Revolution 2.0 is actually Awakening 1.0
It’s being called Revolution 2.0. It was facilitated by Facebook pages that brought young Tunisians and Egyptians together, starting a national conversation and taking action. It was driven by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Twitter updates, which attracted the attention of the world to an evolution of a revolution.
This movement has been building up for years and you have to look at it as a step-by-step process of empowerment.
The Internet has been available in the Arab countries for nearly 15 years, but its penetration levels to almost every segment and social class only started a few years ago. With that Internet access came knowledge and communication, coinciding with the introduction of social media platforms- like Facebook, YouTube and others. It then took some time for Facebook to be Arabized, but a flood of Arabs joined immediately. The number of Facebook users in Arab countries is currently around 20 million. However, to this day, Twitter users in the Arab World are estimated to be less than 100,000, so it can’t be seriously considered a high-impact media on the populous, but what it can do is reach and mobilize the media and technology savvy Arab youth, a now highly influential segment.
For a few years, there was a lot ‘training’ and ‘testing’ involved; finding out how governments and authorities would react to opposition on the Internet. Censorship, website blocks and even turning off the Internet became expected responses, but those driving change kept raising the stakes and pushing up the levels of freedom of expression.
My friend, Wael Ghonim, played an important role in these events by starting the Facebook page ‘We are all Khalid Saeed’ – the young man brutally beaten and killed last year. Wael became a face of this revolution when he was kidnapped and jailed, and became a hero when he was released.
For all of us, who knew Wael as a regular guy, a tech and media professional like us, his disappearance caused an outrage. A massive online movement built-up online to search for him and demand his release. Tweets and Facebook updates about him were saturating social networks. Websites and blogs across the world picked them up, followed by global news organizations and then a whole wave of ‘where is Wael’ emerged that made the headline news in every country in the world. His employer, Google could no longer remain silent and had to provide comment. His release was also heavily covered.
The members of the Middle East technology and media community who ‘connected’ over the past few years through meetings at conferences or doing business together, realized that they could do so much more when ‘one of their own’ needed help.
And, every one of Wael’s Facebook and Twitter friends felt they had played their small part in the Egyptian uprising.
But, the real heroes were not the people sitting behind a keyboard tweeting! They were those who responded to the digital call for action, but reacted in the real world and put their lives in danger and got real injuries. In the end, it became clear technology, as it always has been, was nothing more than a tool in the hands of a willing people. There are no digital replacements for human sentiments and causes.
On New Year’s Eve, I was interviewed by Al Jazeera, who also spoke to other guests on a panel regarding the topic of technology and economy in the Middle East in 2011. A couple of the guests were older - and old fashioned- people who said they had lost faith in Arab youth, saying they were too busy paying attention to ‘trivial matters’.
My response was that there was already clear and encouraging movement, across the Middle East, by young entrepreneurs and activists who were driving economic and social change, creating new jobs and building a new, better future for Arab youth using tools and knowledge that previous generations did not have access to. It was probably the last thing on any of our minds that this Arab youth would be creating new political systems too!
The media can call it whatever they want: Revolution 2.0, the Digital Uprising or whatever. The reality is that millions of Arabs are thrilled, not because of the technology involved, but because it feels like ‘Awakening 1.0’.