Egyptian activists try to bridge digital divide
A group of Egyptian activists are struggling to translate their online influence into real political action by taking the "tweets to the streets."
With one hand gripping the steering wheel and the other his Blackberry, IT entrepreneur Hassan Hamed accelerated up a steep unpaved road leading into one of Cairo’s sprawling, unplanned slum areas known as ashwa'iyat, Arabic for “random.” Before he unloaded stacks of “Don’t sell your vote” flyers from his trunk, he dispatched a note to his 6,743 followers on Twitter: “Getting ready to hit the streets for another #tweetshare3 round in Ezbet Khairallah.” His colleague, journalism student Salma Hegab shot back to her 12,280 followers, “Ahem, I’m here, I’m waiting!”Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Egyptian protests
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The impact of social media on revolutionary movements like Egypt’s has been hashed out to the precipice of cliché, with scholars still puzzling over how networks online and off contributed to the ousting of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. As Egypt’s transitional period drags on, staggering obstacles lay ahead for the architects of the post-Mubarak Egypt, with Twitter laying bare divisions both within the activists' ranks and between the relatively small number of activists using the Internet to organize and the "silent majority" on the street. Some of Egypt's young revolutionaries are still trying to find a way to merge their online presences with street level politics and outreach in time for the approaching parliamentary elections.
“You can advertise a revolution on Twitter, you can give it fuel. But you can't win a revolution on Twitter,” says Firas Atraqchi, associate professor of journalism at the American University in Cairo. “That lesson seems lost and the generation is fumbling. Egypt has thousands of villages and millions of people offline no one is engaging.”
'We know we're not celebrities'
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has come under increasing criticism for its inept, and even malevolent, handling of Egypt’s transition to democracy. Among the offenses: military trials for civilians, an unprecedented clampdown on NGOs and freedom of the press, reports of torture, and the forcible dispersion of Coptic Christian protesters at Maspiro (resulting in dozens killed and hundreds wounded, with state television spreading inflammatory news of Copts attacking soldiers). But despite SCAF’s handling of the transition, they have largely maintained the support of the masses – who have largely turned against the superstar activists of the revolution.
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