Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Revolution Will Be Digitized

Computers and the Internet in particular have been more entwined with the events in Egypt of the past few weeks than they have ever been in any other conflict or uprising. Which in a way seems surprising when you think about it.

How else do you organize large groups of people to do anything but with telecommunications? I can't even plan a SuperBowl party without the use of Facebook and text messaging at a minimum. It's no wonder the Egyptian government shut down access to the web for three days in an effort to quell the protests.

Technology seemed to hold the Egyptian protests together for the first week, helping it to maintain its civility and remain bonded together through the sharing of information. When things began to turn violent on the streets of Cairo and elsewhere what was happening suddenly seemed more about instant, knee-jerk reactions, lashing out and self-preservation than it did about a carefully organized mass movement orchestrated through technology. Mubarak and his thugs tried playing the age old divide and conquer strategy, creating an inflamed, volatile sense of us and them on the ground.

But with access to the web restored the protest groups have been able to hold their ground and remained somewhat unified in a way that they might not have been able to without computers and digital communications.

In Egypt Mubarak seems ready to give in to just about all that is demanded of him, save resigning from office (which is perhaps the whole point). On Sunday the Egyptian vice president met representatives from a broad array of protest groups and agreed to grant freedom of the press, release detainees and lift the country's emergency laws once the security situation improves.

Twitter, Facebook and other digital means of communication have allowed the protest movement in Egypt to hold together and hopefully see its course. Even though as many as 300 people have now probably died and journalists have been attacked and beaten on the streets, it's just possible that a full scale Tiananmen Square type disaster has been averted.

Banks were reopened Sunday and with the government's concessions there is at least the possibility of things in Egypt returning to a kind of normalcy.

Whatever else you might say about him, Mubarak at least appears unwilling to massacre his citizens wholesale in full view of the press like the Chinese government did in 1989. It's worth noting that those protests occurred without digital or cellular communication. The students in Tiananmen Square used posters and leaflets to spread their message and communicate with each other.

Even with journalists like Anderson Cooper having to go into hiding, computers and digital communications have helped keep the Egyptian government at least somewhat accountable.

Hopefully they will make good on their word to change things.

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