Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Egypt's uprising & the view from Facebook

I am watching my friends become revolutionaries.

A few of my friends from Alexandria, where I lived throughout most of 2008, were fairly predictable. An older artist friend, already a sort of activist, was in the very first protest on January 25th and has been in every demonstration since then. When the police were called off the streets, she joined the human chain protecting a synagogue in Alexandria's Menshia neighborhood. Every time I speak to her she reminds me that the people are determined, that they will not give up until they see real change. She always asks me to spread the word.

One friend told me on the 24th that he was not allowing himself to think about the future. This same friend warned me at the end of last Ramadan not to wish him "Eid Mubarak," as he'd had quite enough Mubarak, Eid or no Eid. When he realized something really was happening, he chased the demonstrators all over Alexandria without finding them, in a sequence I imagine starring Charlie Chaplin.

He was finally able to join the demonstrations on the 28th, or "Friday of Outrage." Like many others he was tear-gassed, hit in the head, and otherwise exposed to police brutality. He was in such a black mood afterward that I couldn't reach him until several days after mobile service was restored. He had silenced his phone and shut it in a drawer. But he, like my artist friend, is optimistic. He wants to be part of the new Egypt so many have begun to envision.

Meanwhile, I've seen some nasty fights break out on Facebook between people who, if not friends, were at least friendly before the 25th. When the internet finally returned to Egypt, it revealed how much people had changed since they were last online.

People accused one another of being brainwashed, whether by state TV channels or Al Jazeera. I received a few Facebook invitations to groups with titles like "No to demonstrations on Friday," and found my own opinion of the person who sent them suddenly drop several levels. Quickly I rebuked myself - who was I to judge? But the invitations came mostly from people I knew to live very comfortable lives, people from families with helpful connections. More confusing were the messages from people I genuinely liked, saying "Everything on Al Jazeera is a lie."

Through Facebook, I was seeing how a movement like this can suddenly drive people apart.

But there were also efforts to repair those schisms. Several people who had accused their friends of being brainwashed, betraying their country, and being cowards later posted messages reminding themselves and everyone else that democracy meant they were free to disagree. However, they usually continued to post articles and essays meant to show the error in believing Mubarak's speeches or the conspiracy theories promoted on state TV channels. A friend who 'just wanted her life back' a week ago now fills her wall with these posts.

And some people do change their minds. After the Wael Ghonim interview yesterday, I noticed an update from a friend who condemned the protesters for 'causing chaos' during the first week of the uprising.

He had joined the Arabic page for "We Are All Khaled Said."

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