National Press Club

Social media played critical role in Egypt's revolution, NPC panel says

March 2, 2011

Riz Khan, host of “The Riz Khan Show” on Al Jazeera, prior to the ICFJ-NPC panel discussion on “Covering Egypt: the Media and the Revolution” at the National Press Club on February 28, 2011.

Riz Khan, host of “The Riz Khan Show” on Al Jazeera, prior to the ICFJ-NPC panel discussion on “Covering Egypt: the Media and the Revolution” at the National Press Club on February 28, 2011.

Photo/Image: Rodrigo A.-Valderrama

A panel of international journalists analyzed the role of digital media in the Egyptian Uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak's government at the National Press Club, Feb. 28, 2011.
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Egypt's plugged in, vibrant youth helped rally the protestors that lead to the eventual ouster of dictator Hosni Mubarak, a panel of experts said Monday at a National Press Club event sponsored by the club's International Correspondents Committee in partnership with the International Center for Journalists.

"There are 60 million Arabic-speaking Internet users in the region, and Internet use is growing," said Jeffrey Ghannam, an independent media consultant, veteran journalist and author of the new Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) report on social media in the Arab world.

Egypt's "vibrant civil society brought the transition through Facebook and Twitter," Ghannam said. He paid most tribute to the young Egyptians who rallied the masses.

"Fifty per cent of the young population is very tech-savvy," Ghannam said. "There are 40,000 active blogs in the Arab region."

While agreeing on the role young Egyptians played, Natasha Tynes, director of Middle East programs at ICFJ and a former reporter and editor for Al Jazeera, the Jordan Times and Arabia Onoline, emphasized that "credit belongs to the (social media) tools."

Keynote speaker Riz Khan, host of Al Jazeera English's "Riz Khan Show," said the "world of social media is changing and the networks are trying to keep up with the acceleration of information with the demonstrations ..."

Khan, a former BBC and CNN journalist, also cited the important role of media from "Egyptian bloggers to the Washington Post and to the Huffington Post" in the events that began in Tunisia, spread to Egypt and are now continuing throughout the Arab world.

"Even if a government shuts down social media there is a way of getting information out," Khan said. "Twitter is an essential tool but only one of many."

At the start of the demonstration's in Cairo's Tahrir Square, Mubarak shut down Al Jazeera, but Al Jazeera English continued to broadcast.

An audience member questioned whether Wikileaks played a part in the recent events. Khan expressed doubt considering its disclosures related mostly to U.S. foreign policy. He also questioned whether foreign policy documents should be leaked by any source, given the potential dangers. Tynes said one test is whether publication would be a public service and whether it would endanger lives.

Mona Eltahawy, an award-winning columnist on Arab issues and ICFJ trainer, said the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia "show Arabs are not just passive people." She also noted Christians as well as Muslims were part of the Egyptian revolution. "Ten per cent to 12 per cent of Egyptians are Christians," she said, but people tend to forget that. "The demonstrations brought Christians and Muslims together," she said.

-- Robert Webb, rewebb@aol.com