Revolution in Egypt was not caused by Facebook and Twitter:
Most social and unseasoned political commentators across the world opine that the revolution that happened in Egypt was caused by social network sites, Twitter and Facebook or any other form of network which Egyptians might have used to communicate with each. This misdiagnoses of what are the real causes of the revolution do not only apply to social and unseasoned political commentators, but was oddly believed by the Egyptian government which shut down the network immediately after the revolution begun.
Even after the closure of twitter and facebook access, the revolution/protests in Egypt intensified and succeeded in achieving its most immediate and tangible victory, i.e. toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s kleptocratic regime.
History and well reasoned progressive social science have proven overtime that fundamental change in political, social and economic realities (revolutions) are far much more complex realities than exchange of text messages and updating of status via twitter and facebook. For any revolution to happen, there necessarily should be conducive social, political and economic conditions for such revolutions to occur. These include, but not limited to a society where there is illegitimate dominance of one political elite or clique to the exclusion of others. Other conditions for a revolution are socio-economic conditions of mass poverty, unemployment and starvation of great majority and inequalities between the rich and poor. The third material condition for a revolution could be massive social problem of racism, tribalism, regionalism or any form of social exclusion based on class, colour, ethnicity, place of origin, religion, etc.
In Egypt, the past 30 years have been dominated by single secular political elite (National Democratic Party under Hosni Mubarak) which succeeded through exclusion of other political forces in a country whose 90% of the population is Muslim. For those 30 years, the NDP and political elite in Egypt enjoyed political, military and economic protection of the Western forces, in particular the United States and some parts of Europe. They were then able to suppress political dissent for those years, because they used the cohesive forces of the State to suppress dissent and paraded as a developing economy because of the West’s economic interests in Egypt and therefore economic protection. The Egyptian government even banned a massive political force, the Muslim Brotherhood for many years and justified such by playing with the West’s innate fear of Islam inspired political movements, which they generally believe are terrorist in character.
Now the real material conditions for the Egyptian revolution included but not limited to the growing impatience with political repression by the political elite, kleptocracy (government of thieves) of a political elite that did not want to hand over power to others except themselves and close family members, suppression of political movements which represented the interests of majority, massive inequalities, growing poverty and many other varied interests. Now the confluence of these genuine concerns, challenges and problems in Egypt provided ready material conditions for the political revolution to occur. Like the Iranian revolution in 1979, the revolution was sparked and happened without a commonly defined political or ideological programme on what should concretely happen after the revolution. Such a common programme will not be found anytime soon, and could easily result in an Islam guided, anti-West political force emerging as government.
The spark to the Egyptian revolution was conspicuously the successful protests in Tunisia, which inspired hope, particularly within Egypt’s youth, who realised that with the necessary determination, illegitimate, kleptocratic political elite can be toppled by the people. Now, because the means of communication in the contemporary world include twitter and facebook, the youth who have access to these social networks used them to spread the word that it is possible to topple a regime and all Egyptians should rise to remove the regime of Hosni Mubarak. Twitter and facebook were definitely not the only channel of communications used to spread the word in Egypt; many other channels of communication were employed. These included local media, but most importantly word of mouth. This explains why the revolution/protests continued and actually intensified even after the Egyptian government had blocked access to these social networks, and other forms of media which could spread the work faster than the word of mouth.
As channels of communication, the social network sites were most definitely useful to spread the word because an estimated 55 million out of the 80 million Egyptians have access to mobile telephones and 20 million have access to internet. These were however not the reason why the revolution happened, the reason as illustrated above includes but not limited to the reality of repression of political dissent, social exclusion/non-recognition of religious majority, massive inequalities and growing unemployment (which are relatively lower compared to other countries), and a the kleptocracy of the illegitimate political elite that did not want to hand over power to anyone outside its circles.
Now this is an important observation because social and unseasoned political commentators and some of the political leaders were beginning to believe that just the access to twitter and facebook can lead to a revolution, even when material conditions are not ripened. For example, the causes of a mass political revolution in South African will never be twitter and facebook, but the socio-economic conditions of the people and a growing perception/observation that the political leadership is doing nothing to improve the lives of the people. Now, the ANC government is doing everything in its power to better the living conditions of the people through provision of basic services such as water, electricity, education, healthcare, sanitation, houses and social grants for the needy. Year after year, government provides more and more services, including food for free to indigents.
An acknowledgment is however made within the ANC that South Africa’s biggest challenge is not service provision, but crisis levels of unemployment and therefore poverty. Now the emphasis on job creation is vital and should be adequately accompanied by dedication of most resources to job creation. This should necessarily include government’s increased role in the control and ownership of strategic sectors of the economy in order to stimulate and spur growth and development of labour-absorptive sectors of the economy and regenerate wealth for the benefit of all people. State ownership of strategic sectors will also contribute to reducing the widening gap between the rich and the poor, because majority of those who are getting exponentially rich currently are those who do work which would otherwise be done in a labour-absorptive manner by the State.
Nyiko Floyd Shivambu—ANC Youth League Spokesperson