Monday, January 31, 2011

The strength of Social Media

These past few weeks have seen social unrest at a level we haven't witnessed for many years.  What started in Tunisia has spread to Egypt.  President Zine El Albidine Ben Ali and his family have already fled Tunisia but President Mubarak is refusing to leave Egypt and has sent in the troops to quash the uprising.

Friday was a real pressure point in Egypt - the so called "Day of Rage".  Over 100,000 people were reported to be on the streets of Cairo and clashes with police and the military left many dead or wounded on both sides.  By the weekend, fighter jets were circling Cairo, often passing so close to the protesters that the noise set off the alarms in parked cars.  Regardless of the immediate outcome, the genie is out of the bottle and will not be easily stuffed back.

The most interesting thing for me, watching this all develop from the safety of  Atlantic Canada,  is the use of social media to organize these rallies.  Over 90,000 people answered the call to go to the streets in Tunis, all organized on Facebook.  In Egypt, in spite of Government attempts to control it, Twitter, Facebook and personal blogs helped the news media get the message to Egyptians and the world.  It was truly a revolt of the commoner, fed up with the corruption that has been identified with the long standing regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.

There are nearly 80 million people in Egypt and most live below the UN poverty line of $2 per day.  They're fed up with living with little hope for a better future while their leaders and their cronies live in luxury.  These last few weeks have shown them that there is strength in numbers.  My only concern is that there needs to be a leader.  Someone democratically elected to lead these countries to their full potential.  However, in the vacuum being created as we watch, who will come forward to do this?  I worry that what comes along might be worse.

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