Is Internet Enough?

          Around the world, societies have struggled with oppression. The people’s voice has been taken, and no good, simple solution has been found to this problem. An Egyptian activist by the name of Wael Ghonim believes to have a simple solution, “ ’If you want to free a society, just give them Internet access’.”[i] This is such a simple fix for such a complex problem. Can releasing a society from a tyrant’s stronghold really be this easy? At the time of the 2011 revolution in Egypt, Wael Ghonim, along with a large portion of the Egyptian people, believed so. This could be a start, giving a voice to the voiceless, but, it turned out, not enough to see long lasting change.

            To get an idea of the recent revolution in Egypt, a quick timeline needs to be set. In 2011, a revolution started whose goal was to get rid of widespread social injustice occurring in Egypt, as well as the dictator causing it. After months of massive peaceful protest, such as the sit-in in Tahrir Square, Hosni Mubarak, current leader at the time, stepped down from office. This was a sign of hope, change, and for the revolution. After Mubarak’s leave, elections were held, and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood was elected by the name of Mohamed Morsi. A year after being elected, Morsi was replaced by the military coup; the revolution seemed to have made a full circle. Yet, the revolution started quickly, and gained support rapidly. In a society where all news is censored and citizens monitored, the Internet was key.

In the past, revolutions took time to start and build support. There was no easy way to express opinions without being reprimanded, or start demonstrations without being violently broken up. The public was controlled, but “growth of the Internet and the penetration of smart phones during the 2000s layered a new dimension onto this rapidly evolving new public sphere.”[ii] The introduction of Internet and Satellite television changed the game. People could now post their views and express their opinions anonymously, which gave them the ability to speak up and out without worry of government consequences. One of the social media sites that played a huge role was Facebook.

Facebook took off in the Arab would, with “more than 21 million users” by 2011.[iii] Facebook is just one example of the social sites that gave an easy source of private contact between activists and public awareness. Without need to meet in person, demonstrations were created faster, and support was able to grow faster. Similar to satellite channels, the Egyptian government couldn’t censor Facebook. This allowed activists’ ideas and the actuality of the situations occurring in Egypt to escape to the rest of world and Arab nation. Facebook gave them the chance to share uncensored videos and ideologies globally. This helped rally outside support and hinder government actions. The ruling party couldn’t get away with their violent oppressive behavior anymore without it showing up on the web or the news. This gave a fast start, exponential growth, and advantages to the revolution, that past revolutions wouldn’t have had. The Internet helped free a society from a large portion of the ruling stronghold, yet the revolution still failed.

The internet was a godsend to the revolution at the beginning, but it did not provide  a source of stability. With all of the positives the internet brought, events proceeded at a pace which was too fast for the revolutionaries. The revolution started quickly, grew fast, and progressed at a rate the revolutionaries couldn’t keep up with. The revolution had a goal, but not the means to reach this goal or a leader to act as the voice and delegate for the revolution. The revolution just happened too quickly for these crucial items to be created. With the internet, a glimpse of a free society was had, but not sustained. In other terms, a social revolution was started, but not a political one.

To create real, long-lasting change, a political revolution needed to occur.  Hannah Arendt describes the existence of two different types of revolutions, social and political, in her book On Revolution.[iv] There existed the objective of social equality and justice, but changing the political system, that has caused the injustice, was missing. This is the difference in the type of revolution that occurred, and why it failed. A social revolution can cause the short-term change; but to create real, genuine change, a political revolution was needed. The gift of the internet gave the revolutionaries the tools needed to start the revolution, but not to completely free a society. The Egyptian people were able to start the change, but couldn’t finish it, showing that the internet is only part of a solution.

Cyberactivism is crucial in today’s society. The internet and satellite television are the stepping-stones needed to create change. With these tools, the 2011 revolution in Egypt was able to take off, but the revolution couldn’t be sustained. Wael Ghonim had part of it right when he said, “ ’If you want to free a society, just give them Internet access’,“ but there are some items missing. The real saying should be, ‘If you want to free a society, just give them Internet access and a group of leaders and a political delegate. ‘ It isn’t as catchy as Wael Ghomin’s, but it is a little more accurate. Egypt created a social revolution, but not a political one. Change was started with the internet, but not finished and solidified.

 

References


[i] Dr. Sahar Khamis and Katherine Vaughn, “Cyberactivism in the Egyptian Revolution: How Civic Engagement and Citizen Journalism Tilted the Balance” Arab Media and Society (Web, 2011) 1.

 

[ii] Marc Lynch “Media, Old and New” The Arab Uprisings Explained: New Contentious Politics in the Middle East (Columbia UP, 2014) 95.

 

[iii] Marc Lynch “Media, Old and New” The Arab Uprisings Explained: New Contentious Politics in the Middle East (Columbia UP, 2014) 95.

 

[iv] Hannah Arendt “The Meaning of Revolution” On Revolution (New York: Viking, 1963).