Egypt's Facebook Girl



 
The case of Esra'a Abdel Fatah, the 27-year-old Egyptian girl who was arrested for creating a Facebook group for the April 6 strike, is indicative of the importance of the Internet for free speech in the Arab world, argues Diana Mukkaled.
 
In a tone that belied his excitement, a visiting journalist friend from Egypt related at great length the events of the April 6 strike in which confrontations and clashes broke out in the city. He was particularly charged because he had images on his personal laptop that had been banned from publication in national Egyptian newspapers.

The journalist's stories were incredibly interesting – especially since he had witnessed events that the media and the press did not relay to us. However, the most compelling topic of conversation revolved around what has come to be known as "the Facebook girl," aka the Egyptian Esraa Abdel Fatah (27 years old).

Abdel Fatah, who works in a private company as a human resources coordinator, has suddenly become one of the most prominent figures arrested on charges of inciting a strike and causing disruption and rioting. She was later released. However, she was not the only one to be detained, several writers and bloggers have previously been arrested.

The Egyptian journalist described Esraa as an ordinary Egyptian girl with no previous record of political activism or media or human rights activities. In fact, he revealed that Esraa's colleagues in Al Ghad Party (The Tomorrow party), which she had joined less than a year ago, call her "Tomorrow's biscuit" in reference to her pleasant nature and sweet disposition. Abdel Fatah was not on the government's list of known oppositional figures; she refused to join the "strike" group on Facebook, for example, which attacks various state symbols.

To this day, the Egyptians still cannot fathom how this girl, through a group invitation on Facebook, managed to draw approximately 70,000 members who joined the group on the world's most famous interactive website. Esraa's Facebook group succeeded in doing what Egyptian political groups failed to achieve, and it would be hard to believe that she could have been aware of the magnitude of the response she got for setting up the group.

The fact remains that this huge response among Egyptian Internet browsers is indicative of the need for platforms of expression other than what traditional media offers, which is also incapable of absorbing that need. A broad segment of the public has resorted to this means of communication after the intensification of awareness about issues and personal and public freedom – all of which are subjected to varying degrees of limitations and opacity.

There is no doubt that the future of the media is taking a historic turn towards the Internet, based on the consideration that it is the means by which media outlets have the ability to become solid, ongoing and in a continuous state of progression. It has become common knowledge that one year of Internet [developments] is the equivalent of four years in other media.

This suggests that the Internet is in a constant state of flux and continues to develop very quickly. No month passes without a qualitative development in the modus operandi of the World Wide Web – alongside with the tangential progression that happens as a result.

For example, the transition from blogs into Facebook was a smooth one, which also indicates a need for more liberated means of expression that are far removed from the institutionalized rules and regulations of traditional media.

This, however, is countered by the disruption and confusion that reigns over some Arab governments by virtue of the marginalization of the traditional means of surveillance that such states are witnessing, and which are incapable of keeping up with developments in communication.


(Diana Mukkaled is a prominent TV journalist who has her own program on Lebanon's Future TV, "Bil Ayn Al Mojarada" (By The Naked Eye). This article was republished with permission from Asharq Alawsat.)