#Come2Egypt: A Successful First Trial at a Social Media Grassroots Initiative

If you were on Twitter on Friday May 6th, you might have noticed that starting 4 pm your timeline was pretty much spammed with people using #Come2Egypt hashtag with photos, videos and tweets on why people should, well, come to Egypt!

In case you are a curious person, wondering how this whole thing started, then this post might be of interest to you.

One day a group of Egyptians on twitter that run in somewhat similar circles got an email from common friend Adel Abdel-Ghaffar which said the following:

“Just came back from Khan al Khalili and it was really depressing to see how empty it is these days. A few shops had closed, and allot of the shop owners were complaining that if the conditions stay like this, they might have to lay off more people and close shops themselves. This is just one area, I am getting alot of similar stories from across Egypt. 

While I was there, I was tweeting some pics, and found out they were retweeted widely around the world, even with the small number of followers I have (500 + ) , nonetheless people were fascinated.”

He suggested we start going to places that might be interesting for tourists each week and tweet from there, whether photos, videos, or thoughts while we visit these cool places. The group got excited about the idea. We were all regularly tweeting anyway, so why not do it to try and improve the tourism sector after it took such a fall following the massive protests in Feburary (and the mass arrests of foreigners didn’t help as well…).
We started doing that, and we especially did it during easter weekend as many of us were out of Cairo so we got to share media from other gorgeous places in Egypt as well like Sinai, Alexandria, and Hurghada.
We had been toying with the idea of making #Come2Egypt a globally trending topic on Twitter to get the maximum exposure from this tool. So we decided to give it a try last Friday. We created a Facebook event through the fan page we had previously set up and from there it went totally viral reaching a 0.07% of all tweets made worldwide. (a topic can be trending on twitter starting as low as 0.84% depending on the traffic at a given time.)
What was also great, was that not only were there individuals taking part in these tweets, but institutions as well. ONTV, an Egyptian liberal TV channel was also tweeting and re-tweeting with everyone, which was great since they have many followers.
So even though we didn’t manage to get the topic trending this time, we hope to do it again soon. Some thoughts we are considering for next time:
Media coverage beforehand; Among the group we have many bloggers, journalists, a radio presenter and media contacts so for next time we definitely want to create a bit of a hype to get more people on board.
Get more foreigners who visited and loved Egypt involved; as the people who follow them would probably be non-Egyptian
Tweet on a day where there are no mass protests in our neighboring countries; On Friday there were major protests in Syria and outrageous killing and arrests from the Syrian regime, so we’d rather be helping spread news about these uprisings than diverting attention from them.
All in all, I’d say the first trial was a huge success. If anyone has any thoughts, ideas, or would like to help organise leave a comment below. Let’s get tourism not back, but better than ever before. This is the New Egypt after all.

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Voice of Freedom – صوت الحرية

 

Definitely a favourite song of mine from the revolution so far. Other than the nice music, moving lyrics and great video, I think what sets it apart from other songs that were produced this month was that it was not nationalistic. It was not about Egypt, it was about something bigger than that. The song discusses freedom, belief, speaking out against injustice and peaceful protest . It can be adapted to any population anywhere in the world that is oppressed or living in unfair conditions. The line that gets me most is “Our weapon was our dream”.

I believe that new Egypt should not be about loving Egypt for the sake of it being where we are from. I believe the regime has tried to use old nationalistic songs to try and get us to retreat. During the protests and even till now the local radio is playing nationalist music and so are some of the channels. The revolution is not over just yet, and songs like this are the ones we should cling to.

What we should do is build Egypt on these principles we were calling for during the protests: Freedom, social justice and transparency. Then we wouldn’t need a song that has the word Egypt in it 10 times to remind us we love this country. Imagine having the values and principles we had in Tahrir in all of Egypt. That is not impossible, but it will take time, effort, commitment and most importantly belief.

Egyptian army shows its true colours

Egyptian soldier in Tahrir early February

On January 25th, various Egyptians across different spectrums took the streets in peaceful protest demanding the removal of the regime, bread, freedom and human dignity. The 18 days of protests that inspired people around the world caused many changes, the most notable of them was the resignation of Mubarak. Egypt’s streets spent the night of his departure in endless celebrations since he handed over the country to the army. If you thought the revolution was over then, think again.

At midnight at the end of Feburary 25th, exactly one month since the revolution started, the Egyptian army cordoned then attacked people in Tahrir with sticks, electric shocks and by detaining people. Not to mention the thugs that were fighting the protesters. The army was chasing people down the street and beating them up, claiming that they were doing this because they were out after curfew.

Human rights activist Ramy Raoof, was there during the attacks and he streamed a few minutes live on bambuzer here.

Here is a collection of tweets from people there during the attacks:

2:30 am – Ramy Raoof tweeted: army soldiers are runing behind us and attacking. #Egypt #Jan25

2:55 am – Jano Charbel tweeted: Army forcefully dispersed protest outside parliament. Soldiers punched, kicked & slapped me. Then clubbed me w/ an electric prod in my face.

3:00 am – Gigi Ibrahim tweeted: Revolution phase 3 begun tonight, I heard the taser guns, witnessed the beatings and arrests carried BY THE ARMY.

And my personal favourite: Hosni Mubarak Everything that’s happening in #Libya is all part of the plan to divert your focus while i quietly return to power. #Egypt (Parody, obviously.)

A thought: Why were we still under curfew two weeks after Mubarak stepped down and the ongoing protest in Tahrir was dispersed? Is it maybe so the army can use it as an excuse for this violence? Or maybe to remind us exactly of who is in charge?

Egyptian media is acting exactly the same as in Mubarak days. Between midnight and 2 am no reports on the attacks. At 2:30 am they anounced that the Egyptian military told protesters at midnight they had half an hour to leave, whereas actually by 12:02 am they were attacking them. As for the Egyptian independent channels, ON TV tweeted: The army does not allow journalists and channels to enter the square.

At the end of the day we have to remember, the army  follows orders. Who’s orders? The Generals of the High Council of Armed Forces. Who was their leader 2 weeks ago? Mubarak. Let’s not forget that these people were a huge part of the regime and benefited greatly from it. That means that protests can’t stop now until we have a civil transitional government with the participation of the army in it. The revolution will continue, in the form of protests, strikes until we actually get people involved with the old regime out of powerful positions and replace them with people who actually want Egypt to develop into a democracy.

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In Egypt, “Every joke is a tiny revolution”

Egyptians have always been known for their sense of humor across the Arab world. From our movies to our witty theatre, to the new emerging stand up comedians, to the ongoing jokes that are circulated all over Egypt, we are known for managing to turn pretty much everything, including our revolution, into a witty joke.

Some could see jokes coming up during a time of crisis like the January 25th revolution as disrespectful, or even shallow, but actually humor is so stemmed in our culture as Egyptians, that we use it as a way to express our feelings, raise awareness, disseminate information and have a giggle on current events. Even if consciously this is not necessarily the objective when one comes up with a joke or shares it.

Walking through Tahrir Square, one can’t help but smile and even occasionally laugh out loud at the signs many Egyptians would make. It would be challenging to translate these jokes here, since most of them stem from our culture and sayings. I can tell you however, that the night Mubarak stepped down the first text message I got said “After the ‘Friday of Victory’ in Tunisia, and the ‘Friday of departure’ in Egypt, Gaddafi decided to cancel Fridays in Libya”. You get the gist I guess.

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Another joke that became quite popular was “The man behind Omar Suleiman” since when Mubarak stepped down, his newly appointed vice president was the one who delivered the news in a thirty second speech, and for some reason a man was standing behind him. Jokes related to this man was all Egyptians could talk about for a few days after that, most jokes relating to the current events. As an example, Egyptian state media, was very biased towards the government in its reporting. They were hardly reporting about the protests. On January 26ht, El Ahram Newspaper, the state newspaper had its main story of the struggles in Lebanon, and when discussing what happened on ‘National Police Day’ which was chosen as the day of protests because the Egyptian Police are famous for their corruption, brutality and torture of people they detain, showed a photo of kids giving flowers to Police and thanking them for their efforts. Egyptian TV was failing to deliver accurate information about the protests taking place all over the country, and was focusing on how there are theives and looters attacking businesses and houses, how former president Mubarak hired a new government and the initiatives they were taking and about how if the protests don’t stop we will hit economical crisis and live in danger and chaos. When the pro-Mubarak protests started, even though they were a few hundred people (and most of them paid or hired) state media was portraying it as if they were as many as the people demonstrating to bring down the regime. When the thugs were attacking protesters in Tahrir Square, Egyptian state media made it seem like there was a civil war going on to give the impression to the people watching from their homes that the country was breaking into a war and that only the government could save it. The state media has been criticised endlessly, and were even forced to change their agenda and start reporting on the protests happening. Till now most average Egyptians, even after Mubarak stepping down, are having a hard time trusting any media coming from the government. One of the jokes that came up about the man behind Omar Suleiman was “Egyptian TV denies that there is a man standing behind Omar Suleiman”.

Ever since the “Friday of Anger” which was on January 28th, when the Egyptian government shut down the internet and mobile phone lines, the Egyptians took the streets all over the country. As the protesters took the streets yelling they wanted the regime to be dissolved and saying over and over again that this was a peaceful protest, they were attacked with expired tear gas, illegal rubber bullets, and live ammunition. Hundreds died and thousands were wounded, some of them with deadly injuries up till now. At the end of this day, there was a presidential decree, that the Central Security Forces, the ones responsible for “calming down” protests to retreat and the Army to take the streets. That night the entire police force was off the streets for the next two days. This led to many lootings of businesses, burning of official buildings and police stations, and most famously the Egyptian museum. There is still a trust issue between the Police force and the public up till now, which the ministry of interior is trying to fix, but so far the public does not seem to be responding since they are not seeing many actions of prosecuting the people responsible for all this violence besides the ex-minister. Every friday after this one had a name, and there was an ongoing joke by the third Friday (the one Mubarak actually stepped down in) that it would be called “**** don’t you get it? Friday”.

Egyptians will continue to make jokes, and if anything this revolution sparked inspiration for political comedy that had been less mainstream in the past due to immense fear from the government. One of the many barriers that were broken when we took the streets on January 25th and changed our country and the world forever.

As George Orwell once said, “Every joke is a tiny revolution”.

 

* This post was published in Argentinian newspaper Reporte Global on Feburary 23rd 2011

* To illustrate on Egyptian sense of humor in the revolution here is a great report on BBC Arabic



Best of Egyptian Media Propaganda

One the many failures of the Egyptian regime has been its state media. Never mind that we have press laws that restrict the freedom of the independent (or rather striving to be independent) media. The state owned media, and it’s private extentions such as the Mehwar Channel, were completely used as propaganda machines telling lies to the Egyptian public. As this was just the norm, only the very extreme cases of ridiculousness stood out. Here are the awards for the most “creative” ones the government tried to pass in my opinion:

– The “Kollohom beyetkalemo English language” Crying Tamer on Nile News

This was the hilarious guy who allegedly just escaped from the vicious place of Tahrir Square where everyone speaks English and get them to make flyers. He cries that the people in Tahrir are not “us”. He has a fear of slogans, and suffers from some sort of breathing disorder. The anchor is pretending to be really concerned and can’t believe the ordeal this kid went through.

 

– The “They are all gay and humping” guy on Masriya TV

This guy is one of the protesters who was inside. Claims there are tents, blankets and meals for everyone. He refers to the fact that there are religious preachers inside brainwashing people and that the opposition groups and Muslim Brotherhood are riding the wave of the 25 of Jan youth. Apparently all the people in Tahrir Square still fighting for our rights are cowards and he’s the hero. He starts by saying people are gay there. The presenter pretends to try to stop him from making judgements, then talks about how Suleiman is awesome and is meeting with the Jan 25 youth. Oh yeah, the regular favourites of course: Foreigners are trying to cause chaos, protests are causing the country to be at a hault and the government is changing everything over night into a full on democracy because life is pink.

 

– The “Aljazeera, the Jews and Pandas are training Egyptian youth to cause chaos” on Mehwer TV

Who can forget the beautiful Shaimaa, who we couldn’t really see for her own safety of course, who told us about her paid trips to the US where she was trained on “How to overthrow dictators”. Apparently she also recieved a second training in Qatar, delivered by Israelis (Aljazeera and the Jews in one combo, nice ha?). She insists (by saying it 5 times) that she was trained along side the Muslim Brotherhood Youth movement. Blame the foreigners! All the foreigners are conspiring against us, because we’re well, awesome.

Who is prosecuting those two journalists and everyone involved in Mehwer TV? I’d like to know.

 

– The “Mubarak is our father and Foreigners are conspiring against us” on Mehwar TV

This one is a political activist who apparently received training all over the world with an organisation that is American-Israeli-Zionist working with the CIA and Mosaad (who else?). According to this one they were training them on how to peacefully bring down a regime by burning government buildings and scaring the police force. Of course she now changed her mind and joined the three million pro-Mubarak protesters (haha) telling Mubarak “We are sorry ya Baba”. Oh yeah, and all the Egyptian youth political movements are working with Hamas.

Favourite quote by the presenters “Egypt is not Tunisia, and Mubarak is not Ben Ali”

 

So the Egyptian government attempted to blame: The Muslim Brotherhood, political opposition parties, Mosaad, The US, Iran, Hamas, Qatar, Aljazeera and according to Egypt’s most trusted news source El Koshary Today: Koala bears. But themselves and their corruption, brutality and inhumane detentions for causing the first grassroots revolution in the history of the country, no way.

Then suddenly, with a magic wand, Egyptian TV suddenly calls the protesters “heroes” not zionist brainwashed crazy people and reports on the millions in Tahrir. They had to do that after Wael Ghoneim, one of the people who started a grass-roots initative on January 25th was released and appeared on Dream TV telling the story of his 12 day detention along with how him and a few youth raising awareness about the Khaled Said case called for the protests on January 25th. Also, when two Senior reporters from Nile TV quit and went on air with inside information about the “Propaganda Machine”. When the public that they were trying to hide the truth from understood their lies, they needed to change their tone, agenda and content to attempt to prove they are credible. Too late though.

Let’s not forget, that the media is still under the Ministry of Media, which is part of the regime. Even if Mubarak is not there, even if Anas El Fekki, the minister of Media, resigned, this institution is full of so much corruption and personal agendas that even if they changed their stance, it does not mean we should trust them. We will not trust our media until it is cleaned of the corruption of many of those inside it and till it is an independent institution not bound by press laws or under any governmental supervision. We are at a crucial point where we need to question everything, until we live in a democratic, just country with honest media.

The big picture: We are all part of the revolution

As we were stopped yesterday in one of the citizen check points, asked for our IDs and car license, we were also asked an important question “Are you going to Tahrir?” we had actually just came back from Tahrir and were going home. My friend asked them humorously “Why? You don’t send people to Tahrir?”. He replied “Not from here, we want people to stop going to Tahrir”.

This incident has been repeated often during the past days. It seems Egypt has been split into two camps. Those who want to settle for the status quo, and those who want to continue with overthrowing the government. There is a fake third camp that the government is trying to pass as real, and those are the pro-mubarak protesters who go attack foreigners, pro-democracy protesters and journalists. There has been proof that most of these people are either paid or are part of the police force. Which is why I won’t even mention this fake third camp that was created for the purposes of terror and propaganda.

The issue we are facing now, is that the government cleverly used two factors to split the Egyptian people. The first tactic they used was terror. On Friday January 28th, the entire police force was taken off the streets. Even though the issue was only with the Central Security Forces that were attacking protesters with expired teargas, rubber bullets and live ammunition. Then on Friday night and Saturday they released thugs and looters to steal and attack businesses, the museum and houses. At this point they called on civilians to help the army in protecting their neighbourhoods by organising vigilante groups that set up check points during curfew. The more time these vigilante groups were out of the streets, with thugs attacking them or their friends in other neighbourhoods, the more terror and unrest spread on Egyptian streets and Egyptian households.

 

Expired tear gas thrown at protesters

The other tactic the government used was media propaganda. For those stuck in their houses while the country is at a stand still and under curfew, the government has been feeding everyone through state TV with nationalist ideas of how we need to save Egypt from falling and that the only way to save it is that the current regime, headed by Mubarak, stays in power and they change some ministers. All channels have an Egyptian flag urging people to protect Egypt, and all the interviews they do are with government officials or people who support them. They disseminate false information about the status of the protests in Tahrir. Since our government still lives in the 20th century, here is what the government did to make sure people didn’t get information from other sources:

  • Once they realised that people were watching and trusting a channel like Aljazeera Arabic, they shut it down. They also not only closed, but also raided, their Cairo office and continue to give their journalists a hard time.
  • On thursday, they started to intimidate Egyptian bloggers and foreign journalists by detaining them for a few hours, confiscating their equipment, and trying to convince people that they are conspiring against the national security of the country.

As they continue using these methods to mobilize information to their advantage and tell the Egyptian public whatever they want. Here is a list of the best things they came up with:

  • Zionists and Americans trained the Egyptian youth to organise this protest to cause a stir in the country and threaten it’s national security
  • The Muslim brotherhood are the ones behind these protests so they can gain control of the country and turn it into Iran
  • Youth in Tahrir are being brainwashed by the opposition
  • Baradei gives everyone one hundred euros and a KFC meal to go to Tahrir
  • Pro-Mubarak protesters are more than pro-democracy protests

Here is a video a group of friends made in Tahrir making fun of the first conspiracy theory the government is trying to pass about Foreign agendas:

Note: Two reporters from state run Nile TV resigned their posts this week. One of them, Shahira Amin, said they were instructed to only air the pro-mubarak protests and say nothing about Tahrir. She preffered to go to Tahrir than stay at this job.

The government, by using these two tactics: terror and media propaganda, managed to semi-successfully split us into two groups of people: those who protest in Tahrir and are hindering the economy of the country and those who are staying home or protecting their neighbourhoods. The people in Tahrir are there because they have a vision of what this country can be and they know that if they keep applying pressure we’ll get closer to it. Many of the people I talked to were willing to leave Tahrir after the president’s speech on Tuesday. However, after the attack from the pro-Mubarak hired thugs on Wednesday, they knew they couldn’t leave until this government is gone.

What we need to realise as a nation, is that we all have the same goal. We all want to choose our leaders. We all want freedom of speech. We all don’t want to live under emergency law. We all want a parliment that actually represents us. We all want our human rights. We all want to see Egypt develop. This is a people’s revolution. Even if you are not in Tahrir protesting, you are part of the revolution. We have a group of people in Tahrir protesting on behalf of the rest. We have the youth organising the traffic, the youth staying up all night protecting different neighbourhoods. We have youth active online getting our voices heard, the youth cleaning the streets. We have the people organising all kinds of donations from food, medical supplies and even blood donation. We’re all taking active roles. We’re all in revolt.

Revolutions take time. They require some economical sacrifices. It’s a tough time. It’s easy to blame it on the people still in Tahrir. Let’s remember though that it was the government’s choice to have a curfew. It was the government that took the police force off the street. It was the government that took away the internet, mobiles and SMS. It was the government who released the prisoners. It was policemen and paid thugs who attacked our businesses, houses and protesters in Tahrir. It was the police forces and thugs that killed the people who died during the past days.

What’s crutial though is that we are all part of this movement. This movement awakened something in every Egyptian. When the revolution succeeds, we will all take care of our streets, our country and each other. After all this effort we will work harder because we will know that our effort will be for the common good, not going in the pockets of some corrupt regime.

Egypt will never be the same after January 25th 2011. Imagine how it can be when we overthrow these people who oppressed us?

 

Down with the Mubaraks

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