The Arab Spring of 2011 was hugely effected by the use of social media. Facebook and Twitter were both influential in helping people to become aware of human-rights conditions in Middle Eastern countries like Egypt and Tunisia and motivated large numbers of citizens to protest brutal conditions in those countries. Social media has certainly been a major vehicle in the dissemination of information promoting social justice and change in social policy. But can a hashtag alone produce permanent change in the world?
According to a recent article in the Washington Post, after the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011:
In July 2013, Egypt's powerful military overthrew the unpopular President Morsi and outlawed his Muslim Brotherhood, branding the decades-old Islamist movement a terrorist organization.
The following year, the chief of the armed forces, Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, was elected president and has overseen the harshest crackdown on dissents since the republic was established by Gamal Abdel Nasser following the 1952 revolution that ended Egypt's monarchy.
Now, thousands of Islamists and scores of secular activists are languishing in jails, more than at any period during Mubarak's reign. Some have been shot dead in the streets. Freedoms have been curbed, and the police are increasingly accused of torture, forced disappearances and arbitrary arrests.
The crackdowns have helped fuel an escalating war against Islamist insurgents based in the Sinai Peninsula that has killed hundreds of soldiers and policemen. The Sissi rule has also seen the rise of an Islamic State affiliate that asserted responsibility for the bombing of a Russian airliner that killed 224 people last year.
So were the protests by the activists with iPhones in Cairo's Tahrir Square all for nothing? No, the regime has been changed. But the question that is fair to raise is if there has been any change with regard to human rights in Egypt. If democratic change in possible in Egypt and in other areas of the Arab world, it will require the hard work of activists who can galvanize political support within their countries. This will require more of a long- term strategy. According to the Congressional Research Service:
P.L. 114-113, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, provides a total of $1,456.3 billion in military and economic aid to Egypt. For FY2017, the President has requested that Congress appropriate $1.3 billion in military assistance for Egypt. The President also is asking Congress to provide $150 million in economic aid.
Critical scrutiny is needed to determine if this aid to Egypt is even appropriate at this time. Supporters of the Arab Spring, including activists in the United States, wanted to see a more open policy of support within the Arab World. Instead, five years later, there appears to be even more intense political repression and persecution of secularists and others who disagree with the current Egyptian government.
Social media certainly can share a lot of information to millions of people, but the technology, in and of itself, will not bring about true political change. People who are concerned about what is happening in Egypt, in other areas of the Middle East and in the United States will need to mobilize, write letters to congressional leaders and consider protesting corporations who are profiting from current oppressive polices in Egypt and elsewhere.
May it be so.