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The New Media and its Role in Supporting the Popular and Political Participation

June 27, 2011 by   ·   No comment

Mohamed Omran1



The controversy did not stop about the new media over the previous ten years. The start was the emergence of the blogs which were severely attacked in their very beginning, an attack that was not based on any reality or knowledge by the concept and definition of the new media and ways of expression as well as the techniques used. But also as related to the youth in their own culture, a culture that has a lot of vocabulary and styles of expression that organizers of the media at the time could not absorb or digest.

The number of the internet users is doubling significantly and in a marked way. The number of internet users in the world is nearly two milliard users and the number of internet users now Egypt is estimated at about 18 million users. That figure was no more than 450 thousand users in 2000, which means that the number multiplied by 3.691.1%.

The emergence of the internet, marked by the ease of access and publication without direct control from the administrative and security authorities, made it a new and vital breathing space for freedom of opinion and expression. As such, and besides its multiple use at all levels, the internet became the gate of the Egyptian youth to express their opinion freely either by showing their real or imaginary personality.

The rise of Web 2.0 had the deep impact on the change of the electronic media attitudes in all its traditional styles whether about the regular blogs, or blogging via the image or the photo and the email groups. The emergence of Web 2.0 provided an opportunity for the emergence of sites of public benefit (social networking) which in turn led to the emergence of (the social media) and that took advantage of the optimal use of those sites. Different groups were able to mobilize and organize themselves, through those social networking sites as happened in April 6th, 2008. As the users of those sites complemented the blogs had successfully achieved in the popular press field.

Thus, we entered the era of new communication. We can even say that we entered the era of technological and information revolution and the emergence of advanced technologies for the transfer of information directly in the moment it occurs, which leaves no room for doubt. Adding to that the evolution and consecutive generations of the computers and mobile phones with enormous potential, as well as the emergence of cadres trained on the use and adaptation of those techniques to the popular press, monitoring and documentation of what is happening. But also transferring their expertise whether via written training manuals or direct training for the groups exposed to risk during their gatherings or the groups that need monitoring and documentation in their work. The parliamentary elections of 2010 were the best example of the extent of progress and the contribution of the electronic media in raising public awareness of what is happening without the interference of the supervisory bodies to prevent or delete or amend.

I will try to see, through this paper, what is the new media as well as a brief presentation of the contribution of new media in the interaction with social and political developments and its role in the democratic transition (before and during the January 25th Revolution).

The New Media:

The information was limited in the past to what had been introduced of artistic or cultural production through the radio, television or news via news agencies or major news institutions which took time and procedural conditions that should be exceeded, till the internet appeared and afterwards the web 2.0 and which contributed in evolving the New Media tools or the Digital Media or the Participatory Media.

And the truth is that the new media is based on digital means but at the same time is not limited to. There is the independent cinema which uses in filming the digital cameras as well as the independent music bands but at the same time remains in need to the digital media for online marketing

As such, what is meant by the new media is a combination of the old media tools with the digital media plus the international information network internet, which helps to rapidly deploy them to the largest number of users. Afterwards, the Social Media appeared as the product of Web 2.0 besides the appearance of the social networking such as Facebook, Flicker, YouTube, Twitter as websites that provide to their users the opportunity to participate in the content and comment it and exchange the ideas and criticize them, That made those web sites’ users rely almost entirely on them in the collection of knowledge and information and enhanced the traditional media to resort to them via creating pages and accounts for them on these websites.

In the past, you needed to carry every media unit separately such as the camera or the voice recorder, but now all that is meeting on a single machine and is connected to the internet whether it is your personal computer or your cell phone (mobile). And now, the news are accompanied by a picture or video next to the written story i.e. multimedia so the internet user finds TV, the radio, the picture and the journal paper all available in one page.

Social and political developments before and during the revolution of January 25th:

The former regime had different positions on the use of the internet. It tried, at the same time, to take advantage of the economic returns for the introduction of online services, but did not give up attempts to monopoly practices on the quality of the information provided.

The repression, as the frustration generate the explosion and the internet was the good place to blow up the inside of the Egyptians from the restrictions that were trapped and cannot express themselves or their problems without the tutelage of the official organs of the State. Those latter have been used to the freedoms’ repression and the killing of the spirit of innovation and creativity within the Egyptian youth who found in the internet his gateway to knowledge and information and communication with the outside world and find out what is going on.

In light of the prevalence of political repression and restrictions on the right of demonstration and peaceful assembly and the control of the institutions of the State apparatus, the blogs begun their transition to political matters till the names of bloggers became connected with their political activities and harsh criticism and fell in front of them the cultural, literary and artistic blogs.

The political mobility and the emergence of Kefaya movement in 2004 before the constitutional amendments of 2005 and the consequent of the presidential and parliamentary elections in the same year led to the emergence of blogs with their role of support of political and human rights activists subjected to the repression in various ways. As such, appeared (Misrdigital) of Wael Abbas and (Alaa and Manal) and begun the spread of websites such as Kefaya movement website, and all that was accompanied in parallel in that period by the emergence of independent newspapers, independent satellite channels with their alternative talk shows programs to the newscasts in those channels.

Those blogs and sites were one of the sources of information for journalists, and preparers of those media institutions, raising the ceiling of freedom of expression with the increase of the number of users and the desired economic returns achievements. And with the advent of social networks, the number of users was increasing and in particular Facebook website that attracted the internet activists.

The fits test for the new media was the calling for the 6 April 2008 strike. The call came via Facebook and then began the events coverage associated with the strike using Facebook and YouTube and which was facing a media blackout at the official level. But what was important is the success of the social or participatory media in the mobilization and the organization as well as the coverage of the strike and the accompanying events.

And then came the idea of ​​creating advocacy groups and calling through them to a particular event such as the protests and sit-ins, strikes or the so-called social attitude protests and covering them through the new media, as well as groups of a political nature for non-politicized, such as 6 April Group and groups with political and ideological affiliation which were less attractive to members.

With the advent of the possibility of creating the pages and the direction of the news agencies , satellite channels and human rights organizations began creating pages and accounts for them on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. And the bloggers and activists cadres began, too training a certain number of young people on how to use new media in mobilization, organization, monitoring, documentation and publication. That even extended to create an integrated campaign for each of the above, as well as to provide legal support by the emergence of the Front to Defend Egypt Protesters that developed its work tools based on the new media, the Front to Defend Egypt Students, the 21606 campaign for the minimum wages and the emergence of the possibility of using direct broadcast sites, creating a new dimension to the role of the new media and democratic transition.

The new media had the upper hand in the emergence of a lot of issues such as sexual harassment (Eid al-Fitr 2007) and torture in the police stations and prisons (the case of Emad Al-Kabir) the prosecution of corruption cases (Al Abbara) without forgetting the campaign to support the woman to become a judge.

All of this was making ​​a generation that has a different culture and that moves and develops itself with the advanced capabilities offered by the new media to more knowledge and information flow in an unprecedented way. These young people were able to look beyond communication cables of the virtual world to meet with their bodies and souls on the ground and thus, what is covered by the virtual space became based on events occurring on the ground.

El Baradei – Khaled Saeed – The parliamentary elections 2010 – Mohamed El Bouazizi: all the ways lead to a revolution:

The emergence of Dr. Mohamed El Baradei, as a supposed presidential candidate had the great impact on the reinvigorating the Egyptian political life and he has been supported by many young people who can deal with the new media tools. That characterized his campaign known as the “El Baradei Support Campaign”, using the tools of the new media to connect with users of the internet and social networks: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and which exposed its members to harassment and security arrests.

Torture moved to the public road and moved with it the protests in their new format and new tools. After the murder of a the young Khalid Saeed as a result of beatings and torture in one of Sidi Gaber streets in Alexandria, and pictures of his body in the morgue, taken by some eyewitnesses to the incident before burial, and that showed that he died because of his beatings and torture, the publication of such photos on Facebook enhanced the creation of a page with the name of “We are All Khalid Saeed” which members number quickly increased for up to four thousand members after the first hour of its launch to hundreds of thousands after two weeks of its inception, and which members number now is more than a million and three hundred thousand members.


The page administrators Abdel-Rahman Mansour and Wael Ghoneim succeeded in the organization of silent vigils with candles and with black clothes at other times in different provinces and in a one time, manner and style. That meant the exit of the page members from the mere expression on the virtual space of social networks and coming down to the streets in a civilized and peaceful manner and which was often met with the police usual violence.


That also made this page making the call to the anger vigil on January 25, 2011 accompanying the police day in an objection to the torture and killing of citizens such as Khalid Saeed and Sayed Bilal, a second case which died as a result of torture in the governorate of Alexandria after the death of Khalid Saeed.




The Parliamentary Elections 2010:


The use of the new media to monitor the elections came for the first time in the parliamentary and presidential elections of 2005, which came with 88 members belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, and had kept the country’s president Mubarak for a fifth term expiring in September 2011. That was through what the bloggers were doing from taking pictures and videos for acts of fraud and violence and posting them to their blogs. This evolved to using the social networks in the referendum on constitutional amendments of 2005 / 2007 and used all that they have learned and acquired as skills in the coverage of the parliamentary elections of 2010.

The rise of the new social networks had a great impact in the coverage of the elections such as the geographical networks tag (crowdmap) and various live broadcast networks (Ustrteam, Bambuser). For the first time, the popular control concept was growing and many civil society organizations (Coalition of the Independent Elections Monitoring, the Egyptian Association for Supporting Democratic Development, the Egyptian Democratic Institute) as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, and finally a group of activists and bloggers create accounts to monitor the elections on the geographical networks tag (crowdmap). As such, any citizen willing to participate by documenting any violations during the electoral process could do it on his cell phone (mobile) and send it directly to the website or via email or custom of marking on Twitter.

Much training for elections observers were also focusing on how to adapt the digital media in their possession such as cell phones (mobiles), digital cameras and mobile PCs in documenting and monitoring the electoral process as a whole, its various stages starting from the opening door to vote to counting and till the announcement of the results.

The parliamentary elections of 2010 also marked the first appearance of a media network completely relying on the social networks i.e. Rasd network and that relied on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in its coverage of the parliamentary elections as well as the anchoring of the monitoring and the popular press concept. The new media succeeded in showing the crude and systematic fraud under the protection of the State security apparatus and which resulted in the removal of all the opposition forces and their marginalization and that irritated all the experts who had warned that those elections and its management way is an indicator of an unprecedented violence in the Egyptian society.

The road to 25 January loaded with fragrance of Jasmine:


The martyr Mohamed Bouazizi, who set fire to himself in the Tunisian Sidi Bou Zid protesting against the abuse of dignity, and his objection to his economic and social situation, that fire that extinguished in Bouazizi body and has not extinguished till now and still ignite the Arab spring, adding to that the success of the great Tunisian people in its revolution against the injustice and oppression, the tyranny and exclusion and which ended with the escape of the dictator Ben Ali after a successful new media succeeded under a regime that blocked most of the websites and only allows Facebook, that was also shut for some days and even after its coming back, some of its pages were censored.


But all this did not prevent the users of the social networks and the new media to transfer images of the martyrs of excessive violence and the use of live fire by the Tunisian security forces on the civil rebels who were using peaceful methods. That was received as a loud cry heard by all the ears of the Arab peoples and was the final indicator that confirms to the Egyptian people that the Revolution deadline has come and that the will of the people do not extort from repression, oppression, injustice and exclusion.

January 14, 2011 was the Arab peoples’ ears on a date for hearing the news of Ben Ali‘s escape from the Tunisian territory, and during the last week of the Tunisian revolution appeared the strength of solidarity of the Egyptian youth accounts on the different social networking sites and most of the comments bear the tone of solidarity and discontent with the reality faced by the Egyptians.

The success of the Tunisian people is the good news, upon which the Egyptians went to Tahrir Square on 25 January after the call was made from the page “We are All Khaled Saeed” to demonstrate on the Police Day to protest against the violence practiced against the Egyptian citizens by protecting the corrupt regime by all the illegal means, punishable by law.

The Egyptians responded to the call and continued to sit in Tahrir Square at night until they were attacked by the police that evacuated the ground with excessive force. That day was covered completely by the new media. The protests continued, especially in the coastal province of Suez, which have been documented for more than one killing of citizens by the police through the new media tools. Until the day of Friday, January 28, called the Rage Friday, the day in which the Egyptian government cut off the internet services and communications in Egypt and Egypt became isolated from the world. Nevertheless, the Egyptians continued their Revolution and its documentation and trying to send text messages or audio or images and video clips in all ways possible under those circumstances. For four full days, Egypt was isolated from the world.

The official traditional and non-traditional media practiced during that period all forms of deception to the Egyptian people and hid a lot of crimes committed by the former regime against its citizens from killing to beating them and tarnishing their image before the public opinion.

But the Egyptians withstood, armed with the peaceful character of their Revolution, with their digital media and tools to inform the whole world about the truth of the events. And the new media won again.



1 Mohamed Omran is a Researcher in the freedom of expression and thought and new media field and is the Regional Program Coordinator of Friedrich Naumann Foundation Regional Office in Cairo.