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Anthony Hanna

The Middle Eastern Uprisings

The 2011 Egyptian Revolution A twenty-six year old PHD graduate selling oranges, illegally, from an old timber cart in his hometown of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia is told, harshly, that he can no longer do so. Attempts to raise his humiliation by the police that confiscated his cart, as well as his dignity, are futile. With the responsibility of feeding his large family, and his sole source of income now vanishing in an instant at the hands of the police, Mohamed Bouazizi immolates himself in front of local Government headquarters. He dies on January 4, 2011 ten days before President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali flees the country after weeks of riots. A twenty-eight year old Egyptian businessman, Khalid Said, has his hashish confiscated by local policemen. In an attempt to expose the hypocrisy of law enforcement, he secretly follows the officers and then records them smoking the confiscated contraband. Khalid posts the video on YouTube. Days later, his head becomes so unrecognisable from the beating brought on by the humiliated policemen that the post mortem picture1 becomes the profile picture of the Facebook group We are all Khalid Said. The picture is later dubbed The face that launched a revolution2.

These accounts are all but the spark that lit the flame. They are neither the sole events which caused the downfall of dynasties, nor can they be disregarded as being occurrences of mere irrelevance. The people, whether in nations which have already witnessed their leaders flee, or those who currently are in the struggle to depose them, all share very similar reasons and motives in their plight for what has already been popularly dubbed revolutions. As such, by focusing on one of these nations, Egypt, a very similar picture of the causes of the current uprisings and protests in the Middle East will be able to be attained.

Causes of the Uprisings From the above accounts, we can identify not only some of the roots causes of the uprisings, but also the niche characteristics which have made these revolutions share common similarities. Firstly, both men were used as the online poster boys or profile pictures for their respective revolutions. Secondly, both men were still in their youth and finally, both men came from different social and economic backgrounds.

Elshaheed We are all Khalid Said, <http://www.elshaheeed.co.uk>, viewed 19/03/2011 2 Ross, Brian and Matthew Cole, "Egypt: The Face That Launched A Revolution". ABC News, retrieved 19/03/2011

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By assessing these commonalities - social media, the modern day struggles of Egypts YGeneration and the congregation of Egypts differing social, political and economic classes, we can attempt to understand the causes of the uprisings in Egypt, what allowed the fire to spread and what gave way to the people of Egypt, who have long lived in what Wael Ghonim describes as psychological fear3, the ability to finally come out and dethrone the modern day Pharaoh? These factors can no doubt be highlighted as three of the significant factors which saw the power of the people become greater than the people in power7 and thus, the eventual downfall of the ruling Al-izb al-Waaniy ad-Dmqriy (National Democratic Party or NDP) and imminent Egyptian Revolution.

The Role of Social Media According to the CIAs The World Factbook, Egypts total internet users in 2009 was 20.136 million users, with approximately one in four people connecting online, ranking it in 21st place for the most internet users per country.4 The International Telecommunications Unit records the growth of Egyptian internet users between the year 2000 and 2010 at 3,691% (approx).5 The advancement of the World Wide Web witnessed the evolution of social media. Websites such as Facebook.com, Twitter.com and YouTube.com allowed people all over the world to share, communicate and interact. With this came their ability to, anonymously, raise their concerns in which they wouldnt do otherwise in reality, whether from the fear of the iron fist of the regime or due to the psychological fear which may have existed. Wael Ghonim is a Google Executive who later took the limelight as being the creator of the Facebook page We are all Khalid Said6. The page instigated a fellowship of people angry at the regimes brutality. In his speech to the audience at the TED Thinktank, Wael Ghonim describes the Egyptian revolution as Revolution 2.07 (referring to the technological applications that allow users to file share and collaborate on the Internet7). Due to how recent the Egyptian revolution of 2011 took place, it will be some time before it is argued as to whether the use of social media sites actually caused the revolution, or were a mere way of spreading the discontent shared in common by Egyptians. Is it really a cause of the uprisings
3

Ghonim, Wael speaking at the TED ThinkTank, Wael Ghonim: Inside the Egyptian Revolution <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWvJxasiSZ8>, viewed on 09/04/2011. 4 CIA World Factbook, Egypt, <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-worldfactbook/geos/eg.html>, viewed on 15/03/2011. 5 International Telecommunications Unit, Egypts Internet Stats <http://www.internetworldstats.com/>, viewed 23/03/2011. 6 CBC News, Who is Wael Ghonim? <http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2011/02/08/fwael-ghonim.html>, viewed on 23/03/2011. 7 TED ThinkTank, Wael Ghonim: Inside the Egyptian Revolution, (2011) 7 O'Reilly, Tim, O'Reilly Network: What Is Web 2.0, viewed 11/04/2011

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Anthony Hanna

The Middle Eastern Uprisings

in Egypt? Without social media, would the revolutions have taken place? In his same speech, Ghonim clearly states that without social media, the revolution would not be. Contrasting views have however been established. Alec Ross, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's senior adviser for innovation appreciates the role of social media but assesses its role as only an accelerant, rather than creator of the actual dissent8 Whilst social media was not a cause of the revolution, its role as being the official communiqu of the protesters can by no means be undermined. Whether observers believe it was social media that brought down Mubarak, or it was the people themselves, many would agree that had restrictions been placed on such popular sites, this would have provided an additional tool for the regime and as such, the revolution itself would not happen or possible be postponed for another moment in the future9.

The Y-Generation The grievances raised by many of the protestors that saw January 25, 2011 become the turning point in Egypts history were far from being concerns that came into existence overnight. This can be evident with the much resented Emergency Laws, law no. 162 of 1968, introduced immediately after Egypts humiliating defeat in the six-day war 10. Briefly suspended for 18-months up until 1981, the law has been in-act since and its brief 18-month suspension ended with the assassination of the then President Anwar Sadat 11. As a result it raises the question, if the law has been in force for so long, and has been resented for such a lengthy period, why speak now? The same question can also be raised for the other grievances raised by a majority of the protestors during the 18-day struggle policy brutality, inflation, unemployment, corruption, lack of civil liberties. Why have Egyptians waited this long to raise their woes? If the majority of the protestors were asking for the same demands, can it be concluded that the majority of the protestors had something in common the generational make-up.

London: The Independent, Social media, cellphone video fuel Arab protests, Lifestyle: The Independent, <www.independent.co.uk/lifestyle>, viewed on 06/03/2011. 9 Members interviewed on The role of social media and the Y-Generation, SBS Radio, Special Broadcasting Service, 23/04/2011. 10 Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, Egypt and The Impact of 27 years of Emergency on Human Rights, <http:/en.eohr.org/2008/05/28/%E2%80%9Cegypt-andthe-impact-of-27-years-of-emergency-on-human-rights%E2%80%9D/#more-22>, retrieved on 11/04/2011. 11 Ibid.

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The popularly dubbed Y-Generation12 are those born, as generally agreed upon, from 1982 to 199413. The characteristics of this age group vary from being technologically superior to supporting gay rights to environmental protectionism. Another common observed characteristic of this generation is simply put as self-indulgence and greed. Many commentators have accused this generation, no matter where they live in the world today, of thinking of themselves before others, placing no value on loyalty and never sacrificing their preferred, and much valued lifestyle14. Such a criticism, according to the observers, explains the trends in the workforce, whereby by the time a person reaches 24 years of age in 2011, they have already worked for more employers than their parents did in a lifetime15. Can this observation be linked to Egypts Y-Generation? It was widely observed that the early days of the uprisings was a spearhead of Egypts youth who led the assault on the government. Can this be the reason, as to why it is only now, in 2011, that the Egyptian people have decided to say kifayah (enough) because Egypts Y-Gen were simply greedy or spoilt and that the suffering shared by the elder generation was simply too much to bare on the flowering Egyptian youth? Was the burden of police brutality going to be an imminent fork in the road of the Y-Generations laid back culture? Such a point would no doubt result in criticism and outrage. Approximately 840 deaths 16 were reported during the uprisings and any attempt in linking these heroic deaths with Y-Gen greed would not be responded to well. Two thirds of the Egyptian population are under 30 years of age, however they make up 90% of the nations unemployment17. Moneyweek Magazine blogger Merryn Somerset Webb argues that having such a strong youth population helps prosper any nation, as seen in India and China, as their workforce is more competitive and flexible. 18 She goes on and states however that:

12 13

French, Dana, "Generation Y versus Baby Boomers", Furniture Today Press, 2005. Shapira, Ian, "What Comes Next After Generation X?". Education (The Washington Post): pp. C01. Retrieved 11/4/2011. 14 Civic Youth, How generation Y is redefining the Ipod era, http://www.civicyouth.org/PopUps/OMG.pdf> (PDF), retrieved on 11/04/2011. 15 Ibid. 16 Almasry Alyoum, "( ,": 048 52 Translated: Health offices have documented fall of 840 people during the revolution of January 25) <http://www.almasryalyoum.com/node/385140>, viewed on 16/04/2011.
17

Somerset-Webb, Merryn, Egypt Youth Unemployment and Britain, <http://www.moneyweek.com>, viewed on 18/04/2011. 18 Ibid.

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But having a lot of young people isn't necessarily a plus. Sure, it's a good thing when they are either working or expecting to work soon inside a relatively democratic society that they feel gives them a voice
19

In relating such a statement to Egypt, it was the very fact that Egypt has such a young population that fuelled the protests and brought down Mubaraks regime. In relating Webbs statement to Egypt, we can observe that Egypts youth unemployment was very high with 90% of the nations unemployed aged under 30. We can also intellectually assume that a system so embedded with corruption would have far from seen the economic reforms needed to allow structural economic policies be implemented in allowing jobs to be created. Was it a democratic society? Dr Gervasio identified the early signs of discontent from the 2010 elections, with many witnessing the manipulation of the NDP to hold an overwhelming majority20. It was the evident signs of a lack of democracy that witnessed the early willingness of Egypts shabab to bring about change. Egypts Y-Generation, unable to see progression in life due to the oppression of the regime, as well as inability of the regime to mend their grievances, saw the youth spearhead the uprisings from January 25th. It was not the stereotypical greed of the generation, but rather the insistence on shredding the struggles the youth faced in the modern day and demand for a better future, that saw them take to Egypts streets and uprise against the regime.

The Peoples Revolution Dr Gennaro Gervasio, Director for the Centre for Middle East & North African Studies at Macquarie University, identifies that it was the middle class from civic society that led the revolt.21 The middle class however is a vague description and is a term that is generally based on economic status moreover anything else.

In his book on the state of Egypt22, author Alaa Al-Aswany outlines how different groups and factions stemming across Egypts vast society, came together to identify with each other
19

Ibid. Dr Gennaro Gervasio (interview by Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Tunisian revolt helped inspire Egyptian protesters: expert, <http://www.abc.net.au/news/video/2011/01/30/3125034.htm>, viewed on 21/04/2011.
20 21

Dr Gennaro Gervasio (interview by Aljazeera English) Egypt vs Tunisia, <http://english.aljazeera.net/programmes/insidestory/2011/02/2011279322390164.html >, viewed on 21/04/2011.
22

Al Aswany, Alaa, On the state of Egypt, Vintage Publications, 2011.

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that the tyranny must cease. This was evident with the vast array of Egypts social classes that saw the coming together of different factions of Egypts society would undoubtedly see them bring their more personal complaints. The labour unions, a long time enemy and target of the regime, fought for minimum wages in Egypts mainly manufacturing based industries. Long having to undertake a fight over the years to achieve such as goal, their futile attempts never came as a surprise when such factory owners were affiliated with Mubaraks NDP. (The April 6 Youth Movement, early participants of the uprisings, has its foundations from supporting factory workers in the town of El-Mahalla El-Kubra during an industrial dispute23). Egypts minority Coptic Christians, who account for 10% of the Egyptian population24, have witnessed frequent persecution and discrimination on both a discreet level in society in general, as well as outright hostilities against their congregation and institutions. More recently, the Alexandria Church bombings on New Years Day 2011 witnessed either the inability of the Mubarak government to control extremist elements or demonstrated the ideology that sectarian violence was long used as a tool by the regime in consolidating power, a perspective that was put forward by Professor Rabab Al Mahdi, Professor of Political Science at the American University of Cairo25 on the open forum program Insight on Australias SBS.

Al-Aswany himself claims to have marched in Tahrir Square in support of the arts and literature, which have long been controlled by the regime. He also makes mention of the period after the expulsion of Tunisias Zine El Abidine Ben and immediately prior to January 25th, where factions of Egypts ruling NDP became proactive in relaying the propaganda needed for its own self-preservation. A prime example being the state-owned Al-Ahram Newspaper and its editor Osama Sariya, an NDP member. The Newspaper published an article on January 21 highlighting reasons why the events in Tunisia (as well as Sudan) will never be repeated in Egypt. The result became the contrary and later turned out to be an inspirational tool to the imminent protestors, when two of the three main points discussed in the article turned out to be mere fabrication of the wider truth26

23

Wolman, David. "Cairo Activists Use Facebook to Rattle Regime". Wired Magazine, Cond Nast Publications, viewed on 08/04/2011. 24 United States Department of State, Egypt from U.S. Department of State/Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, <http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5309.htm>, viewed on 08/04/2011. 25 Professor Rabab Al Mahdi (Interviewed on SBS), Revolution, <http://news.sbs.com.au/insight>, viewed on 26/04/2011. 26 Sariya, Osama, ( Translated: Egypt and Arab Crisis Week) <http://www.ahram.org.eg/The%20Writers/News/59482.aspx>, viewed on 22/04/2011.

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Many other groups from Egypts vast social, political and economic structure also rose to raise their grievances. It was this congregation of grievances which saw the foundations of the peoples revolution the people coming together from different backgrounds and religions. Whether it was the Salafis or the Copts, the Associations or the Unions, the Kifayah Party or Nasserists , the regimes enemies eventually joined Egypts youth in Tahrir between January 25 and February 11, 2011, to vent their final frustration at Egypts former President Hosni Mubarak, who was viewed with distaste and only adored by certain sections of Egyptian society such as the agriculturalists or the fellaheen, whereby Egypts protectionist economic policies protected farmers. Those whom enjoyed the flow of wealth in Mubaraks Egypt would have no doubt also displayed strong support.

Conclusion The concepts of social media, the role of the youth and inter-class grievances have been cohesive in their role in the uprisings in the Middle East. Social media has been vivid in reporting on the current uprisings in Syria, a country which has banned all journalists and reporters. From social media sights such as Facebook and Youtube, we can also witness the majority of protestors being young Syrians. Libya is still currently witnessing an armed struggle amidst a civil war, whereby those leading the armed struggle against, as well as those defending, Colonel Qaddafi tend to be assorted by tribes with different tribes having different allegiances. In Egypt, not only were these tools of social media, youthfulness and class grievances the result of the downfall of Hosni Mubarak, but they are and will forever be the tools in bringing the downfall of any establishment which prevents the people to elevate their grievances.

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable 27 (John F. Kennedy, 1962)

27

JFK's "Address on the First Anniversary of the Alliance for Progress," White House reception for diplomatic cors of the Latin American republics, March 13, 1962. Public Papers of the Presidents John F. Kennedy (1962).

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Bibliography Books
1. Al Aswany, Alaa, On the state of Egypt, Vintage Publications, 2011.

Interviews and Public forums


2. Ghonim, Wael speaking at the TED ThinkTank, Wael Ghonim: Inside the Egyptian

Revolution <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWvJxasiSZ8>, viewed on 09/04/2011.


3. Respective movement members interviewed on The role of social media and the Y-

Generation, SBS Radio, Special Broadcasting Service, 23/04/2011.


4. Dr Gennaro Gervasio (interview by Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Tunisian

revolt helped inspire Egyptian protesters: expert, <http://www.abc.net.au/news/video/2011/01/30/3125034.htm>, viewed on 21/04/2011.


5. Dr Gennaro Gervasio (interview by Aljazeera English) Egypt vs Tunisia,

<http://english.aljazeera.net/programmes/insidestory/2011/02/2011279322390164.html>, viewed on 21/04/2011.


6. Professor Rabab Al Mahdi (Interviewed on SBS), Revolution,

<http://news.sbs.com.au/insight>, viewed on 26/04/2011.

Online Articles and Journals


7. Elshaheed We are all Khalid Said, <http://www.elshaheeed.co.uk>, viewed

19/03/2011
8. Ross, Brian and Matthew Cole, "Egypt: The Face That Launched A

Revolution". ABC News, retrieved 19/03/2011

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Anthony Hanna 9. CBC News, Who is Wael Ghonim?

The Middle Eastern Uprisings

<http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2011/02/08/f-wael-ghonim.html>, viewed on 23/03/2011.


10. O'Reilly, Tim, O'Reilly Network: What Is Web 2.0, viewed 11/04/2011 11. London: The Independent, Social media, cellphone video fuel Arab protests,

Lifestyle: The Independent, <www.independent.co.uk/lifestyle>, viewed on 06/03/2011.


12. Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, Egypt and The Impact of 27 years of

Emergency on Human Rights, <http:/en.eohr.org/2008/05/28/%E2%80%9Cegypt-andthe-impact-of-27-years-of-emergency-on-human-rights%E2%80%9D/#more-22>, retrieved on 11/04/2011.


13. French, Dana, "Generation Y versus Baby Boomers", Furniture Today Press, 2005. 14. Shapira, Ian, "What Comes Next After Generation X?". Education (The Washington

Post): pp. C01. Retrieved 11/4/2011.


15. Civic

Youth, How generation Y is redefining the Ipod era,

http://www.civicyouth.org/PopUps/OMG.pdf> (PDF), retrieved on 11/04/2011.

16. Almasry Alyoum, "( ,": 048 52 Translated:

Health offices have documented fall of 840 people during the revolution of January 25) <http://www.almasryalyoum.com/node/385140>, viewed on 16/04/2011.
17. Somerset-Webb,

Merryn, Egypt Youth Unemployment and Britain,

<http://www.moneyweek.com>, viewed on 18/04/2011.

18. Wolman, David. "Cairo Activists Use Facebook to Rattle Regime". Wired Magazine,

Cond Nast Publications, viewed on 08/04/2011.


19. Sariya, Osama, ( Translated: Egypt and Arab Crisis Week)

<http://www.ahram.org.eg/The%20Writers/News/59482.aspx>, viewed on 22/04/2011. Other online sources


20. Elshaheed (2011) We are all Khalid Said, Available:

http://www.elshaheeed.co.uk/wp9 |Page

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content/uploads/2010/07/Khalid_Mohamed_Said_after_his_death.jpg&imgrefurl Last accessed: 2nd April, 2011


21. United States Department of State, Egypt from U.S. Department of State/Bureau of

Near Eastern Affairs, <http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5309.htm>, viewed on 08/04/2011.


22. CIA

World Factbook, Egypt, <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-

factbook/geos/eg.html>, viewed on 15/03/2011.


23. International

Telecommunications Unit, Egypts Internet Stats

<http://www.internetworldstats.com/>, viewed 23/03/2011.

24. JFK's "Address on the First Anniversary of the Alliance for Progress," White House reception for diplomatic cors of the Latin American republics, March 13, 1962. Public Papers of the Presidents John F. Kennedy (1962).

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