Flickr/Sharif Hassan. All rights reserved.
Supporters of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi often claim that Egyptian internet activists are powerless and disconnected from reality. They say that activists are living in their own virtual bubble; however, recent incidents suggest otherwise.
When the 'Arab Spring' began in 2011, the role social media played was undeniable. Activists turned to Facebook, Twitter and other platforms to share news and updates on the ongoing clashes and demonstrations nationwide, as their regimes tried to silence and discredit them through state media and allied private outlets.
The internet was a helpful tool aiding the organization of protests and acting as an alternative means of communication, but the causes of these uprisings were already deeply rooted in Arab societies.
Nonetheless, two years ago when the Egyptian uprising faced a setback, supporters of the regime claimed that activists could no longer change facts on the ground, because their ideas only existed virtually. Recent events refute such claims.
Last week, Egypt’s social media sphere saw an uproar against pro-regime TV host Riham Saed. During her talk show, she tried to justify a video recorded incident of sexual harassment that had made its rounds on social media. She blamed the victim for the assault, arguing that the way she was dressed and how she behaved were what provoked the attacker. She then showed private images of the survivor at parties and by the beach, in an attempt to degrade her in front of the audience.
Shortly after the episode, an event was created on Facebook that called for putting Reham Saeed on trial and taking her show off air; hundreds of thousands joined in a few days. On Twitter the sarcastic hashtag 'Die Reham' trended with tweets criticising her unethical and unprofessional behavior. As a result, the TV channel that aired her show Al-Nahar issued a statement saying it would suspend the show and start an investigation. Saeed had supposedly posted twice on Facebook that she would be resigning, which she then deleted shortly after.
Moreover, under pressure of criticism and threats of boycotts, more than 10 sponsors of the show announced on their social media profiles that they were withdrawing their sponsorship of her show; they also stated that they were not responsible for the content she had presented. Another blow for the channel—this time, financially. Renowned satirist Bassem Youssef used his Twitter account to salute the sponsors as they declared their withdrawal, which further encouraged more to do the same.
This is not the first time that social media plays a key role in pushing public figures to take a step back. A few months ago, the former minister of justice made a classist statement about garbage collectors. He said that sons of garbage collectors cannot join the judiciary. The reaction to his statement on social media was huge, and he ended up resigning from his post.
A couple of days ago Mohamed AlHelali, a postgraduate student and teaching assistant, wrote a sorrowful story about himself on his Facebook account. Mohamed was getting ready to attend a scientific conference in Jordan, and despite having all his papers ready, an officer refused to give him the travel permit needed to exit Egypt. “My dream is over”, he wrote at the end of his post. His story was spread widely and gained the sympathy of many.
Surprisingly, a few hours after writing this post, Mohamed edited the post saying that the presidential cabinet had interfered and solved his issue. He then posted a photo of himself with his passport saying that he will soon disclose the details.
While Mohamed’s story showed how flawed and corrupt the country is, it did highlight the power of social media, which resulted in the president interfering.
Egypt is a young nation with more than 60 percent of the population under the age of 35. According to a 2014 report, almost 50 percent of the country use the internet regularly. Numbers are likely to be higher now. This surely will help increase awareness about different issues that don’t make it to state media or private media owned outlets by pro-regime tycoons.
The question remains, could social media help build another uprising soon?