More Than a Facebook Revolution

To call the ongoing people’s revolts in Tunisia and Egypt FaceBook revolutions is certainly overstating the case.

In both countries, the time was ripe for revolution and social upheaval. Poverty, repression and hopelessness were enforced by greedy U.S.-supported despots who were deaf to the needs of their people.

But there is little doubt that the recent street-protest revolts in Tunis and Cairo were assisted by new social media: Facebookers, tweeters and a new generation of Internet bloggers..

In Egypt, the blogosphere has been on fire with young activists planning meetings, sharing information, planning actions and sending emergency messages about government attacks.

Mahmoud Salem, known in the blogosphere, as “Sandmonkey,” is among the most famous and savvy young Egyptian bloggers, now working at the edges of Liberation Square.

Sandmonkey, who describes himself as “a pro-democracy, free-speech, women’s rights activist,” has been blogging since 2004. His blog is now read around the world and has become part of an alternative information flow, carrying the message from the street to the 24-hour-a-day rush hour on the information super-highway.

What Sandmonkey’s blogging had helped bring about was brought home to him this week when he moved from the blogosphere to Liberation Square where hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have been demanding that longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak resign.

To counter the protests, pro-government forces launched a series of brutal attacks, some on horse- and camel-back. Pro-democracy demonstrators were beaten and assaulted by rocks, makeshift knives and other primitive weapons. More than 10 were apparently shot dead by snipers, stabbed or stoned to death.

In an interview on Friday, Sandmonkey told me that he was on his way to the square with medical supplies, when he was confronted by pro-Mubarak goons and secret police.

According to Sandmonkey, he and several of his colleagues were arrested and beaten mercilessly for over a half hour. They were also threatened with hanging and decapitation.

But soon he was headed back to the square, concerned that many of his friends and other protesters were seriously wounded and needed help.

“I was frightened for people who were tear-gassed,” he said. “And my friend got shot…[The authorities] were shooting six tear gas canisters every few seconds, and I was one of the few people who were able to tweet while a black-out was happening.”

When Sandmonkey tried to reenter Liberation Square the next day, he was captured by security forces who told him and those with him that they would be executed as Israeli spies.

“The police basically ambushed me and my car, and had me and my friends beaten up and arrested. My car was completely smashed and destroyed. It’s been a very surreal experience.”

According to the blogger, Mubarak’s thugs accused Sandmonkey and his friends of being traitors to Egypt.

“They were accusing us of being spies,” he said. “They were accusing us of selling out Egypt and destroying it. They told us they were going to hang us, and lynch us.

“It was basically very much like a zombie movie, you know the scene where there are hundreds of zombies trying to grab you and kill you.”

Sandmonkey said he and his friends were driven to a police station, but nothing was done to set anything right. He said:

“We were taken to a police station and they had us sit at the police station for two hours, they wouldn’t even file a police report, my car got destroyed, I never saw my phone again and then they released us.”

Despite the continuing attacks and widespread arrests, Sandmonkey said his resolve is to stay put, stay strong and fight the dictatorship until the protesters’ demands are met.

The pro-democracy activist agreed that social media has played a role in the people’s revolt, but he added that the organizing continued even after cell phones, the Internet and Facebook were shut down.

“Basically, social media was very useful at first and letting people know that there is a protest and what the demands are,” he said. “Then there was the shutdown, and we were still able to organize and go to protests without” the help of social media.

Sandmonkey blogged Thursday night, that while some Egyptians are weary and frightened – and others are satisfied by Mubarak’s promise not to run again and to accept democratic elections – he and many others say the concessions are way too little and way too late.

“Despite it all,” Sandmonkey blogged, “we braved it. We believed we are doing what’s right and were encouraged by all those around us who couldn’t believe what was happening to their country.

“What we did galvanized the people, and on Tuesday, despite shutting down all major roads leading into Cairo, we managed to get over 2 million protesters in Cairo alone and 3 million all over Egypt to come out and demand Mubarak’s departure.

“Those are people who stood up to the regime’s ruthlessness and anger and declared that they were free, and were refusing to live in the Mubarak dictatorship for one more day.”

DENNIS BERNSTEIN is the host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net. You can get in touch with the author at dbernstein@igc.org.

This article was originally published by Consortium.


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