Egypt: The internet and political change

Perhaps like everyone, I have been riveted the last ten days by the stories coming out of Tunisia, then Egypt, and now Syria, Jordan and almost all other parts of the Arab world. And, like others, I have been eager to find more in-depth reporting than I can get from American newspapers. Although the reports in the New York Times have been extensive, and the related coverage on the Times web site, including some excellent opinion pieces on Room for Debate, have been informative and stimulating, I turned to Al Jazeera English for 24-hour coverage and some extraordinary analysis of the precedents for the revolution afoot.

One particular piece that I found extraordinary, not only because of its exploration of the role of social media in creating the foundation for change, but also because of the people whose brave stories are profiled is this video from "Witness", a regular feature on the Al Jazeera English web site.

Listening to the youth in this profile recount how they used the internet and other electronic means of  communication to spread the word about what has been happening in Egypt, I was reminded of some lines of Hannah Arendt's. "The holes of oblivion do not exist. Nothing human is that perfect, and there are simply too many people in the world to make oblivion possible. One man will always be alive to tell the story...[T]he lesson of such stories is simple and within everyone's grasp....[U]nder conditions of terror most people will comply, but some people will not, just as the lesson of the countries to which the Final Solution was proposed is that 'it could happen' in most places, but it did not happen everywhere." (Eichmann in Jerusalem, p. 233, emphasis in the original).

Of course Arendt was referring to the importance of stories of resistance during the Holocaust. But, as the stories in the video demonstrate, circulating the reality of what is happening under conditions of oppression in authoritarian regimes by whatever means available is critical. The circulation of these stories to those outside such a regime--those 'many people in the world' who can make oblivion impossible--is the very essence of political resistance and keeps alive the idea that not everyone complies with oppression. And that is why the Egyptian government of Hosni Mubarak moved to close off that communication. Except the stories keep getting out. Even in the face of tremendous risk.