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Egyptians have won the right, for the first time in 7000 years, to democratically elect their president. From the outset of the revolution Egyptians took to social media to express their opinions, thoughts and concerns. Subsequent to the first round of the recent presidential elections, two candidates went head to head into the runoff which led to two polar opposites competing: Ahmed Shafik, the last Prime minster for the former regime and Mohamed Morsy a former Muslim Brotherhood member. The first candidate, perceived by some to be a “liberal” (albeit part of a former oppressive regime) and the latter formerly part of a religious party that was persecuted for several years under the former regime.
Public opinion was widely split; many Egyptians were not pleased with the candidates who qualified for the runoff, some boycotting the second round, however; millions still participated in voting and social media users became extremely active.
It’s important not to overstate the role of social media in the revolution. Social media is mainly used by the middle and higher classes who have access to the internet. From a population of an estimated 80 million, Facebook has 11 341 180 users in Egypt according to Socialbakers. So while the interactions are interesting to observe, I believe the heartbeat of the revolution still resides in Tahrir Square and many discussions do, naturally, take place offline.
Living in Egypt and having many Egyptians as “friends” on Facebook, I was able to observe these interactions and participate.
During the elections some people updated their profile pictures with their favourite candidate; others updated both their covers and profiles with images. Some, who decided to boycott the elections, opted to use pictures representative of the “martyrs” or images which represented people who had lost their lives as a consequence of the uprising and images representing their frustrations. Some people chose not to make any changes.
Users posted images with political messages defending their own candidates or criticising their opponents, adding their own commentary.
Opinions flooded the internet, with people updating and changing their statuses sparking angry, positive and supportive comments and likes in response. Freedom of speech is definitely apparent, and people are using their new found liberty on and offline.
Egyptians are renowned for their sense of humour: no matter the political situation or climate in the country, Egyptians will joke, and it’s a huge part of the culture. Many people posted images and jokes on their pages about the candidates. There were pages dedicated to humour, and it was apparent many were subscribing to these popular pages as people began to share the same jokes directly from the pages as well as via friends.
Facebook notes and blogs
Those who felt that a status/post would not suffice wrote Facebook notes and there are many popular activists who write their own regular blogs.
Many popular online Egyptian newspapers have Facebook pages and were updating their pages with regular statuses linked to articles throughout the day, sharing updates about activities in Tahrir Square, election results as they were revealed in real-time and the latest news.
Various popular hashtags were used in updates by users on Twitter. Hastags included #Egypt, #Shafik, #Morsy, #SCAF, #Tahrir.
Popular newspapers also tweeted headlines and shared links to their articles.
Recent Tweets I have found include:
#Egypt‘s new first lady and predecessor have both seen their husbands and sons detained in Egyptian prisons
#Egypt forget Morsi, forget Shafiq, it’s time to rebuild your country, enough time wasted
A lot of ex-Tantawi lovers don’t love Tantawi any more because they think he sold out Shafiq. #Egypt
Videos were shared on Facebook via YouTube showing speeches by the two presidential candidates; speakers advocating their candidates and again there were many humorous videos and songs to keep people entertained.
Before the results were announced, I noticed paid advertising for the presidential candidates which redirected to dedicated pages, promoting policies and agendas. It’s difficult to see if and how this could be monetised as a marketing opportunity. I guess that’s not really the essence of this post, but it’s interesting to observe how a minority of an emotional nation have expressed themselves via social mediums during such historical events.
Some Egyptians decided to deactivate their Facebook accounts during this period as the information overload coupled with the environment proved to be too much for them. Others have felt that to be part of this change they would need to join a political party offline.
Again, we should not overstate the role of social media, however, as a fortunate participant, it’s useful and interesting to see how the growing medium is being leveraged.