Undoubtedly, the Arab Springs showcased some of the most dynamic features of a nationwide revolution against unjust and violent regimes of power. For myself and many across the world, social media has played a substantial role in inducing empathy and support for the hundreds of thousands that protested despite fear of cruel punishments and death in Egypt.
As the world watched online, Egypt revolted against President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and saw through to his resignation after a month of protests. From the looks of the videos of fireworks and celebrations of the Egyptian community (thus letting go differences between religions and communities), I thought the newly instated role of the Armed Forces would bring with it a civil, democratic government. Contrary to what I thought at the time, the middle east would be grounds for long three years of bloodshed, terror, and continued violence.
After watching the documentary The Square this week, I began to question the exact role of social media from the protestors’ point of view. The documentary follows a handful of revolutionaries with different backgrounds as they attempt to bring peace for their nation — each taking responsibility to put their safety on the line. I cemented my opinions further after seeing certain scenes showing protestors the gruesome realities captured in Facebook and Youtube videos. These videos and images, no matter how morbid and shocking as they may be, are not catalysts for protestors to overthrow governments. Rather, the film thoroughly depicts the role of the Square, and as Ahmed Hassan, a protestor, says, “ If you control the Square, you have won.”
Physical spaces still play monumental roles in uniting people of different backgrounds, and the documentary depicts such relationships. The relationship between Ahmed and Magdy Ashour, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as countless clips of joyous singing and embraces at the Tahrir Square emphasizes the hope of working as one nation against a government that fails to take care of the people as a whole.
My hope is that social media can one day envelope a role in which it maintains ties between these diversely different communities even after overturning the common enemy (in this case, the regime). Sadly, the polarization and intolerance among the people did not help the cause of Egypt’s search for a peaceful government.
We’ve learned how social media can serve as echo chambers (as seen by the division in political groups in the U.S.) but also bring the world together in achieving human rights goals to reality (as seen with workers’ rights in the U.S.) In order for social media to overtake the role of physical spaces and truly serve as a necessary tool for social convergence, it must overcome these disparities.
Follow me on Twitter to get updates on my weekly articles!
Bruns, Axel, Tim Highfield, and Jean Burgess. “The Arab Spring and Social Media Audiences: English and Arabic Twitter Users and Their Networks.” American Behavioral Scientist 57, no. 7 (July 1, 2013): 871–98. http://abs.sagepub.com/content/57/7/871.short
Noujaim, Jehane (Director), The Square, 2013, 105 minutes.