Arab activists using Web to crowdsource dissent

Egyptians, Lebanese turn to Facebook, Twitter to vent over electricity blackouts, government failures.

Social media 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Social media 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
As electricity shortages reach crisis levels in Lebanon and Egypt, citizens turn to social media platforms to vent their anger against government failures, and to organize peaceful protests.
Egyptians are experiencing an increasing number of power cuts and water outages, and popular anger against the situation is also growing, resulting in protests in Upper Egypt this weekend, Egyptian daily Al-Ahram reported.
Al-Ahram said some angry citizens blame members of the old Mubarak regime who they say are still in the Electricity Ministry and are faking the crisis to cause dissent.
In response to the crisis, Egyptians have set up several Facebook pages to voice their anger at the blackouts and to organize peaceful protests.
Young activists Heba Nemr, Mostafa Zanaty and Hadeer Elsharkawy used the social network to organize a silent candlelit march last week in Damanhour – 70 km. southeast of Alexandria – to voice their anger against the electricity crisis.
“Please bring a candle and a placard to protest the power cuts,” the Facebook page instructed, adding that demonstrators shouldn’t wave unrelated slogans at the march.
At last week’s march, Elsharkawy, who also coordinates a group called Egyptian Women for Change, told Masrawy news that the situation was “inhumane.”
“It’s getting worse, day by day,” she said.
On Sunday, days after Elsharkawy warned the situation was deteriorating, the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights slammed the blackouts that have interrupted electricity supplies to to hospitals.
The council’s remarks came a day after Egyptian presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said President Mohammed Morsy had issued a directive to the Electricity Ministry – saying the crisis should be addressed by opening two new power plants, and that the country would invest in solar power.
“I expect self-sufficiency in electric power production, as well as export of the same, during the next few years,” Ali said. His comments also came after Morsy apologized for the outages in a speech after Friday prayers, asking citizens to give the new government a chance to address the issues.
As the newly elected president apologized, some Egyptians used dark humor to cope with the situation.
One Facebook page, Vote To Prevent Electricity Shortages in Egypt, features cynical cartoons about the problems, including one in which a man confides in his friend that during the power shortages it’s too dark for him to be able to see if the woman he’s with is his wife.
Meanwhile, over on the United Against Egyptian Power Outages Facebook page, a woman demanded Morsy commit to promises that he would address the issue of electricity shortages during his first 100 days in office.
Morsy has also faced criticism over his decision to ship fuel to Gaza while discontent over electricity shortages grows at home.
Meanwhile, in Lebanon, power shortages have led to violent demonstrations at power stations. Lebanese citizens have also taken to social media and the Internet to voice their anger and to use dark humor to mock the situation.
The Lebanese power shortages, which grew worse over the summer particularly in Beirut’s southern suburbs, have threatened the country’s stability.
The situation was exacerbated after contract workers at Electricite du Liban, Lebanon’s state electric company, organized a sit-in at the company’s Beirut headquarters in a row over conditions.
The 95-day sit-in was finally called off at the weekend, opening the door for emergency repairs that will end the shortages.
In response to the situation, Lebanese social media users started a campaign against the country’s Energy Minister, Gebran Bassil, who belongs to the Christian Free Patriotic Movement.
Twitter users created a Twitter hashtag, #blamebassil, blaming the energy minister for just about all the country’s ills – from the power cuts to mundane everyday problems.
The idea spread rapidly and has become a countrywide joke, leading to the creation of a website,, which collects the tweets and displays them in realtime.
To add to the atmosphere, every few seconds the site also experiences “blackouts.”
Some of the tweets are funny – like that by marketing student @laratage who said Sunday that “Once upon a time there was light in my life now there’s only love in the dark #BlameBassil for this total eclipse of the heart.”
However, others are more serious.
Beirut-based architect Naji Mabsout tweeted Sunday that although the EDL contract workers issue has been resolved, power cuts in the capital continue.
In both Egypt and Lebanon, activists are harnessing the power of the internet, including social media, not just to protest and vent, but also to crowdsource information to help keep their politicians and government services accountable.
Egyptian Amr Sobhy and others have set up the Morsy Meter – an internet service that examines to what extent the Egyptian president is keeping his preelection pledges.
So far, Morsy has achieved just one of the 64 promises he made – a media awareness campaign and speeches in Friday prayers about the sin of public littering.
Sobhy and his friends also set up Zabatak (Gotcha!), an anti-corruption website that invites Egyptians to confidentially report on corruption.
Meanwhile, over in Lebanon, activist Hussein M. Dajani has recently set up Allo Fail, a Facebook and Twitter campaign to increase public pressure on official mobile operators Alfa and Touch as well as on the Lebanese Telecom Ministry, which has been criticized for its slow internet services.
On Sunday, Allo Fail spokesman Malek Takieddine told news outlet Now Lebanon that the group would continue to pressure the ministry for “transparent information” on internet speed issues.