The Egyptian Blogosphere Before the Revolution
Between 2002 and 2006, before the age of Facebook and Twitter, bloggers were the main online activists and “citizen journalists” in Egypt. They led the independent media and pushed the limits of press freedom by:
- Breaking stories that would have otherwise been overlooked: Egyptian bloggers broke major stories on sexual harassment, election fraud (in 2005), police brutality, and the mistreatment of Sudanese refugees.
- Documenting stories with unique photographic and video evidence: the Egyptian bloggers were actually active on the ground. They organized events and demonstrations and used their cameras to cover events that the traditional media would not cover.
- Transmitting stories to a global audience: blogs, unlike facebook today, were mostly open to all viewers, with some blogs getting thousands of visitors daily, such as that of the famous blogger Wael Abbas “Al Wa’ii Al Masri” that was getting up to 30,000 hits a day.
- Speaking about topics that were “off limits” to the traditional Egyptian media: such as criticizing the regime or the military. By the end of 2004 movements, such as “Kifaya” started to gain following and were asking for change in the run-up to the 2005 elections. They held demonstrations that were not covered by the traditional media. Bloggers filled this gap by posting footage and photos of these events that often included police clashing with protesters.
- Bloggers collaborated with both citizens and the traditional media: for example, footage showing the torture of prisoners in police stations was given to the blogger Wael Abbas. This footage, that was only published online, was used as evidence in the court trial of a police officer, who was later sentenced for three years. In other cases traditional journalists used recordings and photos taken by bloggers without mentioning the source. This alliance between bloggers and traditional journalists created a new kind of journalism.
The Egyptian government’s response:
- As early as 2002 the Egyptian government was wary of bloggers and set up a special intelligence unit to survey blogs.
- In 2006, there was a big attack on bloggers during a protest that included mass arrests and up to 2 months of extra judicial imprisonment, after which a lot of the bloggers reduced their activities and some even left Egypt.
How Egyptian bloggers are adapting in the age of Facebook and Twitter:
- Today the bloggers of the last decade are adapting. For example, Wael Abbas says that he is using new platforms, such as the micro-blogging tool, Twitter to adapt to the times. He says, Twitter allows him to cover an event in real-time by linking it to his mobile phone’s camera.
- Hence, the bloggers of the new era are pushing media boundaries and competing with media giants such as, Al Jazeera and BBC, who in the absence of access to certain places, have no choice but to depend on citizen journalists.