Egyptians and Technology

epicenter_egyptsocialmedia0211_pageFrom the 1881 revolution to the 2011 uprising Egyptian’s have constantly used the technology of the era to contribute to political causes. Technology has allowed all groups of Egyptians to enhance their quality of life despite social difficulties such as illiteracy and unemployment. The accessibility and growth of technology has facilitated protest and overthrown regimes. The effect that this has had on Egyptian society has continued to enhance the quality of life of all citizens over the country’s history.

“The printing press first arrived in Egypt via the French at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but it was not until the decade before the Urabi Revolt that it began to leave its mark on the Arabic speaker” (Lyngaas (page 4)). During the Urabi Revolution illiteracy rates corresponded with the number of newspapers being published from the 1870’s and 1880’s. A newspaper, Abu Naddara, was written in Egyptian Arabic instead of Classical Arabic. This allowed the political satire to reach the masses and not just the educated elite. The language used in political articles was adjusted as well during this time period to begin to reach a broader audience (Lyngaas (Page 4)).

Illiterate migrant workers in Cairo and Alexandria used the services of professional writers and readers to be able to communicate with their families back home (Fahmy, 58). A service like this is an example of primitive technology that aided people who suffered from illiteracy. Egyptians took to reading newspapers out loud at coffee shops since all would be able to understand the information in this format (Fahmy ,72). Technology allowed for a more rapid form of communication between citizens, helping the country to develop a more centralized identity that would become important in maintaining future political protest.

Politicians such as Al-Afghani understood that a more productive printing press could only contribute to his success as a politician. Throughout Egypt’s history not many politicians have agreed with this mindset, choosing instead to limit the freedom of press to prevent their political opponents from speaking out against them. Sadat and Nasser never allowed political opponents to publish their own periodicals, but in the 1980’s Mubarak opted to open up the expression of the press (Nassef, 1).

This caused the political climate in Egypt to shift to one that was more liberal. Before Mubarak took office the only sources of media available to Egyptians were state-owned and state-run. A political environment like this was not encouraging to Egyptian citizens who may have been wary of supporting the current regime. Regulating the media to only endorse your campaign rhetoric, gives the impression that there is something to hide. Transparency and a thriving liberal press should be the goal of a political regime.

The success of political protests in Egypt can be contributed to the increasing availability of technology. For example during the Urabi Revolt many peasants offered their stories to writers in order to protest (Lyngaas, page 3). Offering these stories for the rest of the country to hear allowed citizens with more wealth to hear about the struggles of their fellow countrymen for the first time. This same mentality of exposing the true circumstances of situations continued into the 2011 revolt through the use of the social media. The Egyptian Revolution was started in 2011 by frustrated Egyptians who used “online social media and cellular phones to organize large protests against the nizam (the “system”) (Fahmy, page 267).”

The internet allowed peaceful and orderly protest to still be organized despite a lack of organization or leadership. The current generation of Egyptians were accustomed to using social media to address their problems and utilizing this avenue for political protest seemed like the next logical step. Protesters used the technology to “broadcast general information, mobilize protesters, engage in collective planning, protect each other by evading censorship and surveillance, and transfer money (Joyce, 2011#) (Khamis, page 1).” On January 28, 2011 the regime responded by blacking out all internet and mobile services inside the country prompting citizens to transfer their online revolution to the streets. The number of protesters on the streets actually grew after the blackout. The protesters were not the only group to use technology to their advantage; military leaders used SMS to text its citizens updates of events (Brisson, page 1), showing that during modern political protests technology is utilized to not only inspire revolution but to ensure the citizens safety.

Egyptian society has been positively influenced from the growth of more accessible technological resources. Technology allows more things to happen outside the control of the government. This creates an encouraging environment for citizens to freely express ideas even if they are contradictory to the current regime in power. The 2011 Egyptian revolution highlighted the communication struggle between the government and the protesters, a necessary fix for the next regime to be successful. Khamis argues that the 2011 protest also signaled “the end of an era of government control and manipulation of national, state-owned media”. While other factors contributed to the success of the political revolutions in 1881, 1952, and 2011, social media was able to speed up the process for creating a revolution, the Egyptian regime fell eighteen days after the first protest (Gustin, page 1). Technology has always served as a political presence inside Egyptian politics and if trends like this are to continue; unpopular regimes in Egypt are going to have increasing difficulty maintaining political power.

Work Cited

Brisson, Zack. “The Role of Technology in the Egyptian Revolution -.” Rebootorg The Role of Technology in the Egyptian Revolution Comments. March 18, 2011. Accessed December 2, 2014. http://reboot.org/2011/03/18/the-role-of-technology-in-the-egyptian-revolution/.

Fahmy, Ziad. “POPULARIZING EGYPTIAN NATIONALISM: COLLOQUIAL CULTURE AND MEDIA CAPITALISM, 1870-1919.” January 1, 2007. http://arizona.openrepository.com/arizona/bitstream/10150/195746/1/azu_etd_2237_sip1_m.pdf.

Gustin, Sam. “Social Media Sparked, Accelerated Egypt’s Revolutionary Fire | WIRED.” Wired.com. February 9, 11. Accessed December 2, 2014. http://www.wired.com/2011/02/egypts-revolutionary-fire/.

Khamis, Sahar. “Arab Media & Society.” Arab Media & Society. 1 Jan. 2011. Web. 17 Dec. 2014.

Lyngaas, Sean. “Ahmad Urabi: Delegate of the People Social Mobilization in Egypt on the Eve of Colonial Rule.” The Fletcher School Online Journal. January 1, 2011. Accessed December 2, 2014. http://fletcher.tufts.edu/al-nakhlah/~/media/d0f0858344e3458988f482838a0bb4d9.pdf.

Nassef, Al-Sharif. “Shifting Sands: Political Liberalization of Egypt Since 1952 – Fair Observer.” Fair Observer. February 10, 2012. Accessed December 2, 2014. http://www.fairobserver.com/region/middle_east_north_africa/shifting-sands-political-liberalization-egypt-1952/.