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Twenty-four hour network coverage, activist videos, Twitter, Facebook and blogs have all mashed together to convey the Egyptian revolution to the world, writes Patrick Burnett.

Twenty-four hour network coverage, activist videos, Twitter, Facebook and blogs have all mashed together to convey the Egyptian revolution to the world.

‘I’m making this video to give you one simple message. We want to go down to Tahrir Square on January 25. If we still have honour and we want to live in dignity on this land, we have to go down on January 25… Whoever says it’s not worth it because there will only be a handful of people, I want to tell him you are the reason behind this, and you are a traitor just like the president or any security cop who beats us in the streets. Your presence with us will make a difference, a big difference!’ This is an extract from a 18 January video featuring Asma Mahfouz. It’s one of many that have helped define the passion and intensity with which Egypt’s revolution has been depicted.

As dawn broke over Cairo on Thursday, 3 February, the euphoria of the 2 February million-strong march had been replaced by something else amongst the anti-Mubarak protesters holding on to Cairo’s Tahrir Square - defiance, but also fear and shock.

‘We have lost a lot of people,’ an emotional anti-Mubarak supporter told Al Jazeera Live in the early hours of the morning, ‘and we have lost them for a cause. We have many injured people and it is hard. We know that if we give in now we will be hunted one by one. The thugs with rifles on the bridge are shooting at us. One was shot right through the head. We are not leaving this place until Mubarak leaves.’

To watch only mainstream network coverage of events in Egypt is to miss the whole story. Twitter, Facebook, citizen videos and blogs have been crucial in getting the word out about what has transpired in Egypt. Watching the 28 January battle for Cairo's Qasr al-Nil Bridge is to grasp the epic nature of a people rising up and triumphing against armoured cars, and helmeted police with batons and guns. This video was first seen online before it was picked up on by Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera coverage of events has been exceptional considering the restrictions. This video , showing a visit to a morgue in Alexandria, has been given as one reason why the Al Jazeera bureau in Cairo was shut down and cameras seized. Indeed, the network has succeeded in mirroring the immediacy of the social networks in its coverage. In the early hours of Wednesday morning its live feed captured an explosive situation in Alexandria, possibly the first example of the regime’s game plan to unleash its thugs against anti-Mubarak protestors, when pro-Mubarak supporters clashed with demonstrators. Rocks were thrown, fist fights broke out, knives were drawn and the rattle of gunfire rang out. It was to see its most violent outlet the next day in Cairo.

Watching a single hashtag on Twitter, it’s been almost impossible to keep up with the speed of tweets. But at #follow Egypt you can watch multiple columns of different hashtags ticking over. ‘Mubarak must go now! The new Egypt will start today. The people of Egypt can't wait no longer for a better future. Protest must go on!!’, says one tweet. ‘And a lovely revolution to you too, sir. Live from Cairo - we are back and excited like we've never been before!’

Tweets were the first to point to the hidden hand behind the pro-Mubarak supporters. On Wednesday, this tweet: ‘A peaceful anti-goverment protest gets violent as soon as pro-goverment people get involved. Peculiar? You betcha!’ And this one: ‘Every thug we search, we find that his I.D. says police those r the only pro-Mubarak supporters in #Egypt’. See for pictures of ID cards collected from captured pro-Mubarak supporters. Pointing to the responsibility of Mubarak and his regime for the violence, @Gsquare86 tweeted at 3.54am on Thursday morning: ‘he is a murderer and he has to be prosecuted !!! he is gonna kill the people in tahrir square before morning’.

Even though Twitter was effectively shut down when the Egyptian government terminated the internet from 28 January until early on Wednesday morning, services such as @speak2tweet were designed to enable Egyptians to continue Tweeting. The speak-to-tweet service enables users to send tweets using a voice connection. Anyone can tweet by leaving a voicemail on one of three international phone numbers: +16504194196 or +390662207294 or +97316199855.

Tweets sent using the service automatically include the hashtag #egypt. This one, sent at 10.55pm on Wednesday night said: ‘#Egypt translation: Being beaten, burned, and hit @speak2tweet #Jan25’

A blog, Alive in Egypt , has been started to add further functionality. It aims to help bring the voice of Egyptians to even more people and posts all the audio files sent in together with the translations. There are also blogs that display the latest tweets and videos on a map of Egypt.

Wednesday night and Thursday morning saw pitched battles in and around Tahrir Square. @Gsquare86, a female anti-Mubarak protestor in Tahrir Square, tweeted at 9.35pm: ‘At Kasr El Nile bridge, we have taken complete control Gaza style with just rocks against gun fire'’

Twitter has been interesting to watch because of the vast array of material it has transmitted. From links to news and analysis, to live updates about protests, photos, messages of solidarity and even medical advice for the injured, the number of voices it is able to reflect does create an overall and immediate impression of what is happening.

Facebook seems to be almost outshone by the powers of Twitter, but has also been important. We are all Khaled Said has 38,876 likes and contains interesting updates and observations about events in Egypt. The same can be said for 3arabawy .

The revolution has also resulted in some iconic images, made available by Flickr and blogs such as Arabs 48 Magazine and 3arabawy . These blogs also contain numerous citizen videos. It’s noticeable through these pictures how prominent women have been in the movement.

Much has been made of the role of the army in not taking sides and allowing Egyptians to peacefully protest, up until 2 February. But increasingly questions are being asked as to why they have stood by and watched while armed Mubarak supporters attacked peaceful demonstrators in Tahrir Square. This picture says it all.

What’s missing in all of this immediacy is a deeper analysis of events. For that you’ll have to read this week’s Pambazuka News .

Suffice to say that none of the protesters tweeting, Facebooking and posting videos are blind to what the Mubarak regime has done or the broader implications of the revolution. Mubarak has been a crucial US pawn in the Middle East. Depending on who governs next, the possibility for a radical realignment of the entire region is clear. Rest assured that behind Barack Obama’s 1 February speech on justice and democracy, powers-that-be manipulation will already be taking place, jockeying for position to secure their vested interests.

If there’s a common theme running through this overwhelming stream of media, it’s almost as if those in Tahrir Square have come to symbolise something enduring about the human spirit which echoes far beyond Tahrir Square. Human beings, capitalism tells us, are inherently selfish, inherently violent, in need of top-down systems of control and happy to strive for over-accumulation at the expense of solidarity with their fellow human beings.

In the peaceful expression of love, compassion and solidarity on display in Tahrir Square on Tuesday, over a million people showed there is an alternative future. In their resistance, those that remain against the onslaught of Mubarak’s thugs are fighting for that future.


* Patrick Burnett is editor of Links & Resources, Pambazuka News.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.