Egypt’s youth should find a way to put aside their differences in favour of becoming a unified front in the face of oppression, writes Karsen Breanne.
In the Egyptian revolution of January 2011, the shabab (youth) were the primary driving force regarding enthusiasm and action of facilitating protests and marches. This was in part due to the influx of social media usage, mainly Facebook and Twitter, and how they were utilised in not only organising on the ground but disseminating information to the rest of the world.
This was equally observable in other countries around the same time period such as Tunisia, Jordan, Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, Morocco and Syria (and again with Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya in recent months).
While things like social media and music were not causes of the revolutions, they are often cited as primary facilitators of action. Social media was merely the spark needed to ignite a movement, and was a necessary factor in the execution of organised goal oriented change.
Cyberactivism and citizen journalism were key in not only the organisation of demonstrations in the region, but for the dissemination of information nationally and transnationally. Music on the other hand was more utilised as further motivation to keep the momentum going once people began gathering and demonstrating.
Not only did social media provide almost anyone with access to political engagement, but it allowed for the streamlined organisation and execution of rallies, protests, and demonstrations – particularly in Egypt.
Cyberactivism was the predominant means for results in Egypt, as it allowed activists to organise themselves via different media platforms, in order to deliver high-functioning grassroots protests across the country. People were able to document and share evidence of government brutality, and share with each other and the world the events that unfolded.
“If you want to free a society, just give them internet access,” was a statement made by Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim during a CNN interview, only two days before Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak had to step down as a result of overwhelming pressure from the Egyptian people.
In other words, social media was able to provide what state media could not – the free flow of opinions and information to the outside world.
On January 27, 2011, the Egyptian government blocked the internet and telecommunications systems, which only resulted in further condemnation by other world governments and international organisations.
One example of the role of music during the time of the revolution would be music by the group Cairokee (Cairo + Karaoke), a Egyptian rock band that expressed their views regarding Egyptian politics through their lyrics, which in turn energised and motivated their fellow youth.
Prior to the ousting of Hosni Mubarak, the media shied away from politically charged music and social discourse, which could now be said again under the current regime of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The level and intensity of government crackdowns are unprecedented, even more so than under Mubarak.
The hip-hop music scene also became a huge motivator during the revolution, as well as other chants, raps, and songs that were sung in unison during rallies and protests. They became a way of creating a buzz in the atmosphere, and keeping people unified and excited for the potential change to come.
I spoke to some politically active Egyptian youth and asked what they felt motivated them to be involved, and the following were some of their responses:
*names excluded for safety purposes
Female, 24: “I keep updated through social media and through the people I follow (I make a conscious effort to follow them), hearing their personal stories and stories of people they know, which inspires me to want to continue to push for change. That’s just how our generation gets their information. But with the Egyptian youth I think it’s a mix of all those factors, music, social media, family.”
Some also expressed feelings of hopelessness and of being defeated.
Female, 31: “I am going to be very honest and frank… I was heavily involved in the lead up to revolution, during and the years before the coup with all kinds of elections happening. Simply because I believed change was possible. There was hope and it was growing! Then the coup came and it crushed everything. We had deaths and detentions in our family. It’s literally like waking up from a sweet dream to your worst nightmare.
“A lot of us believe that we were tricked into believing that there was a revolution in the first place. At the moment there is no hope – you can protest if you want… There is one ending for you – death or prison. Cairokee themselves were threatened on multiple occasions and had most of their concerts cancelled.”
Some believe the only way to inspire true change is through another revolution.
Male, 34: “Only another revolution can work to remove all this government, they need to not be afraid and go out in the street, like mo3taz matar initiated with the “You’re Not Alone” hashtag. They also need to post on social media and find ways to push to replace all the army generals. We need to follow Sudan and Algeria and remember the 100,000 people in prison. We need to lobby for their release and raise awareness.”
Since the coup and Sisi’s rise to power, the youth of Egypt have experienced a number of roadblocks in their activism and mobility as a unified force. There are currently a number of factions among the youth and as opposed to having a singular goal and focus among them, their efforts and divided and therefore weakened in the face of oppression and adversity, leaving the Egyptian people more susceptible to further injustices.
In the days of the revolution, there was a unified demand for ‘Aish, Horreya, Adala Egtema’eya – bread, freedom and social justice’, whereas now there are a number of different people identifying as particular ‘groups’ with differing grievances and expectations.
Female, 24: “The youth need to come together with one vision, rather than get caught up in the semantics of ‘we’re ikhwanai shabab’ ‘we’re April the 6th shabab’, ‘we’re the liberal shabab’. Instead they need to come together as they did in 2011, forgetting that they have these differences. Everyone came together for Egypt.”
That being said, people are more afraid than ever to go out on the streets and protest as they did in 2011. With protesters being killed or receiving false charges even for speaking out in the slightest against the government, many people are choosing the leave Egypt over fighting for change, and some families are not even able to return to the country due to their political views.
Female, 24: “Now we’re really struggling, especially due to the fact that there’s such a massive crackdown on youth activists, men and women (especially women). Under previous regimes they would crackdown on activists, but women were always relatively safe. But now fighting in the face of knowing that you could be taken and have false charges against you is a huge roadblock.”
Although there were many positive aspects of social media and music in facilitation of revolution, the aftermath may not be as fruitful.
What is seen now across the spectrum of Facebook, Twitter, and other media platforms, is an intense polarisation of views, which is riddled with trolls, lies, and hate speech. Those in the centre often feel helpless, and that they are required to take a side.
The discussion platforms now merely lead to anger and resentment of those with opposing views, instead of facilitating dialogue and understanding. With the speed at which information spreads across social media, it can be very difficult for anyone to take the time to consider all the viewpoints let alone change their opinions. It is a sphere in which broadcasting is favoured over engagement, which can be problematic in regards to the initial benefits of social media in the Arab world which encouraged unity and cooperation.
So what can be done? It seems the key take-away and current aim of the Egyptian youth should be finding a way to put aside their differences in favour of becoming a unified front in the face of oppression, as has been observed in Algeria and Sudan. While the work is not done in these countries, and the struggle against military power continues, they show once again that there is hope in removing corrupt and unjust leaders from power, as Egyptians themselves have done before.
The success in Tunisia and Egypt (in 2010/2011) was largely due to the unpredictability of the escalation of protests, which left governments unable to combat the speed at which the people were working. This is something to consider for those aiming to organise in the future.
By: Karsen Breanne, a freelance journalist. She has a BSc in Psychology and a MSc in International Politics, and her interests include MENA Politics, Culture, Religion, and Psychosocial dynamics.