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My interview by Movements.org

Revolution Part Two: Why One Egyptian Activist is Celebrating


Egypt | July 17, 2011 by Amy Hamblin Posted in Middle East and North Africa, Technology and Social Movements, Platforms and Human Rights, Civil Resistance Tactics | Share
Revolution Part Two: Why One Egyptian Activist is Celebrating


This is part of a series profiling lesser known youth activists who have played roles in the Arab spring.


The sit-in continues in Tahrir Square, and 26, Ahmad Hegab, for one, has high expectations. We caught up with Ahmad in a cafe a few blocks from Tahrir Square and asked him why, despite the growing force and power of the ruling military council, his grin was so big.


"I feel the spirit of the 18 days!" He told us. "Some of the people I saw out on the square were not people who were there in the 18 days. They're the families of the martyrs, and now they have incentive to come out. The government used everything in the 18 days to get people to leave the square and now people are ready for anything...every day more and more people are joining the revolution, I saw some people from 1000 kilometers from Cairo to sit in." Ahmad optimism makes sense if you put it in context - he began blogging back in 2003, when he guesses that there were only 20-30 bloggers in the whole country.


Since then, the network of online activists within Egypt and around the world that he's cultivated has become an essential support network. He's spent the last 6 months in Tahrir getting to know them, and other collaborators. In the epicenter of the Egyptian revolution he met face-to-face many of the people he only had known online. Existing activist networks were greatly expanded during the revolution and existing ties between online activists such as Ahmad were strengthened by their offline interaction.


His blog and presence on Facebook has connected him with other activists that would have been more difficult to identify otherwise. This online community passed around important information, and protected and supported each other - as he puts it, he lives two separate lives: one populated by friends from his normal offline life and one populated by his online activist friends. While his friends from his neighborhood and college often didn’t support or understand his activism - he relied on his online community of friends to understand and assist.


We knew that a difference remained between youth activists' online and offline worlds, but were surprised to discover how online networks had essentially created an entirely new socal system for Ahmad - one that pushed forward his involvement in activism. Most of his 900 friends on Facebook are people he’s never met but they read his blog and wanted to stay in touch. Facebook is yet another channel for him to keep people informed and encourage them to act.


He has held two trainings on how to create and maintain a blog as a platform to spread awareness about social and political causes. Ten blogs were created by participants of his sessions.


Even before the revolution, Ahmad blogged under this real name and encourages others to do so despite the risk of publically voicing dissent under repressive regimes. It is in fact that boldness of blogging with a real name and the risk associated with it that increases the power of the anti-regime message and can lead to a snowball effect, where more and more people feel inspired to voice their dissent, knowing that they are not alone. Anonymous blogging, on the other hand, can more easily be written off by the regime as manufactured. For him, it's the most important lesson from the Egyptian experience that could be of use to others.


As Ahmad sees it, his role as a blogger is to help build a permanent constituency actively monitoring and taking action against human rights abuses.


“When we have more bloggers, we will have more people who know their rights,” he said.


Before January 25, Ahmad estimates that 50 people viewed his blog each day. Now more than 1,000 do. The demographics of his readers has also shifted, with the number of readers in the US surpassing the number in Egypt.


When the internet was cut and cell phone credit was impossible to find during the revolution, Ahmad said the circumstances only inspired more ingenuity. Fax was used to get information out of the country during the internet blackout and residents around Tahrir opened up their wireless networks for people to use as phone lines.


Through interaction with other online activists, Ahmad and other protestors learned useful tips for civil resistance, such as splashing Coca-Cola on your face to mitigate the sting of tear gas. Now he's hoping to teach others -- through both online and offline interaction -- about the lessons learned from the Egyptian revolution.


A few observers continue to argue that online activism can't quite create the "strong ties" necessary for powerful organizing. Ahmad is one example that disproves this thesis. Indeed, if it weren't for the online space he never would have met the collaborators that are now completely necessary networks of support and inspiration as he continues the fight in Tahrir Square.


Check out his blog and follow him on Twitter at @AhHegab.
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