Monday, 14 February 2011
The Revolution Will Be Televised
I’ve spent the last few weeks dropping in and out of Al-Jazeera’s live streaming news of the Egyptian revolution. Quite amazing footage has flashed across my computer screen of this exciting and moving event, which shows the irresistible force of people power, when the masses unite in solidarity and even the most brutally entrenched governments can be toppled. Great credit goes to the demonstrators, for their bravery, determination and largely peaceful behaviour throughout the eighteen days of passionate struggle.
One of the most interesting aspects of this revolution and the preceding one in Tunisia, has been not only the older media coverage of events, but the widespread use of new media to connect and spread the protests. Blogs, Facebook and Twitter have been used by activists to impressive effect, and the authorities were so afraid of this tactic, that they tried, unsuccessfully, to close down access to
the internet, and we now see why.
Egyptian protesters got around this government tactic, by using old dial up connections and using proxy servers, and so stayed one step ahead of the authorities. That at the forefront of the revolution, it was the young people, who never having known any other government than Mubarak’s, but were crucially encouraged by, and were savvy enough to know the possibilities of new media, helped immeasurably the eventual magnificent success of the people.
They will need to be watchful of the interim military government, and may need to bring people onto the streets again in huge numbers, just to keep the generals honest in their stated intentions to move quickly to a democratic society, but I think they are aware of this, and again new media will play its part in that mobilisation.
What lessons does all of this teach us about protest in the UK then? Well, of course it is already happening. It is doubtful whether we would have found out the truth about the police’s involvement in the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests in London in 2009, without the intervention of ‘citizen journalism’ footage of the events leading up to his death.
The website Indymedia, is a hub for activists who are organising direct action protests, and social networking sites, blogs and email lists are widely used in communicating information to and in between activists. I have also heard of plans to make laptops mini portable internet hubs, so information can be communicated amongst demonstrators, even when the authorities close down the regular internet and mobile phone provision in areas where protests are taking place. Tactics are changing too, with smaller ‘flash mobs’ appearing suddenly, and taking the police by surprise, like the UK Uncut protests over corporate tax evasion. And climate activists often operate in a semi- autonomous, horizontal network, that is difficult to monitor and contain.
Internationally, the Wikileaks ‘hactivists’ who closed down corporate websites for hours, and obtained secret information on the true thinking behind our politician’s actions, have changed investigative journalism forever.
The establishment in the UK has much to worry about now, and we can follow up the student demonstrations of last year about tuition fees, by staging even bigger, though more nimble at the same time, protests about the public spending cuts, beginning with the TUC march on the 26th March this year. Look at what the Egyptian people have achieved, the ConDem government should be easy to topple.