Tweeting Tahrir

By Hanan Solayman

Birds of a feather flock together, they say. On Twitter, young revolutionaries in Egypt lived together on the #Tahrir hashtag during an 18-day revolution that ended with the toppling of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year regime.

Social media played a massive role in mobilising people for the revolution, no question. Yet Egypt’s revolution was never only about Twitter, Facebook – or even Wikileaks, as Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder, later claimed. These were just tools that served the common cause: tahrir (or in English, liberation).

Mubarak’s regime realised the important role social media and the Internet in general could play in mobilising people for the revolution, and so decided on the night of 28th January to cut off Internet access and disconnect a whole country from the online map.

Now, as Egypt lives a tough transition, many “tweeps” – people with a mutual following on Twitter – are using this huge network to raise awareness and spread the spirit of Tahrir through different initiatives.

Alaa Abd el-Fattah, for example, recently launched #tweetnadwa for public debates and discussions that gather tweeps in a specific place. Volunteers take on the mission of setting the place, tweeting about the event and summarising the discussions, as well as setting up video cameras that transmit a live stream of the event to their Twitter community.

“Birds Discussions,” as @alaa calls it, have huge turnouts. Equivalent to the Twitter limit of 140 characters, the Twitter podium leaves only 140 seconds for each speaker to express his opinion in the topic discussed.

The economy and social justice, and the decade-long roots of the revolution are just some examples of topics discussed in Tweet-up Nadwas (or Tweet symposiums).

Organisers may belong to the socialist or communist school of thought, but their political views don’t mean they exclude people who have different views. Islamists? You’ll find them there.

It’s the Tahrir spirit that gathers purely passionate youngsters who dream of a better future for their re-born Egypt and tweet about it.

Another group of tweeps are creating a space for bloggers, artists and activists. Hussein el-Said writes about how in “Autumn 1995, [in] Berlin, 17 people founded ‘C-base,’ a creative space which started as a technology hub. It grew into the biggest creative space/hacker space in the world.” The purpose of this association, which grew to about 300 members, was to increase knowledge and skills pertaining to computer software, hardware and data networks.

Hussein wants to have Egypt’s own “C-base” in downtown Cairo. The post-25 January Egypt, for Hussein, needs a social movement and change that can only come from organised action through social networking. The base will be a self-sustaining hub open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for creative, passion-filled people who are trying to improve their community. It’s an “open source” podium, a place where communication and collaboration are encouraged and helped by others in an organised fashion to develop different projects, whether political, social or technological.

Fifty people at least are needed to contribute to the monthly rent of a place in the not very cheap downtown area of Cairo. The idea is to divide the rent among the “C-basers.” 41 people have already committed to the project.

So, who else is in for Egypt’s C-base?

Hanan Solayman is a freelance journalist in Cairo, Egypt.

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