The January 25th revolution in Egypt was an incredible achievement by its people and a truly inspiring example of the power of peaceful protest. Yet the work towards an effective transition to democratic government within Egypt has just begun. Meanwhile a debate continues to rage in the blogosphere as to the exact role played by social media.
It’s hard to know how much weight to assign to the Internet and its social media tools–Facebook and Twitter–in recent uprisings. But some people get worried that everyone is getting carred away. And they decide to bring us all back down to earth. “It’s not that simple!” they cry. #The name I am giving to these cries is Twitter Can’t Topple Dictators, a genre that is starting to get a swelled head about itself.
Thousands of Tweets, photos, videos, and posts about Egypt's transformation are in danger of falling into obscurity. The online life of the revolution is in danger of slipping away from easy retrieval. It's being buried under the avalanche of always-new events. But a few people are trying to preserve what happened.
Warmest congratulations to the Egyptian people, whose truly grassroots revolution has reminded the world what political action is supposed to look like. Although the work is far from done, and reconstituting a government by the people and for the people is perhaps the more difficult phase, it is right that they, and the world, should take a moment to reflect on a job well done.
Some are using that moment to praise the social media tools used by some of the protesters, and the role the internet played in fueling the revolution. While it's plain that these things were part of the process, I think the mindset of the online world creates a risk of overstating their importance, and elevating something useful, even powerful, to the status of essential. The people of Egypt made use of what means they had available, just as every oppressed people has in history.
Twitter and Facebook are indeed useful tools, but they are not tools of revolution — at least, no more than Paul Revere's horse was. People are the tools of revolution, whether their dissent is spread by whisper, by letter, by Facebook, or by some means we haven't yet imagined. What we, and the Egyptians, should justly be proud of, is not just those qualities which set Egypt's revolution apart from the last hundred, but those which are fundamental to all of them. (so now TechCrunch has jumped on the "hey, Twitter and Facebook didn't overthrow Mubarak" bandwagon: http://is.gd/OQmnsw)