Monday, February 14, 2011

The revolution has been televised

Children celebrate Egypt's new day. Two-thirds of the country's population is less than 30 years old.

Egyptian women and students were at the forefront of protests demanding an end to authoritarian rule.

Google executive Wael Ghonim helped coordinate the rallies through social media.

1. The Social Network

The revolution was mostly peaceful. The young and networked led the way, communicating over Facebook and Twitter and Google to get the word out about rallies. They called for an immediate end to thirty-one years of authoritarian rule that stripped citizens of rights and spawned untold cruelties. The most recently publicized was the beating death of a young internet activist last June. Google executive Wael Ghonim looked at a photograph of the dead man's face and felt a chill of connection. This man could be his brother. He took a leave of absence from his job and began to organize protests, setting up a page on Facebook and joining with others who felt similarly galvanized, using social networks to get the word out.

And the people came. More of them every time a rally was called. They would accept nothing less than the departure of the Egyptian president, the man who had instituted emergency rule three decades before and never lifted it. When the government shut down the internet as a way to thwart the lifeline of the protests, the people started spilling out to Tahrir Square in search of news. They found one another, they gathered numbers, they multiplied passions, and they refused to go home.

For eighteen days they stood their ground, through a hail or rocks thrown by hired government forces, surrounded by soldiers with submachine guns and tanks. Ghomin disappeared and was feared dead. It was learned later that he had been arrested and was being interrogated. On day ten they released him, bending to international pressure from Google and an American president. When they took off Wael Ghonim's blindfold, he kissed every soldier in the room, because he wanted them to know he was fighting for their freedom too.

In Tahrir Square, the numbers of protesters swelled daily. The people did not yield. But they were orderly. They protected one another. The soldiers circled the square and began to protect them too. In the mornings, the citizens swept the square with branches and picked up the garbage and in the afternoons they continued to call for freedom. On the eighteenth day their call was answered. The corrupt president would leave the country. An interim military government would oversee the transition. The people had won.

And now, the even harder work begins. I am always cautious in my hope when the military is in charge. But there is an exhilaration among the Egyptian people that can only serve them in the daunting task of creating themselves anew. We are witnessing living history. And with the internet in the hands of the people everyone gets to tell the story. The world changed this week and the shifts were seismic and now there is no going back.

2. We Are All

The Wall Street Journal described how a young activist's death caused the dominos to fall: "A young Egyptian businessman, Khaled Said, died after being beaten by the police. Witnesses described how Said was taken from an Internet café, had his head smashed into marble stairs, and was left dead on a street in Alexandria. Khaled Said had angered the police officers by copying video they had made of themselves divvying up confiscated marijuana, which later appeared on YouTube. Like the young Tunisian who set himself on fire after being harassed by a low-level government official, Said hoped to draw attention to official corruption.

"Mr. Ghonim created a Facebook page called 'We Are All Khaled Said.' It featured horrific photos, shot with a cellphone in the morgue, of Said's face. That visual evidence undermined the official explanations for his death. The Facebook page attracted some 500,000 members. After 30 years of emergency rule, abuses by police and state security officials are so common that the case was a ready rallying point for a diverse network of outraged Egyptians.

"Having attracted this large following, Mr. Ghonim and others used the Facebook page to track other accounts of police abuses. This focused attention on wrongful arrests, torture in detention and corrupt government. And then Facebook was used as a technical means to plan and organize protests. The authorities learned there was something even worse than foreign involvement: no foreign involvement. Spurred by decades of authoritarian rule, Egyptian netizens had organized themselves."

3. Catch a Fire

For weeks I have watched intently as Egyptian citizens rallied and called for Hosni Mubarak's departure, and I had insistent questions that I could never quite answer: How did it start? Why did it catch fire? What made the difference this time?

Last night I saw Wael Ghonim interviewed on 60 Minutes and finally I understood. Everything was in place. The decades of abuse and poverty and discontent. The means to communicate outside the state controlled media. A charismatic and fearless leader to sound the call. And then the spark was lit. Khaled Said died to be the spark. And the fire in the hearts of men and women suddenly bloomed.

The Egyptian government assisted the revolution in critical ways. They cut off the internet and forced people out into the streets for information. They arrested Wael Ghonim, turning him into a martyr when the people feared him dead, and into a potent symbol of the revolution when he finally returned. In the end, the fire burned until it had leveled the opposition, and although the protesters have gone home and Tahrir Square is quiet now, it is burning still.


  1. I think often about the fact that the internet and the ease of communication -- however flawed or insubstantial or superficial -- has changed everything, including the ability for an oppressed people to convey their suffering, galvanize themselves and, above all, be heard and not hidden. Fantastic.

  2. This is giving me chills and making my heart swell. As I'm "unplugged" I only hear snippits of what's really happening.

    Next time I post I'll link to it.

    Thank you


  3. We are all Virginia Tech, we are all Khaled Said.

    What an inspiration post for Valentine's Day. Thank you, Angella!

  4. thank you so much for this concise, thoughtful and wonderful summarization of the recent events in egypt.

    i hope i can find the 60 minutes segment online, love the show, but miss it most of the time as it conflicts with our traditional sunday family dinner. but duh, that is why they invented dvr's!

    i wish the egyptian people all the best as they now set out on the hardest part - rebuilding a state!

    namaste friend!

  5. It was a day, a moment, when all I wanted was to talk with friends who understood the magnitude of what happened. It WAS televised (though I'm certain they would rather it wasn't) and we were able to watch, to feel, as an immeasurable shift occurred. A wonderful post, Angella. For Gil Scott-Heron and the revolutions we've tried to ignore.

  6. "..and we know we shall win, as we are confident. In the victory, of good over evil."

  7. I couldn't tear myself away from the TV - day or night!!
    I cried and cried. It broke my heart to see what they were going through. And then my heart swelled with pride for what they accomplished.
    May there be peace and fairness and freedom - for EVERYONE!!
    Sending love ~ <3

  8. Elizabeth, everything has changed. so much more is possible now.

    Michelle, I wasn't unplugged and it still took me a minute to really get how it happened. It all went down so organically.

    ellen, we are all, indeed. happy valentines day, friend.

    mouse, the link is at the 60 minutes site on, easy to find. You could also find it on You Tube, I'm sure. Namaste!

    Marylinn, i kept watching events unfold with a sense of wonder. I do feel as if the planet is shifting as we watch. A new normal is on the way.

    Bruce, Bob Marley knew the deal, that's for sure.

    Gabriele, love to you, too, and prayers for the best possible outcomes in Egypt. Still so much work ahead!


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