The New Egypt

Revolution 2.0 in the Middle East

Mitchell Hartman Mar 28, 2011
The New Egypt

Revolution 2.0 in the Middle East

Mitchell Hartman Mar 28, 2011

Kai Ryssdal: As we enter the second week of the Libyan no-fly zone, it’s easy to forget that the rebellion there started much more quietly, with calls for protest on Facebook and Twitter.

Same story next door in Egypt, where online activists are still trying to mobilize people against everything from the new election law to low wages and human rights abuses. Marketplace’s Mitchell Hartman reports that online organizing is changing daily life outside of politics as well.

Mitchell Hartman: Egyptians love political jokes. Listen to Ahmed Naguib launch into one. He’s a member of the revolutionary council representing young activists.

Ahmed Naguib: Mubarak met Sadat and Nasser, former presidents. So they immediately ask him: ‘Did you die because of poisoning?’ or Sadat: ‘Did you get shot?’ And he said: ‘No, it was Facebook.’

Naguib — a 33-year-old education consultant, married, with two kids — was dubbed the ‘field marshal of the revolution.’ He organized food and shelter, and he helped coordinate the defense of Tahrir Square using text messages, Facebook and Twitter.

Naguib: A lot of people were mobilized by the fact that they’ve been seeing what’s going on Facebook. We became 50 to 200 in no time; in less than an hour, we became 30,000 people.

The mobilization in virtual cyberspace — where a small group of activists first challenged the regime — ultimately emboldened many more Egyptians to risk police violence in the streets.

Wael Khalil is a software developer and leading pro-democracy blogger.

Wael Khalil: It started on the virtual space, that we could really have spaces that were liberated.

Having liberated the country politically, Khalil says young Egyptians are now making their mark across the urban landscape.

Khalil: People are insisting on maintaining their public spaces, the physical spaces, that they have earned, that they’re going to keep on using, whether to celebrate, whether to discuss politics. We have liberated those spaces, and there’s no way that we’re going to give them back.

Since the revolution, groups of young people gather in working-class neighborhoods all over Cairo to collect garbage and paint curb- and lane-markers. They direct traffic. They seem to materialize out of nowhere when word of a clean-up spreads online.

Architect Muhammad Adel’s been thinking about the new ‘public space’ opened up by the revolution.

Muhammad Adel: Before the 25th of January, everybody was like scared. No one had the right to talk freely, so they found their gate on the Facebook. That’s created another third dimension of the 2-D screen, that people can join and live together and create.

I met a group of young people in Tahrir Square called National Museum Youth. Although no one’s asked them to, they sweep and paint outside the beloved, but rundown, Egyptian Museum.

Sara Sayed Emam: To make our museum beautiful. Because all of us know what happened here during the revolution.

Mohammed Yousef Semary: We can make everything changed in our country. We have the power.

A pretty rousing sentiment — but can it be sustained?

Nohad Toulan: If it doesn’t get translated into the government back taking responsibility for their civic duties, I don’t think it’s going to be very long-lasting.

That’s Nohad Toulan, one of the leading Egyptian city planners in the world. He’s dean emeritus at Portland State University, and wrote the master plan for Cairo.

Toulan: My hope at this point in time really is that they realize that they accomplished most of what they wanted to do. And that it is time for them to let the country go back to a productive way of life.

Toulan supports the revolution. But he says taking care of public space — collecting garbage, cleaning the streets, directing traffic — these should be somebody’s job. And if Egypt’s government can’t do it efficiently and without corruption, all the young Facebook volunteers in the world won’t restore the country to economic health.

I’m Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

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