Egypt After Mubarak: Facebook and the Next Steps

Well, maybe Hosni Mubarak read my blog post early Friday a.m. and figured it was time to go after all. Unlikely. But who knows? And it appears that I have about as much inside skinny as to what is happening in Egypt as Mr. CIA Leon Panetta. We’re both getting our intel from CNN and Fox News.

Go figure.

And what happens next — with the answer to that question having huge implications not just for those in the Middle East but for all of us. Here’s Tom Friedman opining in Sunday’s NYT, “They Did It“:

But here’s the big question in Egypt now: Can this youth-led democracy movement take the power and energy it developed in Tahrir Square, which was all focused on one goal — getting rid of Hosni Mubarak — and turn it into a sustainable transition to democracy, with a new constitution, multiple political parties and a free presidential election in a timely fashion? Here, the movement’s strength — the fact that it represented every political strain, every segment and class in Egyptian society — is also its weakness. It still has no accepted political platform or leadership.

“It is essential that the democracy movement now form its own leadership and lay down its own vision and priorities which it can hold the government to. Otherwise, all this effort can be lost,” cautioned Rachid Mohamed Rachid, the liberal former minister of trade and industry, who declined to continue serving in Mubarak’s cabinet before the revolt happened. “They have to have a vision of what Egyptian education should be, about agriculture policy and human rights. Getting rid of Mubarak was not the only hope. That ultimate goal is to have a new Egypt.”

We’ll see.

In the meantime, of all the commentaries by pundits looking at what will, could or might happen next in Egypt, here’s one — “The Next Step for Egypt’s Opposition” — that adds some perspective and context. It’s an NYT op-ed by Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who will, could or might end up at the top of a new government in Egypt.

ElBaradei writes:

WHEN I was a young man in Cairo, we voiced our political views in whispers, if at all, and only to friends we could trust. We lived in an atmosphere of fear and repression. As far back as I can remember, I felt outrage as I witnessed the misery of Egyptians struggling to put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads and get medical care. I saw firsthand how poverty and repression can destroy values and crush dignity, self-worth and hope.

Half a century later, the freedoms of the Egyptian people remain largely denied. Egypt, the land of the Library of Alexandria, of a culture that contributed groundbreaking advances in mathematics, medicine and science, has fallen far behind. More than 40 percent of our people live on less than $2 per day. Nearly 30 percent are illiterate, and Egypt is on the list of failed states.

Under the three decades of Hosni Mubarak’s rule, Egyptian society has lived under a draconian “emergency law” that strips people of their most basic rights, including freedom of association and of assembly, and has imprisoned tens of thousands of political dissidents. While this Orwellian regime has been valued by some of Egypt’s Western allies as “stable,” providing, among other assets, a convenient location for rendition, it has been in reality a ticking bomb and a vehicle for radicalism.

And:

But one aspect of Egyptian society has changed in recent years. Young Egyptians, gazing through the windows of the Internet, have gained a keener sense than many of their elders of the freedoms and opportunities they lack. They have found in social media a way to interact and share ideas, bypassing, in virtual space, the restrictions placed on physical freedom of assembly.

The world has witnessed their courage and determination in recent weeks, but democracy is not a cause that first occurred to them on Jan. 25. Propelled by a passionate belief in democratic ideals and the yearning for a better future, they have long been mobilizing and laying the groundwork for change that they view as inevitable.

The tipping point came with the Tunisian revolution, which sent a powerful psychological message: “Yes, we can.” These young leaders are the future of Egypt. They are too intelligent, too aware of what is at stake, too weary of promises long unfulfilled, to settle for anything less than the departure of the old regime. I am humbled by their bravery and resolve.

Many, particularly in the West, have bought the Mubarak regime’s fiction that a democratic Egypt will turn into chaos or a religious state, abrogate the fragile peace with Israel and become hostile to the West. But the people of Egypt — the grandmothers in veils who have dared to share Tahrir Square with army tanks, the jubilant young people who have risked their lives for their first taste of these new freedoms — are not so easily fooled.

The United States and its allies have spent the better part of the last decade, at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars and countless lives, fighting wars to establish democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now that the youth of Cairo, armed with nothing but Facebook and the power of their convictions, have drawn millions into the street to demand a true Egyptian democracy, it would be absurd to continue to tacitly endorse the rule of a regime that has lost its own people’s trust.

Hmm. “Armed with nothing but Facebook and the power of their convictions…”

Wonder if Muammar el-Qaddafi has a Facebook page?

Jusk askin’.

Update

After I posted this Sunday, I came across two posts that provide substantial perspective and context on the link and importance — or not — of Facebook, Twitter, social media in general in events in Egypt and elsewhere.

The first is by Jeff Jarvis on The Huffington Post, “Gutenberg of Arabia.”

That led me to Jay Rosen’s PressThink, “The ‘Twitter Can’t Topple Dictators’ Article.”

 

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