Egypt: On Street Activists and Citizen Journalists

 Between online activists, citizen journalists, and street demonstrators, the cause lost it’s purpose and the internet turned into a soundproof room for cursing and cussing.

Sami Ben Gharbia was among the first to cover Egypt’s Facebook activism

 

Banners from Egyptian Facebook groups calling for Strikes.

 

After little less than a month following the April 6 strike in support of the textile workers in Mahalla City, during which a number of prominent Egyptian bloggers and internet activists were arrested, preparations for the next round of a planned general strike to mark the 80th birthday of President Hosni Mubarak, on May 4, 2008, are currently spreading all over the blogosphere and the Internet. And like the preparation for the April 6 strike, the internet has a vital role to play in mobilizing for the upcoming protest. SMS, email, blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter: almost all of these outlets are used by Egyptian Internet activists in their campaign the May 4 event. We’ve even seen a Facebookist Movement to Overthrow Mubarak being created. Another group entitled “We don’t want Muslim Brothers” is calling for the strike but without participation of the Muslim Brotherhood, who recently decided to join May 4 protest.

Eman AbdElRahman highlighted Three Key Moments of Egyptian Citizen Media

1- Circulating videos showing group sexual harassment downtown [Ar], November 2006, which although strongly denied via officials, yet the continuous talks about the incident online was able to attract attention to the phenomena, and hence proved the incident creditability. It also resulted in the emergence of many campaigns against harassment in Egyptian streets.
2- Publishing another video showing the brutality practiced in police offices, for a microbus driver Emad El-Kebir being sodomized with a stick by Captain Islam Nabih, who was later convicted of torture and sexual abuse in November 2007 and was sentenced to three years in prison.
3- in 2008, the calls for the first civil disobedience started on a facebook group, which later on resulted in extreme riots in ElMahala governate, and other strikes in 6th of April each year, and a new youth movement titled “6th of April” as well.

Ramy Raouf blogged about how Online Media & Digital Devices are used to Release Detainees

Earlier this month, the April 6 Youth Movement staged a protest in front of the Egyptian Peoples Assembly calling for more political freedoms and an end to Egypt’s restrictive “emergency law”, which might be renewed this year, and might be enforced as well by a new “Counter-Terrorism law” which is expected to be extremely repressive. The Egyptian security forces responded to the protesting citizens with a brutal violence, making a score of arrests and convictions.

Few days before the protest, more than 30 human rights and legal NGOs in Egypt announced The Front to Defend Egypt Protestors (FDEP) which aims to provide legal and informative support to the participants in peaceful demonstrations.

On April 6th 2010, EmanAbdElRahman wrote about the crackdown on Peaceful Pro-democracy Protests

On the second anniversary of the first call for civil disobedience in the history of modern Egypt, new protests broke out through out the country. Egyptian police violently beat and randomly detained people to disperse protests calling for constitutional reform – especially downtown in front of thePeople’s Assembly and the Shura Council.

But blogger Ahmed Naje does not see citizen journalism the way those activists see it; heshared his experience when he was trying to write an op-ed about the May 2 strike for Wasla:

حاولنا البحث بين المدونات والانترنت عن أى تدوينة تشرح أو توضح أهمية الوقفة أو أسبابها، أو تقدم رؤية معمقة وإجابة لبعض الأسئلة من نوع لماذا مثلا 1200 وليس ألف جنيه؟ هل سيتسبب رفع الحد الأدنى للأجور في زيادة معدل التضخم الإقتصادى؟ وهل من صلاحيات السلطة القضائية فرض سياسات إقتصادية على الحكومة؟ لكننا للآسف لم نعثر على أى تدوينة.
We – The Wasla team – searched the net for blogs explaining the importance of the labor strike, its reasons, an in depth analysis of its vision, or a simple answer to why the demonstrators are calling for a minimum wage of LE 1200. Why not LE 1000? We tried to find any post that would explain if raising the minimum wages would have an impact on the inflation rate or if Egypt’s judiciary system can impose economic policies on the government. Unfortunately, not one post was found tackling those issues.

He goes on saying:

في المجمل كان غالبية ما هو منشور إعادة لنشر "بانر-لافتة" الاعتصام أو نص الدعوة المنشورة على موقع http://21606.info/. وفي النهاية لم نستطع بصفتنا منصة لنشر ما ينشر على المدونات سوى وضع "بانر" الاعتصام على الغلاف مثل بقية المدونات
Most of the blogs reposted the strike banner or the official strike decree posted in thewebsite . As the print voice of blogs and bloggers, we could only publish the same banner on our front page.

As for the strike itself

أما يوم الإعتصام فقد كان من الملفت للأنظار كيف أن المتظاهرين في شارع حسين حجازى بعيداً عن العمال في شارع مجلس الشعب، جميعهم يحمل كاميرات أو يرفع "موبيله" عالياً لالتقاط أفضل الصور من الجميل أن نشاهد انتشار أفكار وأدوات الصحافة الشعبية بهذا الشكل، وهو الأمر الذي ساهم في نشر دعوة الإعتصام على محيط واسع باستخدام الإنترنت، لكن في نفس الوقت فهذا الإنتشار كان للدقة انتشار صورة وشعار لا انتشار فكرة. ف.
It was noticeable on the day of the strike itself how the demonstrators on Hussein Hegazy street stood apart from the workers in front of the people’s assembly. You could easily see the split! The demonstrators stood with their cameras or mobile phones help up high trying to capture great pictures but this is where it starts and this is where it ends. It is admirable to see the prevalence of citizen journalism and its tools, which initially helped draw attention to strikes and activism via the internet. But what I saw today was a focus on banners and pictures as opposed to a rightful focus on the idea and purpose of the strike itself.

One question is left unanswered

إذا كان الإنترنت قد نجح في تقديم مساحة للفضفضة والصراخ وزعيق ودموع المواطن العربي ومشاعره الجياشة، فهل هناك أمل لتغيير هذه الصورة؟
Did the internet provide the Arab citizen with nothing but a space for venting, whining, cussing, and cursing? If that is the sad truth, do we have any hope of changing that image?