Egyptians are close to creating history as their Facebook-fuelled digital age revolution looks formidable for now and well on course to replacing a 30-year regime.
The Facebook group called ‘the April 6 Movement’ has been the catalyst of the current political upheaval shaking up the government of Hosni Mubarak. Formed around three years ago, the loosely organized social network forum had never foreseen for itself back then a role as vehement as it holds currently.
One of its unofficial founders had said recently that he was not optimistic that Egyptians will rise in revolt in huge numbers as seen in Tunisia. But the seed of popular resistance germinated by the youth of the country has now grown strong enough to change a nation's history.
Following are some key facts about the April 6 Movement:
The movement was started by young activists Ahmed Maher and Ahmed Salah in order to mobilize support for striking industrial workers El-Mahalla El-Kubra. They wanted to organize people to supoprt the cause of the workers, who were planning a strike April 6, 2008.
Activists called on participants to wear black and stay home the day of the strike. Bloggers and citizen journalists used Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, blogs and other new media tools to report on the strike, alert their networks about police activity, organize legal protection and draw attention to their efforts, says Wikipedia.
A New York Times article in 2009, which is one of the most detailed accounts of the influence of the social networking site Facebook on young Egyptians, says Facebook ranked third in Egypt in terms of online visits, after Google and Yahoo.
About one in nine Egyptians has Internet access, and around 9 percent of that group are on Facebook — a total of almost 800,000 members.
And the reasons why people turn to social sites to vent their anger as well as organize protests:
An estimated 18,000 Egyptians are imprisoned under the law, which allows the police to arrest people without charges, allows the government to ban political organizations and makes it illegal for more than five people to gather without a license from the government. Newspapers are monitored by the Ministry of Information and generally refrain from directly criticizing Mubarak. And so for young people in Egypt, Facebook, which allows users to speak freely to one another and encourages them to form groups, is irresistible as a platform not only for social interaction but also for dissent, says the NYT.
Being the first youth movement in Egypt to use internet-based modes of communication like Facebook and Twitter, we aim to promote democracy by encouraging public involvement in the political process, Maher told Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in an interview.
He calls the movement a youth coalition and says they will support national icons like Mohammed ElBaradei and support the cause of the National Association for Change which is fighting for political reform. The movement says it is not a political party and that it will not contest elections.
The government arrested Maher in May 2008 as it wanted to scupper the movement. He was arrested again in July that year and charged with incitement against the regime.
The other founder, Ahmed Salah, was arrested last week after the uprising began. Susannah Vila writes about his arrest in her blog in movements.org.: Salah (left) was sought out by state security, surrounded by roughly 10 special forces in riot gear, and thrown in a car separate from the blue vans police have been tossing other demonstrators in. This was not your average arrest.