Sunday, December 15, 2013

Wael Ghonim: Revolution 2.0: The power of the people is greater than the people in power

While undertaking the Web Science MOOC on FutureLearn I came across a reference to the above book, which I decided to read, and mostly it was riveting, anyhow a review below...

There have been different outcomes from the various uprisings that have occurred across the North Africa and the Middle East as part of the Arab Spring.  In Tunisia (where it all started) there was transfer of power and some change, in Libya there was a civil war which seems to continue at a low level.  In Egypt there was a transfer of power, then elections and a counter-coup when the Muslim Brotherhood was elected, and of course in Syria a vicious civil war.
This autobiography by the creator of the Facebook page "We are all Khaled Said". Khaled Said was murdered by the security forces, and (perhaps unusually) there were witnesses who were willing to say what they had seen.  Images of his beaten body and face were appearing on the Internet and various sites (including other Facebook pages) were set up to commemorate him and to campaign for justice.
The covers both Ghonim's political awakening and the events that happened in the run up to the revolution in Egypt.  It is a mixture of the politically naive and the extremely honest for the most part. It explains how and why he set up the page, while deliberately remaining anonymous as he wanted it to be about the idea, not about him.  Ghonim is a well educated young person who works in marketing for Google, and hence has both technical and marketing skills which he used to build and promote the page (although keeping Google out of it completely).  He was in contact with various "activists" and between them they hatched up the plans for demonstrations culminating in one on Police Day (25 January 2011) and advertised it on Facebook and other places.  There were then calls for continuing demonstrations, most of which Ghonim missed as he was detained by the security services and held blindfolded in solitary confinement for 11 days.  This is the most shocking part of the book, even though he was not as badly tortured as many of the other people detained.  Shocking both because of the treatment he received and shocking as well because earlier he had talked about his gratitude to other people who had been detained and not given his name.  Almost immediately he starts to give names and information.  Would I be any stronger or have done anything different?  I don't know.

It is written in the first person, and includes a large number of extracts from his Facebook page, together with the number of likes, comments and accesses and you can see the number growing to over 1.5 million at its peak just before the fall of Mubarak. There are times when I think he overplays his naivety.  For instance, at one point he says "I am stronger than Hosni Mubarak. I am stronger than Omar Sulaiman", claiming that this was speaking as a demonstrator.  Equally, in the book he projects himself as the moving force in the way he tells it, though he is careful throughout to explicitly say that his is only one voice and to name some of the other people who were involved.

While I think that he overplays his hand in responsibility for the revolution his description of the way in which the Internet was used to raise consciousness and in particular to overcome the fear of the security forces is very interesting, though his suggestion that it was an entirely new form of revolution (2.0 without an agenda or leaders, simply requiring change) is naive.  Certainly, if you want to understand the background to the revolution then this is not the place to start. But if you want to know how to felt to be caught up in the events then it is excellent.

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