I’m sure this subject has been discussed ad naseum already, but I’m not one to shy away from giving my input.
The Arab Spring has been one of the most profound events in the lives of many Arab youth. In every country there has been one person, a martyr for the revolution, that became the symbol of dictatorial brutality. In Tunisia it was Bouazizi, in Libya it was Mohammed Nabbous. For Egypt, it was a young man named Khalid Said.
I’m not going to expand on his history. Instead I want to write on this phenomenon, which I’ll call the Martyr Effect.
Like I said previously, every country that witnessed the uprising had at least one martyr who’d death greatly affected the rest of the country and the international community. What makes this person stand out involves two factors; their achievements in life and the manner of their death. This person touches the collective heart of the nation, for their struggle and sacrifice for a higher principle. It leads them to raise his fallen flag and continue his fight.
Khalid Said was that symbol for the Egyptian revolution. He was the catalyst for a nation already under strain from an inefficient, corrupt government. Revolution is usually the inevitable end for these regimes. However, history has taught them the best ways to keep the people under suppression. Brute force and propaganda has developed over the years, making dissent more and more difficult. But what they didn’t calculate was the progress of social media.
As police quelled protesters in the street, they remained oblivious to the protesters in the virtual world. Pages on Facebook began appearing where citizens could vent their frustration uncensored. One of these pages was “Kullena Khalid Said”, We are all Khalid Said, started by Wael Ghoneim. Wael aimed to create a forum free from the provocative tone of the other pages, in the persona of Khalid Said.
The effect was swift. The page gained thousands of fans in a matter of hours, because the issue was already out there, but because it was also a topic that affected people. As it gained momentum, Wael became bolder, creating an event that would transition this online demonstration into the streets of the real world.
The government later blocked these social media sites, but by then it was too late. It’s a clear sign of how unfamiliar much of the world is with the power of social media, that the other Arab governments did not immediately take action on the internet (or were perhaps unsure how to go about it) to quell the online movements.
The world has definitely learned something new about social media after the Arab Spring. It excites some, confuses others, and provides a new vista of opportunity for the future of the Middle East.