Cronkite Fellow Mona Abdel Alim gave an incredibly insightful presentation in this past week’s Cronkite Global Conversation about the sparks that helped ignite the Egyptian revolution. In the presentation she focused on two important individuals: Mohamed Bouazizi and Khaled Said. Both men ultimately became symbols of the revolution in their respective ways.
Bouazizi, a street vendor in Tunisia, was harassed by municipal authorities for selling fruit and vegetables without a license. In protest, he set himself on fire, an act that would inspire major demonstrations in the country over the next days against the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (the Tunisian dictator).
Khaled Said, a 28-year-old Egyptian, was beaten to death by police. His spirit was kept alive in a facebook group titiled “We are all Khaled Said” that quickly became a rallying point for the Egyptian uprising.
While the contributions of Said and Mouazizi to the spirit of revolution cannot be understated, after reading about the impact of social media to the Egyptian uprising, I found two other men whose contributions are as noteworthy: Ujjwal Singh and Wael Ghonim. While these two names may not be familiar, their contributions to social media helped spread the message of revolution and keep the world informed of what was happening in the country.
Ghonim, a 30 year old Google product and marketing manager in Dubai at the time of Said’s death, created the Facebook page “We are all Khaled Said” which eventually attracted more than 500,000 followers. It is known to be the spark that led to the initial protests in Egypt. Ghonim himself was detained by authorities for more than a week.
Ujjwal Singh, working for a startup recently acquired by Google at the start of the Egpytian uprisings, created the program Speak2Tweet. The service allowed protestors to call in voicemail messages that would be linked to twitter posts. When Mubarak cut the internet services in the country and hampered the use of Twitter and Facebook by organizers, Speak2Tweet became a platform for communication. In a span of only a couple of weeks, the service had recorded some 2,900 tweets (although it is hard to determine how many actually came from Egypt) according to an Associated Press story (linked above).
Both men helped foster the sense of revolution through their use of social media both as a rallying cry and an organizational tool. It showed how powerful these mediums can actually be when combined with an already present sense of unrest and spirit.