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Communication key to Egypt’s uprising

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It’s been a few days now since the fall of Egypt’s last pharaoh. While the days ahead are definitely both paramount and uncertain, this has been an outstanding first step and one that many hope will propel Egypt into fair democratic rule.

A month ago, if you were to tell any Egyptian (or Tunisian) that their ruler was easily disposable, that person would have looked at you as if you were crazy. Dictators do that; they almost always seem to have an apparently overwhelming power that stifles and cripples any potential opposition.

The mere fact that this revolution occurred is especially interesting and surprising.

It’s absolutely vital for us to analyze this uprising and study how something like this could have been caused. Surely the rampant corruption and poverty had to do with it, but as bad as things seem now, the Egyptian economy has largely been stagnant for the past few decades. Most citizens of that great nation have been struggling for years.

So why now? What’s the catalyst for this sudden uprising?

I’ve been reading a lot of analysis on the events these past few days, but few words stuck with me more than what Wael Ghonim, the Middle-Eastern Google executive who created the Facebook group behind the initial protests, said: “If you want to liberate a government, give them the Internet.”

Now that’s just powerful. I remember getting goosebumps when I first read that. “If you want to liberate a government, give them the Internet.”

What Ghonim is talking about is not the Internet itself; he’s not referring specifically to the World Wide Web.

He’s talking about what the Internet promises and delivers, namely the uninterrupted free flow of information. We use the Internet every day, but much like our other comforts in life, we seldom sit back and really relish how free we really are because of it.

Our web is the only platform on earth that gives anyone — regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or beliefs — full freedom in utilizing and contributing back to the Internet. No one checks your ID or badge; there’s no security that you need to pass through. In many ways, the Internet is the world’s greatest democracy: anyone’s beliefs are allowed in, whether that’s a Holocaust denial group on Facebook or an ACLU channel on YouTube, and the people get to collectively vote for what ultimately becomes more popular.

It is no surprise that the Egyptians managed to muster up the courage and get a huge number of people out to the rallies through simple things like Facebook pages and Twitter streams. What’s even more beautiful about the whole thing is the awesome power of the web to bring people around the world together. Egypt has 80 million people; many more than that supported, helped, or followed the revolution online.

What the Internet does that’s even far more remarkable is that it tends to lift our labels, bringing down a lot of walls that we typically build in the real world to separate us. When you click a link, you don’t know who created it and frankly, you don’t even care. Your link is just as good as my link; ultimately what the people choose will trump all.

All these walls have come down on the Internet. Perhaps the greatest example of this has been the use of the associated technologies assisting the revolution. Few have questioned or even brought up the fact that the top three technologies the protestors used — Google, Facebook and Twitter — have been started by Jewish entrepreneurs. When the Internet was taken down in Egypt, engineers at Google and Twitter worked extra hours on the weekend to come up with a way to enable Egyptians to get their tweets out via other ways, like phone calls.

That wasn’t taken as a Western ploy or foreign interference; they were simply humans helping out their fellow humans. That’s the beauty of the Internet. When you think about it that way, no wonder it was the Internet that the Egyptian government first tried to get rid of.

In 1971, John Lennon imagined a world with no borders or countries, only filled with co-existing humans living in peace. We’re remarkably far from that in the real world and it’s still largely impossible to achieve. Yet, I think we’ve largely removed such vain labels from our web ecosystem. It’s not America’s Internet or Europe’s Internet; it’s the World Wide Web.

That’s an awesome power that we’ve yet to understand the true potential of, but today we’ve seen how it can unite us and cause true revolutions.

 

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