Egypt’s Facebook Face-off

While the Egyptian President isn't quite putty in the people's hands, the protests have at least forced him to listen. As Facebook demonstrates, many Egyptians believe it's now time to talk.

February 10, 2011 17:57
4 minute read.
Supporters of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

Egypt Mubarak supporters 311 AP. (photo credit: AP)

Facebook has been a fascinating source of information in unearthing people’s perspectives on the Egyptian revolution and the diverse ways in which it has affected them.

“Bye, bye tourism. From Cairo, with love,” read the status update on the wall of an Egyptian friend of mine, an Egyptologist in Cairo’s Museum of Antiquities.

“The Sinai days are over” was another lamentation by an Israeli hippy friend who made a habit of lounging on Sinai’s beaches at least four times a year.  

“Get ready for Israeli gas prices” was the status of a worried Palestinian in Gaza, where petrol supplies of close to 100,000 liters per day that are smuggled through tunnels from Egypt have almost dried up.

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Without belittling the worthy concerns of Israeli gamblers who can no longer frequent Taba’s casinos, or the Gazan smokers who won’t be getting their Egyptian cigarettes (at a fifth of the Israeli price), to get the full picture of the ongoing uprising, the focus should be on the voices of those Egyptians who have not taken to the streets in protest against the government.

While the Million Man March in Cairo’s Tahrir Square is truly an impressive feat, what the world – and certainly the media – is conveniently forgetting, is that we’re talking about a country that is 80 million strong. Which begs the question, where are the other 79 odd million and what are their views? 

It’s impossible to give an accurate indication of the number of supporters President Hosni Mubarak has (partly because he himself banned polls) and at approximately 2.5 million, the membership count of his National Democratic Party is hardly a reflection of popular opinion.

Pro-Mubarak supporters who have clashed with the anti-government demonstrators last week have been portrayed in the media as gangs of journalist-attacking thugs organized by the NDP. On the other side of the coin, people who have expressed opposition to the protesters have also met with violence. Tamer Hosny, Egypt’s answer to Justin Bieber, was booed off a stage in Tahrir Square yesterday after appearing on state television defending Mubarak. In a change-of-heart that has become increasingly commonplace in Egypt from both sides, Hosny reported to Al-Jazeera television that his reason for appearing in Tahrir was to say he had made a mistake and now supported the protests.

But is this a correct depiction of Egyptian sentiments in general? To answer that, let’s turn back to Facebook. By no means a tool that captures opinion in a scientific manner, it has nonetheless provided an insight into the overwhelming ambivalence gripping the country. One thread in particular began with a call from an Egyptian acquaintance to stop the protests and the violence. Human Rights Watch has reported 297 deaths since the start of the uprising. The amount of backlash the Facebook status received wasn’t alarming, but the voices were far from united. Typically, many of those who wrote back accused the poster of being yet another of Mubarak’s lapdogs and insisted that the demonstrations continue until the Egyptian president steps down.

However, there were just as many Egyptians that extolled the president’s virtues, commenting on the fact that Egypt has not gone to war in over 30 years and crediting the president for getting back Sinai.

But perhaps the most interesting, and indeed, the most rational views expressed were of those opting for the middle ground. These are Egyptians who, while believing that the protest was a necessary evil (or even a necessary good) in changing the status quo, now think that it has served its purpose and that attempts should be made for normal life to resume.  

The posters on Facebook were protesting the violent turn the demonstrations took, and the shutdown of the country’s economy – not to mention the tourist industry which is at complete standstill. But most of all they were voicing fears of an extremist takeover, using past revolts in countries like Iran as examples in which rioting propagated the leadership to become even more tyrannical.

In light of this, perhaps it’s time the protesters get specific. Other than the continued calls for Mubarak’s ouster, they’ve not exactly been clear about what or who they want instead. Vague notions of a freely elected government are all very well, but if there’s nobody viable to step up to the plate, the current stalemate will continue indefinitely while the economy further dwindles.

Egyptians should consider taking Vice President Omar Suleiman up on his offer of “dialogue or coup” instead of using it as an excuse to further exacerbate the rage-mood. In the current situation, it’s clear the protesters have the upper hand; the military has thus far been relatively passive and Egypt has the world’s undivided attention. Mubarak is not in a position to aggravate the people further – not with all eyes on him – and has promised to stand down come September. With that in mind, Egyptians should be taking full advantage of the time he has left and begin Facebooking their ransom requests.

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