Egypt unrest: Bloggers take campaign to Tahrir Square
7 February 2011 Last updated at 10:56 ET
Social media sites helped to spark the protests on 25 January
Egypt’s internet activists have played a key role in the pro-democracy protests from the outset, but they tell the BBC that the online campaigning is evolving to suit their real-life activism in Tahrir Square.
I hope that when we have finished this sit-in, we will have won the right to organize ourselves outside the internet”
This revolution is the result of someone sending a Facebook invitation to many people. I got it like other people on our network. The buzz around it was then created on different social media websites and with videos. I was here on 25 January when riot police forced us out and by the 28th, we were back following the violence. I’ve been sleeping here most of the time since.
Our social network was established in 2005, when there was a democratic opening around the time of the presidential elections. People from different backgrounds all met through blogging and hoped to use technology for social change. It meant we have all gained good contacts, experience and strong networks.
I like to think the social network is the people itself. Things like Facebook, Twitter, SMS and phones are just social tools. When they blocked Facebook and shut down technology, our network still operated because it’s about people. Internet activists are also people and a lot of our organizing, social work and relationships are developed offline.
This is something that people dreamt of but didn’t anticipate happening in reality. If anything, it shows that all the effort we put in over the past few years has not been wasted. It has climaxed into this critical mass of people you see in the square.
At the moment I’m not getting a lot of internet connection. I’m trying not to drain my phone battery. We’re still using it to distribute footage people are bringing to us that we’ve sorted through.
I hope the internet will continue to play a complementary role in activism. At the moment we physically exist in downtown Cairo and I hope that when we have finished this sit-in, we will have won the right to organize ourselves outside the internet.
Twitter: Amr Gharbeia
It [is] totally different to have real freedom rather than just hypothetical freedom or internet freedom”
I was involved in this revolution from the first day, 25 January, and I’ve now been spending my nights here for a while. For the past five years, I was very active online, blogging and tweeting. As we live under emergency laws in Egypt it has been very difficult to meet or communicate except on the internet. I’d never been part of a demonstration on the ground.
At first we were mocking the event on 25 January. We questioned whether it was really possible to have a “Facebook revolution”. I came on the 25th because I felt it was my duty as a citizen and I couldn’t believe how it turned into something so different from what we’ve seen before. I was walking among the people and weeping.
Now I sometimes just tweet to update people about what’s going on or to call for a million-man demonstration or a day to remember our martyrs. I’m well-known among bloggers for my long articles and constant tweets, but once I was here I stopped communicating this way so much. I felt it was totally different to have real freedom rather than just hypothetical freedom or internet freedom.
Blogging and tweeting has been important as we were building our minds. This regime stopped us from doing that. We had have poor education and no national cultural programmes. I am so proud now, especially when I think of our young martyrs. In Egypt we have suffered a lot and it’s about time that we start to live like real people.
Twitter: Nawara Negm
The internet gave us our backbone but it is not because of Facebook that this happened”
I’m not writing my blog right now. We’re just using Twitter as it’s easy and flexible to do from your mobile. If we have a lot of action here I might do as many as 20 or 30 tweets a day. We also use Bambuser for live-streaming from our mobiles here in Tahrir Square.
The internet gave us our backbone but it is not because of Facebook that this happened. It was the force used by the police that brought everybody together. If they had let us leave peacefully on 25 January, this would never have happened. It got worse with the violence on 28th: The shootings, the tear gas, the killings, the brutality. When they cut the internet and mobile phone lines this only increased people’s anger.
In the square we have organised our lives well. We have a co-ordinating committee telling us where there have been attacks and a group doing cleaning. We have some people singing and some praying. We have Christians, Muslims, agnostics, leftists and rightists and we all live together well. In our community we’re trying to set an example of how we can all live together. It’s like a city inside the city here. We are the kernel of the revolution.
Blog: MaLek X (in Arabic)
Older people come up to us [and] say: ‘We’re really proud of you… You did what we didn’t manage to do for 60 years’”
The revolution was publicised on the internet. The spark was Facebook. People were really sceptical about it because they didn’t think you could have a revolution where you named the date, but now I look around me and I am really proud of the Egyptian people and the initiative. I’m sure that those who named the date didn’t think things would go this far.
To begin with on 25 January, we had mostly young people of all classes who somehow use the internet. You have internet cafes even in the poorest areas of Egypt so even less well-educated people have access, especially to Facebook. A lot was also achieved through word of mouth – people telling their friends and neighbours. The independent media took a middle-ground to begin with as everyone was watching their backs but now they have got onboard.
After our huge turnout on the first Tuesday, demonstrations continued for the next two days and we publicised further action for Friday on the internet. That day they cut our communications and took our cameras so we had an information blackout and the violence was unbelievable. A lot of people died.
Still the threshold of fear and pain had been broken and we have kept up momentum since. Now older people especially come up to us when we’re collecting trash or whatever in the square and they say: “We’re really proud of you… You did what we didn’t manage to do for 60 years.”
People have called this the “Facebook Revolution” because it gave us a form of expression even when people were too scared to talk in big groups about political issues. We had already set up Facebook pages for people who were tortured to death. We found it was a way to talk without being tracked.
In the square we have bridged a lot of gaps. I’ve been living here since 29 January with tens of thousands of other people. I put my head down to sleep and I don’t know the people sleeping around me. I have wonderful conversations with people from all over Egypt who normally I would never have talked to.
We’re finally getting to know each other. It’s wonderful.