Presentation: Defriending the Status-Quo: Translating Social Media onto Egypt’s Streets (Transcript)
Venue: Department of Cultural Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo
Date: 19 September 2011
I would like to thank Professor Albert for the invitation, and the Department of Cultural Studies and Oriental Languages, and the University of Oslo. From the outset, I would like to pay my condolences to the victims and loved ones of the horrific tragedy that struck Norway a few months ago. I was in Australia when it happened, and like many I was in shock horror at the carnage. However, my breath was taken away by the Norwegian spirit that came together in unity. You really did show the world the spirit of humanity, and why Norway always deserves its reputation as a promoter of peace. There was one scene on the news, seeing a Norwegian mother cry for the loss of her son, I was reminded by a weeping mother in Egypt, who was holding a framed portrait of her son who died during the revolution, walking aimlessly on the streets of Alexandria, asking anyone for justice for her son. The pain of our losses is immeasurable, yet the unity of our humanity is incomparable.
As you know social media has been a very hot topic this year, it has lended itself to explain the successes of the Arab Spring, to its dark side in the recent London riots.
The first Norwegian I ever met in my life was a visiting professor in Australia. He told me something very profound, he said if you want to know the mood of a country, listen to their jokes. Egypt has no shortage of jokes, yet the most common joke that circulated around Egypt this year was this one: Mubarak goes into the afterlife, and meets with former Egyptian presidents Nasser and Sadat. They asked him: “How did the Egyptians kill you?” By poison, like Nasser?, By gun, like Sadat?’. Mubarak said, ‘no, they killed me by Facebook.”
Presentation: Media and Intranational Cascading Effects: The Egyptian Revolution’s Cairo-Alexandria Interdependency, by Amro Ali. Conference: Covering the Arab Spring Date: 1-2 September 2011 Venue: University of Copenhagen
Slide One: Introduction
There has been much discussion on digitally enabled cascading effects, or domino effects, across national boundaries in the Arab spring. But internal cascading is not often given the same amount of attention, despite it being a critical component to the relationship between the media and the masses.
During the course of the past couple of months, I undertook weekly travels between Cairo and Alexandra to study the dynamics and mechanics of the social movements in both cities. On the Friday 27 of May this year, I was observing the mass demonstrations in Alexandria, what was dubbed the second revolution. One of the lead protesters took out his smart phone to check the progress of demonstrations in Cairo, and announced to the crowds that our brothers in Cairo have reached a million. The implication being that Alexandria can beat that. The Alexandria protests got bolder, the chants got louder, the marches got stronger.
A common question that I was asked by the Egyptian youth when I was in Tahrir Square
in Cairo was ‘what do Australian think of our revolution?’ I replied that they were very
impressed, but if you want to push an Egyptian youth’s buttons you just have to say ‘you
guys were inspired by Tunisia’. That is like Australia being inspired by New Zealand.
For a period I was travelling between Cairo and Alexandria quite often to study how
protests were organised and behaved in the two cities. When I was in Alexandra in what
was dubbed The Second Revolution, in late May, one of the lead protesters took out his
Smart Phone and found out through his Al Jazeera app. what was going on in Cairo. He
yelled to the crowd ‘our brothers in Cairo have reached one million’, the sub-text to that
being ‘we can do better’.
To understand Cairo and Alexandra, it is rather like the Melbourne-Sydney rivalry except
that one did end up being the capital city.
As trivial as this may seem, it is underscoring something that needs further discussion in
the discourse of the Arab Spring. They are all perceptions and influences – and the values
and narratives that shape and are shaped by them. I want to look at three aspects: Imagery
as an agent of change; Egyptian soft power and how this impacts on the Arab Spring and
finally where Australia fits into this emerging new Arab order. Continue reading “The Arab Spring, Egypt and Australia: The Intertwinement of Perceptions and Influences (Transcript)”
Transcript of my speech presented at the University of Western Australia
click here for details of the event UWA Panel
Abstract: The presentation will seek to argue that while Osama Bin Laden and Egyptian society shared two similar key goals: end to oppressive dictatorship and US meddling in the region. It was Bin Laden who lost considerable legitimacy on Egypt’s streets prior to and, more significantly, as a result of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. Mubarak’s Egypt was central to Bin Laden’s narrative of repression and political revolution in the Arab world, ideologically underpinned by his deputy, Egyptian physician, Ayman Al Zawahiri. Three main dynamics came into play to sideline an already waning Al-Qaida narrative: the opening of an alternative route of political and social dissent; the growing Al-Qaida-Egyptian Islamist divide as well as the latter’s political maturation; and, critically, societal perception shifts vis-à-vis the burden of responsibility in the ruler-ruled paradigm.
On a windy evening, 27 April, a momentous event occurred that received little international headline but was significant to Egypt’s future, and, by extension, the Arab world. An unprecedented debate took place between the Muslim Brotherhood, led by Sobhi Saleh, and the secular liberals, led by Amr Hamzawy.
The event was scheduled to be held in the famous Library of Alexandria. But a last minute unexplained decision shifted the event across the street to the College of Law, Alexandria University.
When Henry Kissinger once queried the Chinese Premier Zhou En Lai in 1971 for his views on the consequences of the French Revolution, Zhou famously respond, “It is too early to tell”. In other words, 180 years notwithstanding, Zhou’s point was that the consequences of social revolutions do not crystallise until much later.
Academics who specialise in revolutions and Middle East studies are often fond of quoting the Zhou lesson yet are quick to omit social media from the discourse explaining the recent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Since January, I have attended countless academic seminars discussing the uprisings where specialists are downplaying social media to such an extent as to make it inconsequential. You know you are in for the long haul when a speaker remarks smugly that Facebook did as much for Egypt as the fax machine did for the fall of the Berlin wall.
The line goes something like this: “The revolutions of the French, the Russians, the Iranians, are proof that you do not need social media”. This argument has been repeated to me ad nauseum. Moreover, the critics are engaged in the logical fallacy they often warn against: argumentum ad antiquitatem, “appeal to tradition”, that is to say, because it happened in this manner in the past, it has to be correct. Continue reading “The War of Academia on Social Media”
After the SBS Insight show, the question was posed to us, “Could there ever be a good dictator. I like Akmal Saleh’s answer, “I would support a dictator who is handsome, but the current lot are ugly bastards”