The role of Social Networks in the Revolutionary and Post-Revolutionary Processess in Egypt

The protests in Egypt, which started on 25th of January, 2011, toppled down the regime of Hosni Mubarak in 18 days. During the revolution frequent usage of Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and other social networks was noticed. State-owned media and television in Egypt were controlled by the authoritarian regime, and the information given to the public was bogus and favorable for the regime. Public confidence in social networks was rapidly growing, as these networks were the only source of real news and information in Egypt. The regime constricted the freedom of speech and word. People were not allowed to discuss topics opposing the regime in public. Yet, citizens could express their opinion on social networking sites. These sites were significant for the revolution.

Social networks are decentralizing the flow of information and communication. The ties of  power of authority are moving from the vertical perspective, where decisions come from the top to the bottom, to the horizontal vector, where authority and citizens exist in the same space of information. On one hand, greater transparency in the decision-making processes of the government is ensured. On the other hand, the content and nature of information on social networks cannot be controlled – authorities can use social networks to achieve their goals, and to spread fictitious information that can confuse citizens. Social networks are also changing the nature of the modern state. The territorial factor of the modern state lost its meaning, because space and time are no longer important for communication. The accountability of the government to the public is more efficient, because communication between the government and citizens is no longer just in the form of writing letters and petitions – governments and citizens exist in the same sphere of information flow for the first time in history. The flow of information in social networks is not restricted by any gatekeepers, so the public become more actively involved in political debates and civil societies are formed. It is becoming more difficult for the government to control the flow of information and manipulate the preferences of citizens. Yet, these processes do not guarantee democracy.

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were used the most during the revolution and played different roles: they were the platform of the flow of information and a communication tool for both the Egyptian society and the international community, as well as the center of the organization, coordination and mobilization for the protests. Facebook and Twitter were actively used during the pre-revolutionary processes; and in the eve of revolution for the mobilization of the society, organization of the demonstrations, and information dissemination about the situation in Egypt. Meanwhile, YouTube was a very important tool during the demonstrations for spreading and sharing information directly from the streets in Egypt.

The usage of the social networks in the post-revolutionary processes increased, but their role was not changed – the flow of information and communication remained the main functions of the social networks. Although it took just 18 days of protests to force the resignation of President Mubarak, constructing a new political culture will be a slower and more challenging process.

Egypt is still governed by army, which promised to give back the authority to civilian government after the new constitution is created and the new president is elected. The process of constitution implementation is still ongoing and caused a lot of disagreements and arguments between the army and the political parties. The new constitution is still not implemented, which means that the newly-elected president will have the same power in creating the government and ruling the country as Hosni Mubarak had. The main problem in this temporary Constitution Declaration is that the article 28 of the Constitution states: “…the decision of electoral commission for presidential elections will be final and indisputable by any political power, and it cannot be prohibited or suspended…” This means that if an electoral observer or any citizen would notice or even record the proof of election fraud or other irregularities in the electoral process, they would not be entitled to contest the results of the presidential elections. Egyptian people, political scientists, and the entire international community are seriously worried about this situation. Also, failure to write a new constitution means that the legitimacy of political transition processes, balance of power, and responsibilities of the political parties in Egypt are not clear.

The first round of democratic presidential elections after more than 60 years of authoritarian rule in Egypt took place on 23-24th May, 2012, during which two candidates got into the second round of the elections, which is supposed to be held on 16-17th June. On 28th May the election commission confirmed that Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood will face Ahmed Shafik, the former Prime Minister during the Hosni Mubarak rule. Public statements of Ahmed Shafik in which he says that “he will use executions and brutal force to restore order within a month of becoming president (end the revolution)” are causing anxiety to both the Egyptian society and the international community.

Social networks in these processes do not take such a strong and important position as they had in the revolutionary processes. Though some research showed that the number of people using social networks as their main source of information and communication increased after the revolution, five million users on social networks is a small percentage in comparison to the Egyptian population.

The role of social networks in the transformation and democratization processes in Egypt can be perceived differently. On one hand, there is more freedom on social networking sites, so they can become a communication tool for citizens, but on the other hand, that freedom is almost out of control and social networks can be unpredictable. The question remains, whether social networks can bring more benefit or harm for the state. In Egypt, it is likely that the new government will be more careful, knowing the fact that social networks can mobilize the society, as they have before. Yet, it is clear that the following weeks in Egypt will be unpredictable, full of disputes and uncertainty.

Written by Karolina Mazetyte, AEGEE-Kaunas

The article was written by Karolina Mazetyte, a member of International Politics Working Group

  • IPWG Board would like to thank Karolina for her inspirational and premium article. We hope more members will follow her motivational example and will use IPWG as step of expressing their ideas and believes.