Ethan Zuckerman’s online home, since 2003

Goodbye, Mubarak: Hope, Fear and Mahir Çağrı

First, Mabrook to all my Egyptian friends on their success in ousting Mubarak and to my Tunisian friends for proving that peaceful protest can lead to real change.

Three brief reflections on what comes next:

- While there’s been extensive debate about whether social media helped organize or promote the protests in Egypt, I think the interesting story to watch will be whether social media can help Egypt in the transition to democracy. Power now rests with a council of military leaders, and there have been suggestions that this group could be complemented by a council of civilian “wise men”, giving a seat at the table to figures like Mohamed El-Baradei.

If this process were to work, it would need to include voices of the youth, the people who led this revolt. One likely spokesman for Egyptian youth is Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who created the We Are All Khaled Said page on Facebook, widely credited as helping rally the original protests on January 25th. After his emotional televised interview on Dream TV, hundreds of thousands have joined a Facebook page authorizing Ghonim to speak on behalf of the protesters. Speaking to CNN today, asked what’s next in revolutions in the Arab world, Ghonim said, “Ask Facebook.”

What would be wonderful is if Ghonim could channel the voices of youth through Facebook and other means and ensure they have a seat at the table as the future of the country is discussed. Ousting a dictator is not enough, as my friends in Tunisia are finding – you need to rebuild political parties, an independent media and a civil society, all of which were stunted under kleptocratic rule. Egypt’s youth will demand an active role in this transition – a challenge, and an opportunity, is to discover whether social media can be used as effectively to allow many more Egyptians to participate in this transition than can sit around a table.

This is a challenge we’ve not lived up to especially well in the US – after the Obama campaign used social media very effectively to help raise money and mobilize turnout for the 2008 elections, there’s been little real input on governing via social media. It would be exciting to see if Egypt can do better on this front than the US has.

- The bravery and persistence of Tunisians inspired subjugated people around the world to rise up. The bravery and persistence of Egyptians will inspire people to rise up, and not give up, even when dictators prove difficult to dislodge. This is an exciting and wonderful thing. It’s also potentially very dangerous.

I don’t mean dangerous in terms of “threatening regional stability”, or the other nonsense that’s dominated much of American television news regarding Egypt. I mean dangerous for the people brave enough to take to the streets.

When people take to the streets and the army is called out to stop them, at least two things can happen: Tunis, or Tiananmen. When the world is watching, a peaceful outcome is more likely. A threatened regime, when they think they’re immune to scrutiny, is a very dangerous thing.

There have been protests in Gabon, inspired by the events in Tunisia, against what’s become a hereditary kleptocracy of the Bongo clan. Yesterday, students revolted Université Omar Bongo in Libreville, and the army intervened. A rally in Sanaa, Yemen tonight celebrating the Egyptian victory turned into a protest against the government, and Global Voices reports shots fired at demonstrators. We’re also hearing reports of protests, and their violent suppression in corners of Yemen with even less media coverage.

It is unlikely that protests in Gabon and Yemen will receive the same attention as those in Egypt – these are smaller countries with a lower profile on a global scale. It’s critical, though, that the world doesn’t turn a blind eye to the protests in these countries, or it is far more likely that they will be violently put down. This is important not just for Gabon and Yemen – I’ve been getting emails and tweets all night about planned protests in Algeria, Libya and Pakistan. We can’t all become Andy Carvin, but we have a responsibility to witness and to ensure that those inspired by Egypt and Tunisia have the “air cover” that comes from the world watching how protesters are treated.

- As people around the world celebrated Mubarak’s ouster, I got a wonderful question via Twitter from Dave Coustan (@extraface):

@EthanZ Can you get try to a statement from Mahir Cagri on all this? I’m hopeful that he kisses the end of the Mubarak regime, with love.

Of course, I always do what people on Twitter ask me to. So I emailed Mahir Çağrı, international man of mystery, proprietor of ikissyou.org, and – based on my meeting with him at this year’s ROFLCon – a truly sweet guy, and asked him for his insights. He wrote me back this evening, saying, in part:

I KISS-I HUG EGYPT people with my LOVE :))CONGRATULATE

They belived, They won today first step:)) .l hope they ll win next steps too..
Tunisa-Egypt people wrote new their history.l belive this wave ll to contiune with other countries .l hope they ll live better free-happly life with peace&love:))

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

3 Responses to “Goodbye, Mubarak: Hope, Fear and Mahir Çağrı”

  1. agorabum says:

    Great insight and perspective; and let’s not forget about the true martyrs/revolutionaries/heros who were lost in Egypt to get here. I am sure that there will be many men and women who will show their scars years from now and say they were there when Mubarak feel and more just society was born. Of that very last part, I can only hope.
    But perhaps we in the rest of the world can offer suggestions, support, and research (and especially translations) to help them re-engineer the rules of their society. We all have the experience of watching systems that fell and ideologies that self-immolate a society.

  2. Great post! My reflection on the events in Egypt and elsewhere have reminded me that challenging the bonds of poverty and oppression is ultimately about extending to people the feeling that they matter. My thoughts at: http://www.how-matters.org/2011/02/13/egypt’s-thundering-wave/

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