Every Wednesday in February will review a political economy issue regarding a Maghreb country. Last week Sarah Hassaine reflected on Algeria. This week will focus on Egypt because on February 11th, 2011, Hosni Mubarak stepped down from power after 30 years of authoritarian rule. Some argue that stepping down is a euphemism for a coup d’tat orchestrated by the military as they saw the inevitable end of a regime. Others argue that the revolution by the people for the people peacefully sent the message to Mubarak. Either way, PITAPOLICY is commemorating the historic precedent Egypt inspired, shortly after Tunisia, by including the media comparisons. This week’s posting includes the 2011 speech Mehrunisa Qayyum presented at the International Monetary Fund Toastmasters International competition, which earned first place before moving on to represent at the District level. *Names have been changed to protect identities. As always, PITAPOLICY looks forward to receiving pieces on Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Sudan for the remainder of February. Please submit to firstname.lastname@example.org
Sing: Ding Dong the Pharoah is gone!
Which Pharoah? The Fat Pharoah! Use your phone.
Stand up, the Pharoah’s gone. He’s fled his home and is all alone.
Ding Dong, yallah, let’s go sing it loud, sing it proud.
The Fat Pharoah is gone.
Tell everyone you know!
This is an adaptation from the classic American tale “The Wizard Oz”. However, rather than singing about the demise of the Wicked Witch, I coined these lyrics for the Last Pharoah of Egypt—Hosni Mubarak.
On February 11th, at around 11am EST, I was humming this tune because the last pharaoh of Egypt finally heard the 80 some million Egyptians reverberating across the Atlantic Ocean. I excitedly posted my limmerick to my friends’ Facebook pages. The American characters of my story boil down to 3—Jenan, the activist/organizer; Sossan, the photographer; and Alex, the tech Geek—I can call Alex tech Geek because he’s my fellow Georgetown alum and interns in a news bureaus’ info tech office. (He also has these special winter gloves that lets him type without the clumsy fumbles of fabric since there are leather finger tips.)
10 days later, my generous friend Jenan hosted a koshari party to celebrate the peaceful revolution. She asked each of us to reflect as Al Jazeera footage of the protests played in the background. Meanwhile, we’re filling our stomachs with Trader Joe’s grape leaves and overpriced pomegranate juice. As I’m eating koshari, a traditional Egyptian dish of rice and lentils, I started to flash back to when I decided to switch my computer screen from CNN to Facebook and Al-Jazeera—or as my friend Alex put it: glued to the screen until falling asleep in front of it before work early next morning.
II. Raise, Raise, Raise Your Voice; Its Your Freedom, It’s Your Choice
We chanted this as Egyptians, Arabs, non-Arab Americans—including other Middle Easterner, Anglo, Black, and Latin. The Pro-Democracy supporters included Muslims, Coptics/Christians, and Jews—or anyone concerned about social justice and human rights. Mubarak had kept Egypt in the State of Emergency as if it was at war since he assumed power in 1981. Therefore, Arabic slogans like “Ooskut, Ooskut Hosni Mubarak”, echoed in Cairo, Alexandria, Mansura, London, Washington, DC, Chicago, Los Angeles —meaning Down, Down with Hosni Mubarak. So, Jenan organized, Alex tweeted, Sossan uploaded pictures and I reposted updates on Facebook. Later, Sossan, Jenan, Alex, and myself marched to the White House and joined the 400 people showing solidarity with the Pro-Democracy protestors.
Our American protest crowd was like a microcosm of the groups in Egypt because we had our university professors, church and mosque leaders, social justice peace activists who were demonstrating their pride on respecting human rights. Later that night, a couple hundred people slept outside of the White House and held a vigil just like the thousands sleeping over in Tahrir Square and honoring its namesake by demonstrating for “Liberation”. This is the meaning of Tahrir. Also, it was a sharp contrast to the days I would dodge traffic to get to class at the American University of Cairo on the other side. Jenan, Sossan, Alex, myself and many other of our friends, remember exactly where we were every Saturday since the Tahrir Square protests initiated on January 25th.
Beginning with Day 1 of the protests, Mind you, I’m not referring to the spotlight on Egypt the way CNN and Fox News did. Instead, many news organizations approached these events with more pessimism by labeling as the “Egyptian Crisis” in the bottom lefthand corner. Perhaps they labeled it “crisis” for the following 3 reasons:
-Mubarak held an estimated 30,000 political prisoners in Egypt’s jails, according to Washington Report on Middle East Affairs;
-Regarding corruption, Transparency International ranked Egypt 98 out of 178 countries; and
-Mubarak holds over $15 billion in assets just for himself—the leader of a developing nation that is the second largest recipient of US aid.
However, many reporters focused on the Muslim Brotherhood and unemployment statistics rather than the ones I’ve just shared.
III. Speak to Tweet Campaign By Google For Protesters to Voice
Even though we shouted until we went hoarse, we nor the Egyptians lost our virtual voice. By the end of the first week, the Last Pharoah became angry and clamped down on the people by cutting off electricity and internet across Egypt. However, the Last Pharaoh failed to realize that he could not hit the delete button to eliminate communication permanently. Thankfully, Google clicked the “Refresh” button and launched the “Speak to Tweet” campaign where pro-Democracy protestors and observers could call a number on their mobile devices and speak rather than type. Rami shared new tweets and new slogans from Egyptian protestors. He, like others, shared Pro-Democracy tweets with us so we could echo their voices here during our DC and Chicago demonstrations. The 140 character status updates assured neighboring protestors that the military continued to maintain neutrality. The Pro-Democracy participants had NOT opened fire in the crowded masses. In the same vein, news sources gained access to information when they lost contact with reporters like Aymen Moyheldine from the DC bureau of AJE or Anderson Cooper from CNN.
On a sidenote, but an equally important point: Grass roots organizers used social media to organize. In particular, Facebook accounts communicated when and where demonstrations would occur and how to participate. Therefore, it was no surprise that the Mubarak’s regime temporarily interrupted these organizers by hacking into their Facebook accounts.
Furthermore, the Last Pharoah allowed his Ministry of Interior to cut internet communication which disrupted organizers because they couldn’t tweet the ground reality. For example, one of the on the ground tweeters/grass roots organizers, was Wael Ghonim. Wael is 30 yrs old and serves as Google’s Head of Marketing in MENA. He epitomizes what some political economists refer to as part of the “demographic gift” –the large number of people between 15-30 year olds living in many countries in the Middle East North Africa region. Others refer to this demographic as the “demographic bulge”. Whichever spin you give to this demographic, it makes up about 30% of MENA’s population. As a result, 1000s followed Ghonim’s tweets.
Back to my friends’ story: their efforts to tweet back the minute by minute occurrences presented real time coverage when CNN and BBC switched over to other stories.
IV. “Speed It UP So I Can Go Home & Study”
This sounds like a cheeky remark from noted comedian pundit Stephen Colbert. However, by Day 12 of the protests, Sossan a Masters student, shouted this outside the Egyptian embassy in Washington, DC as 500 of us repeated slogans during our demonstrations. Sossan kept up our spirits by grabbing the wittiest and funniest slogans from Egypt. For example, the picture she shared with me included students holding up a sign in Arabic saying,
“You’re Gonna Go; Speed It Up, So I Can Go Home… and Take a Shower!”
Through Facebook, Sossanposted her pictures and her friend’s pictures from Egypt. Sossan would “tag” a dozen FB friends, who would “tag” another dozen, and so on and so forth. As a result, 1,500 of our American and Canadian friends that even in challenging situations, Egyptians will remain resilient but witty in their efforts to remove the last pharaoh.
My favorite moment was seeing young kids—or as I call munchkins—raised on their fathers’ shoulders mouthing the slogans and wearing the Egyptian flags as caped superheroes shouting at the unfair pharoah. This scene was universal in both the US and Egypt.
V. “Journalism Is the First Rough Draft of History…”
…stated Philip Graham at Johns Hopkin SAIS. Although the Pro-Democracy protestors demonstrated peacefully, by February 3rd, the Last Pharoah’s response was not peaceful. Hordes of his thugs descended upon civilians, injuring thousands. Youtube footage captured this and was later uploaded to formal television news networks. (Show picture)
Thankfully, Al Jazeera English provided special coverage by canvassing experts from government, nonprofits and academia from all over the world. I was ecstatic seeing my former Georgetown professors, like Samer Shehata, appear on CNN’s Wolf Blitzer report, Al Jazeera, and surprisingly, The Colbert Report. I was proud to see that my Politics and Media professor clarified myths regarding Egyptians—even when faced with the Stephen Colbert’s antics —relating how Egypt’s civil society is capable of determining its own democratic destiny.
Even though I told Dr. Shehata I enjoyed all his interviews, I couldn’t help but feel that he produced the most impact by appearing on the political news satire because of its popular following outside of the US. Also, the my professor’s Colbert interview was probably retweeted more than his other interviews because the Colbert Show has won the award for most influential based on the number of Colbert’s retweets.
VI. Reflecting: Not surprised that social networks played a crucial role:
As we celebrate the Egyptian revolution, and decide how the world will recast these events in textbooks, I am not surprised that social networks played a crucial role for 2 reasons:
1) In 2008, Social networks, or “Generation Facebook” partly attributed to Obama’s campaign win; As Newsweek and Time highlighted right after Obama’s election.
2) Why not replay out in another country, like Egypt, with a large demographic under the age of 35.
If journalism is the first rough draft of history, then the analysis and commentary of the events must be the revised drafts. I think that’s why Alex’s boss has asked him to write a piece analyzing the impact of Twitter on Egypt’s revolution. I think that’s why Sossan and I were interviewed by NPR. Sossan is also entering her photos in an international photo contest. Meanwhile other friends are taking the lessons learned and now reporting on Libya’s revolution. If we review the many drafts of Egypt’s historical events, then I believe that the story of the Last Pharaoh must include the tweets, blogs, Youtube footage, and other social network applications. These tools combined provide the proofreading tools that allowed Yasmin, Heidi, Rami, and me to check our facts and hear the virtual voices when the Last Pharoah detained journalists or allowed thugs to beat up camermen. Therefore, I will end my story of the Last Pharoah since Egypt will write its own story. When Sossan and I will repeat this story to our future munchkins about the Last Pharaoh, I know that I will call the last chapter by my happy tweet: “Ding Dong the Pharoah’s Gone”~