Arabic copy is published on Jadaliyya (http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/1913/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B4%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%A8-)

[2] After Mubarak’s stepping down, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces recruited a commission for preparing the essential constitutional amendments in order to pave the way to the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.

[4]  The final official result shows that “YES” got 77% of votes.

[5] Look also at: El-Raggal, Aly, Facebook and Political Mobilization in Egypt, 2010. (https://alexsalon.wordpress.com/?s=facebook+and+political+)

[6]  Estimations statistics of the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Developmenthttp://www.arabfund.org/Data/site1/pdf/jaer/jaer2007/2.pdf

[7] It is not about the ancient stereotype on the Arab region, but a taunt on the way Tahrir Square protesters were attacked.

[8] An ordinary young man was tortured to death in the street by two police men near to his house in Alexandria in June 2010. Then, the largest Facebook page in the Arab region, We Are All Khaled Said (Kollona Khaled Said), was created and played an influential role in mobilizing and motivating huge numbers of ordinary Egyptians.

[9] Heydemann, Steven, The Persistence of Egyptian Authoritarianism and Prospects for Social Activism, Egypt’s Today Mobility conference, AUC, May 2010.

[10] Bayat, Asef, Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East, AUC Press, 2009.

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