I thought it would happen when he died, but the fool outlived himself.
About five years ago, I spent a week in Egypt. Of all the countries that I’ve been to, it was without a doubt the most unhappy and tense. In the streets you could feel the pressure building, but Hosni Mubarak had been in power for so long that it seemed unthinkable that it would boil over until his ineffectual son took over.
Before I actually experienced Egypt, I had always thought of it as an island of moderation in a Middle East overrun by extremists. My time there taught me otherwise. Some examples:
– While we (Mrs. D.S.C. and I) were sitting at a bus station waiting for our ride, we struck up a conversation with a guy next to us, a Coptic Christian who was visiting his parents from Moscow, where he’d gone to find work. After a few minutes, a policeman came and spoke to him sharply in Egyptian. “If he comes back again,” the man asked after the cop left, “please say we’re old friends. He doesn’t like me talking to you and I’ll get detained.”
– One night as we checked into our hostel, an Egyptian guest with a weird vibe found out we were American and said he wanted to talk to us. When we spoke the next morning, it turned out that he was in hiding, having been forced to flee his family and town because he converted from Islam to Christianity. He had gotten “married” to an older Christian woman in Michigan and wanted to get to her. He had to stay underground, because if the authorities found him, he’d be put in jail… other people we checked out the story with (including the Coptic Christian) suggested an “accidental” death was more likely. We didn’t have the heart to tell him that there was no way a single male “Muslim” was getting a visa to the U.S. (and that risking your life to switch from one fairy-tale religion to another was beyond us).
– As we were riding to the Cairo airport to leave, we struck up a conversation with an Egyptian airline employee. Along the way, we passed a small protest that seemed like it was for an opposition candidate. When I asked him what was going on, he quickly said he didn’t know and looked away. He was nervous that I even asked the question.
Which illustrates the problem with revolution and dissent, especially in countries with autocratic leadership. Even when most people wanted change, or at least were unhappy with the current situation, it was an impossible risk to take action. Even speaking to your friends could lead to the wrong person overhearing your plans, which could lead to severe consequences.
There are obviously many negative or annoying consequences to the anonymity of the Internet. But as the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt (and the preemptive actions in Yemen and Jordan) show, there are some significant benefits as well. The difficulty with planning a revolution is reaching the critical mass where the number of people on the side of change outnumbers the strength of the establishment in arms and organization. In the past, it almost always meant an armed conflict, where a small band of rebels won the country over by battling for control bit by bit (see: the U.S., China, Cuba, etc.)
Now, thanks to the Internet and most notably Facebook, people are able to organize shows of strength without chancing their lives just by thinking about it and without needing to raise an army. Not to say there aren’t dangers… over 150 people have died in Egypt, for example. But now, revolutions can occur without anyone risking too much until the moment of demonstration… you can also reach a large number of like-minded people with ease, people that you’ll never even meet in real life, and make sure that you’re not standing in the middle of a square with a sign and your dick in your hand.
In a few weeks, a movie will probably win Best Picture that focuses on the fortunes of the founders of Facebook. And people in stable countries will send each other videos of cats sneezing and worry about their kids meeting rapists on Facebook. But the lasting legacy may be that Facebook is the most important revolutionary tool since the advent of the radio.