The Power of the People: The Transformation of Egypt

As a person who loves history, I find myself watching what is happening in Egypt with the knowledge that the anti-government protesters are making history. Many  would identify Egypt as the location of the pyramids and the ancient centre of civilization, but Egypt is back on the international stage.

I listened with reverent silence as the CBC reported this weekend that Hosni Mubarak will step down as President. They did it- the people have spoken! What I find fascinating about this revolution is the methods they have used for political change- a combination of new technology and old space.

The power of the Internet and the social networks  such as Facebook and Twitter were crucial for this revolution.  The Internet, used by only an estimated 16 per cent of the Egyptian population, was one of the only means of protest.  Many people were jailed over what they were posting. Khaled Said was a Web activist who died in prison.  His death sparked a series of Web generated riots over the injustice of the government. Abdel Kareem Nabil had the longest jail sentence for the views he expressed in his blog. During an interview on the CBC on February 11, Ayman Nour  a former president of an opposition party  El Ghad, stated that you can liberate a people by giving them the Internet.

This leads me to the second (older) catalyst for social change-or revolution: the public space. The central location for Egyptian protests was Tahrir Square.  A public space is necessary so that people who agree on the same injustice might come together as a larger force- we see this in social groups on the internet, but the public space is a solidification of intent.  You can’t ignore a body of people unified in the same cause as easily as you can ignore an idea being spread by the internet.  This might change in the future, but not yet.  We see this central location as St. Petersburg for the Russian Revolution,  Tiananmen Square for the failed Chinese Revolution,  the Bastille in the French Revolution.  If you are the government, heed this warning: beware of large groups of unsatisfied people.

After having done some research, another factor I discovered was the importance of women in a revolution.  In both the French and Russian Revolution, women were vital to the impetus of the cause.  Usually absent from the public sphere, they added credibility to the cause.   Their presence in a public demonstration communicates the extent of the disruption in the harmony of the family- the cohesion of a society.  Soldiers, who are more than willing to shoot at a group of revolutionary men, are also less willing to shoot at mothers, sisters, and lovers.

I will continue to watch what is going on in Egypt with interest as the army now takes over control.  It is an interesting irony that the descendants of the people who built the pyramids are the examples of the power of modern technology to prompt a revolution.

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