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What Facebook Means For Egypt

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Filed: Citizen (apr) Country: Egypt

1. I have a facebook account and I'm part of the Egyptian Network inaddition to my University Network. The only ppl that contact me through the Egyptian Network are single Egyptian males who have a network of single females which should tell you all something.

2. It is ridiculous for Mubarak to consider blocking Facebook because there are ways around that as we American's have learned by being blocked access at work to certain websites. We go through the foreign version of that website which isn't blocked to log into our version. In addition to that blocking facebook isn't going to stop the protests because they can join other networking websites which there is a multiplicity of. The internet is one thing I don't believe could be properly policed at all times by a government.

3. It is ridiculous for the author of this article to suggest that the International community should pressure Mubarak to keep internet freedom in Egypt. While freedom of press, and speech, and internet may be something some international communities have it is quite apparent it is not something that is shared with Egypt and thus putting pressure on Egypt's governing body at this time would be ineffective. While that doesn't mean I don't agree with the fact that it should be the peoples right I mearly recognize the request is ineffective to the current administration.

What Facebook Means For Egypt


Right now, the government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is considering blocking Facebook, the social networking website that has become a popular hangout for twentysomethings worldwide and a favorite venue for Egypt's disaffected youth. The reason: In April, one group of young citizens mobilized 80,000 supporters to protest rising food prices. Facebook networking played a crucial role in broadening support and turnout for an April 6 textile workers' strike and protest.

The Egyptian government, which has governed for 25 years under emergency law and doesn't allow more than five people to gather unregistered, hit back hard, jailing young dissidents and torturing Ahmed Maher, a young activist who tried, unsuccessfully, to organize a second demonstration in early May. Despite these setbacks, the "Facebook movement" in Egypt is significant for several reasons.

First, it challenges the perception that there is no prospect for independent, secular opposition in the country. The majority of Egyptians are under 30 and have known no ruler other than Mubarak. They have not seen real political parties because the government has long restricted opposition parties and free media. The Facebook movement engaged large numbers of youth for the first time.

Second, the Web offers a safe political space — a role the mosque has traditionally played in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood has for decades been the only viable opposition. With Facebook, young secular people can communicate, build relationships and express their opinions freely. (Significantly, the Muslim Brotherhood opposed the successful April demonstration but supported the unsuccessful May event.) Every member in the 100,000-strong online community could be, at any given moment, a leader of a movement.

Third, engaging Egypt's youth is an important item on the agenda of Mubarak's son, Gamal, as he works to gain support for his succession to power. As a young politician, Gamal established the Future Generation Foundation in 2000, which incubated many of the current leaders of the ruling National Democratic Party and the new Cabinet. Facebook activists and their supporters should be able to turn to this group for support.

A few weeks ago, Belal Diab, a 20-year-old college student, interrupted one of the Egyptian prime minister's speeches to protest the arrests of Facebook activists, shouting: "Look who are you fighting; it is us, the younger generation who stood with you and supported you!"

Nevertheless, Facebook activists are being targeted by government-based media campaigns defaming the website and the youth activists who use it. The government also warns media not to talk about the phenomenon.

What can be done to help this movement? The international community and the U.S. government should pressure the Egyptian government to support Internet freedom and keep Facebook accessible to Egyptians.

One young activist, Ahmad Samih, is campaigning to gain local and international support to prevent the Egyptian government from blocking Facebook. So far, nearly 20 Egyptian human rights organizations are supporting this cause. International human rights organizations should publicly join in that show of support. Egyptian democrats are "Facebooking" their advocacy in order to escape heavy recriminations.

It would be shameful for the international community not to stand up on their behalf against a government that seeks to deny them even that small space to express themselves. Otherwise, Mubarak's self-fulfilling prophesy as the only alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood will continue to hold Egypt back from the democracy its people deserve.

Sherif Mansour works at Freedom House, a human rights organization that has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Egypt since 1972. This first appeared in the Los Angeles Times.




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