This article by Nahed Eltantawy and Julie B. Wiest from High Point University seeks to open dialogue about the utility of resource mobilization theory in explaining social movements and their impact by exploring the use of social media in the 2011 Egyptian revolution through a limited case study analysis. It argues that social media played an instrumental role in the success of the anti-government protests that led to the resignation of the country’s dictatorial leader, and calls for further examination of the proposed incorporation of social media as an important resource for collective action and the organization of contemporary social movements.
ElBaradei was one of the primary figures who took advantage of the Internet to communicate with his followers and disseminate information. As complements to ElBaradei’s personal Facebook page and Twitter account, the National Association for Change and other likeminded groups formed pro- ElBaradei Facebook pages. In October 2010, ElBaradei was quoted in an Australian daily newspaper as saying that change would be inevitable in Egypt: “The timing only depends on when people will be able to throw off this culture of fear that the regime has created”.
Another individual who contributed to the revolution via social media technologies was Omar Afifi, a former Egyptian police officer-turned-activist. In 2008, Afifi wrote a book advising Egyptians on how to avoid police brutality. The book was banned and Afifi’s life was threatened, which forced him to seek asylum in the United States. Afifi then took advantage of social media technologies in his continued effort to advise Egyptians, this time through YouTube videos, Facebook, and Twitter. When the Tunisian revolts took place, Afifi released a series of detailed YouTube videos instructing Egyptians on techniques for conducting their own revolution. Afifi provided numerous details and specified the exact day to revolt, where protesters should gather, and what they should wear. Most importantly, Afifi’s instructional videos emphasized the idea of peaceful protest. The Associated Press quoted a Middle East analyst as saying that Afifi “basically fired the first shot” when he released the first video following the Tunisian revolts on January 14.
A number of young social media activists who, for almost two years, exchanged information via Facebook and Twitter also helped to initiate the revolution. Egypt’s youth, like their Tunisian counterparts, offered guidance on everything from using technology to escape government surveillance to facing rubber bullets and setting up barricades (Kirkpatrick & Sanger, 2011). In Egypt, the April 6 Movement, a group that largely depended on Facebook and social media to gain support, was one of the primary organizational resources of the January 25 protests. Two years prior, leaders of the April 6 Movement had begun researching nonviolent struggles, and even designing the movement’s logo to resemble that of the 1214 Nahed Eltantawy & Julie B. Wiest International Journal of Communication Serbian youth movement Otpor, which helped topple Slobodan Milosevic’s dictatorship. Members of the group also traveled to Serbia to meet with Otpor activists. The Internet was clearly a chief tool for these activists to gain and exchange knowledge to better prepare for the launch of the January 25 protests.
A major advantage of social media in the Egyptian revolution was its capacity for swiftly exchanging and disseminating information to millions of people inside and outside of Egypt. For instance, as Egyptians were carefully watching events unfold in Tunisia while also planning their own movement, activists from both countries were exchanging information, ideas, and words of encouragement online.
During the Tunisian revolution, Egyptian bloggers were on Twitter, Facebook, and personal blogs posting updates and uploading images and videos of the Tunisian protests. On January 17, 2011, Egyptian female activist and blogger Nawara Negm posted a video message from an Egyptian actress with words of encouragement for Tunisians. Negm also posted information and cell phone numbers, urging Egyptians to send text messages to encourage Tunisians during the protests.
On January 21, Negm posted an entry titled “Be noble and demonstrate on January 25,” calling on her followers to join activists in the street. She posted a YouTube video of a young Egyptian activist who was joining the movement, saying, “Do you see this girl? She is going to demonstrate.” Negm encouraged people to invite friends or other Egyptians they would meet in the street to join as well. At one point, she wrote: “walk . . . walk in the street. Walk walk walk . . . and talk talk talk . . . and sing sing national songs, sing Beladi Beladi [my country my country]”. In concluding her entry, Negm wrote:
If you can take pictures, take pictures . . . if you can use Twitter, send tweets . . . if you can blog, blog from the street. There are people demonstrating for our cause in Tunisia and Jordan, and I just found out that there are people demonstrating in Paris too. All of these people have faith in us.
Other social media initiatives that illustrate the newfound interactivity and speed in mobilization include multiple Facebook pages, such as the previously mentioned “ElBaradei for Presidency” and “We are all Khaled Said” pages, which provided outlets for interaction, information exchange, and encouragement among users. Another Facebook page, created by three Egyptian teenagers on January 16, was known as “January 25: The day of revolution over torture, poverty, corruption & unemployment”. The “January 25” page administrators posted a video introducing themselves to the public and explaining their feelings of encouragement after the achievements in Tunisia, so as to implement a successful revolution in Egypt. Thus, these Facebook pages allowed activists to immediately address millions of users from diverse walks of life, as well as from different areas across Egypt, all at one time.
The speed and interactivity of social media use not only united protesters, but it also provided the means for disseminating important safety information during the revolution and an outlet for seeking help when in danger. When the Egyptian revolution began on January 25, activists posted messages on their blogs and Facebook pages from Tunisian protesters that contained words of encouragement, along with International Journal of Communication. Social Media in the Egyptian Revolution 1215 detailed instructions and suggestions based on lessons learned. Among the messages, Tunisian protesters advised their Egyptian counterparts to protest at nighttime for safety, to avoid suicide operations, to use media to convey their message for outside pressure, to spray-paint security forces’ armored vehicles black to cover the windshield, and to wash their faces with Coca-Cola to reduce the impact of tear gas Egyptian protesters also used social media to draw attention when in danger, as well as to provide activists and the outside world with minute-by-minute updates. The Guardian cites tweets by Mohamed Abdelfattah, an Egyptian video journalist, who on the evening of January 25, 2011, released a series of disturbing tweets in short succession during ongoing protests, [I’ve] been beaten a lot.
Whereas traditionally, one would have to send a fax, make a phone call, or relay information through a messenger for help, many Egyptian activists were able to reduce response times and increase personal safety by using cell phones to send immediate SOS tweets.