Social Media in the Egyptian Revolution :Reconsidering Resource Mobilization Theory (3-3)
This article by Nahed Eltantawy and Julie B. Wiest from High Point University seeks to open dialogue about the utility of resource mobilization theory in explaining social movements and their impact by exploring the use of social media in the 2011 Egyptian revolution through a limited case study analysis. It argues that social media played an instrumental role in the success of the anti-government protests that led to the resignation of the country’s dictatorial leader, and calls for further examination of the proposed incorporation of social media as an important resource for collective action and the organization of contemporary social movements.
In addition to the intense political climate, geographic features, such as close proximity to Tunisia, as well as the location of Tahrir Square in the heart of Cairo, contributed to the development and success of the January 25 protests. Egypt and Tunisia are North African neighbors, separated by Libya and overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Both are majority Muslim countries and share the Arabic language, and both had been ruled by dictators for decades. These commonalities help to explain the Egyptian interest in the events in Tunisia, and the successes there apparently encouraged the Egyptian citizenry.
The prime location of Tahrir Square at the epicenter of Cairo was another factor that contributed to the success of the revolution. Tahrir (or Liberation) Square is situated in a large, open space in downtown Cairo, close to a metro station that connects Tahrir with multiple other districts. The open space enabled millions of people to gather in the square, while also providing a window for the outside world to view the events taking place there. Even when reporters were violently driven out of the square by
Mubarak thugs, many managed to continue reporting by setting up cameras in the various buildings that surround the square. The location also provided a convenient gathering place for protesters from all across Cairo to unite.
Several politically motivated events also contributed to the Egyptian revolution. One of the most significant was the brutal death of Khaled Said in June 2010. Said, a young man from Alexandria was patronizing an Internet café when he was approached by two police officers. Media reports and bloggers claim that the officers demanded money from Said and, when he told them he did not have it, began beating him inside the café. The brutal beating continued outside until Said died on the street. A police vehicle later collected Said’s body, and his family was reportedly told that Said died after choking on a packet of drugs. Said’s supporters, however, believed he was killed because of a video he posted online showing the two officers exchanging money after a drug deal. Immediately following the death of Said, Internet websites were flooded with images of Said’s disfigured face, and many people, including human-rights activists and ElBaradei, took to the streets in an ex
The final significant event ahead of the Egyptian protests was the Tunisian revolution, which began on December 17, 2010, and ended with the fall of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 15, 2011. Although their Egyptian counterparts were already committed to mass protests on January 25, the success in Tunisia appears to have influenced Egyptians and strengthened a sense of collective identity and purpose, primarily because of similarities in the oppressive conditions under which both groups lived and the goals of citizen-activists.
The Role of Social Media
Resource mobilization theory makes clear that both the availability of resources and actors’ efficacy in using them effectively are essential. In addition to resources like a motivated citizenry and the availability of transportation to gather in mass, a significant resource for the Egyptian revolution that was utilized effectively was social media. While one cannot argue that this was an Internet revolution, social media technologies represent an important instrumental resource that contributed to the birth and sustainability of the January 25 protests. Substantial access to social media among Egyptians was available largely because of government efforts to expand the nation’s information technology capabilities as a tool for socioeconomic development. Beginning in 1999, government initiatives included free Internet access, low-cost computers, and the expansion of Internet access centers.
According to Internet marketing research firm Internet World Stats, in February 2010, more than 21% of Egypt’s population of 80 million had access to the Internet, and more than 4.5 million used Facebook. Additionally, more than 70% of the population had a mobile phone subscription.
In the early 2000s, several Egyptian bloggers became prominent for tackling thorny issues. The initial blogs were only published in English, but the development of Arabic software encouraged the creation of more blogs in Arabic, thus attracting a wider domestic audience. As the Egyptian blogosphere grew, activists began utilizing other communication technologies, including social media like Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and cellular phones (ibid.). April 2008 marked the first Egyptian instigated cyberactivism attempt, in which activists created a Facebook page to join textile workers in Mahalla on a general strike. Although the Facebook page attracted 70,000 supporters, the strike was harshly defeated by state security forces. The experience and knowledge gained in these early social media trials, however, proved useful in the 2011 protests and subsequent revolution.
What is perhaps most significant about the use of social media in the Egyptian revolution is how it changed the dynamics of social mobilization. Social media introduced speed and interactivity that were lacking in the traditional mobilization techniques, which generally include the use of leaflets, posters, and faxes. For instance, social media enabled domestic and international Egyptian activists to follow events in Egypt, join social-networking groups, and engage in discussions.
There were a number of individual activists with sufficient knowledge of social media resources who helped bring the revolution to life. These activists created Facebook groups, personal blogs, and Twitter accounts to engage supporters and followers in discussions on current conditions in Egypt. In the summer of 2010, the Facebook group “We are all Khalid Said” was created following the young man’s death. Although the group initially was used to disseminate information about Said’s death, it gradually expanded to include political discussions and began attracting more young political activists. Members of the group used this cyberspace to disseminate information on the latest misdeeds of the Mubarak regime, a discussion that appears to have reverberated among frustrated Egyptians and others, as indicated by the site’s popularity.
By Alula Berhe Kidani, 17/06/2012