[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
The whole world has been watching the Middle East where the old order is being turned upside down. From Tunisia through Egypt and now Syria, Libya, Bahrain, Iraq and even Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Oman we have seen people take to the streets to claim their rights – to democratic governance, a human economy and freedom.
Nadia Idle and Alex Nunns’ new book, Tweets from Tahrir: Egypt’s Revolution As It Unfolded, provides us all with an important first hand view of this movement as it blossomed in Egypt from January 25th through February 12. Using – with permission –running accounts from twitter, the authors are able to trace the movement in the streets in the words of key activists who were there, organizing, strategizing, being surprised by successes and beaten by Mubarak’s thugs.
It’s important to note that Idle and Nunns rightly criticize western media’s attempts to portray this ongoing movement as a “Twitter Revolution.”
There is a certain arrogance to the lazy Western description of a Twitter Revolution. It excuses commentators from seeking to understand the deep-seated causes of the uprising – the brutal reality of the majority of the population, the imposition of neoliberal policies reducing job security and suppressing wages, the lack of opportunities for educated young people , the sheer vindictiveness of a Western-backed dictator as expressed through his police gangs.
It ignores the role of the urban poor, many of whom literally placed their bodies between tyranny and freedom on the front line. For the unemployed and those living on two dollars a day, Twitter and Facebook were the last things on their minds.
It ignores the role of the organized working class which had been striking since 2006 and whose refusal to go to work in the days before Mubarak resigned finally removed the last plank from under his regime.
And it ignores the years of thankless work by the very activists who made such good use of Twitter during the uprising and whose words fill this book. They had been mobilizing, forming groups, and holding small protests in the face of police brutality since at least the year 2000, but the world had hardly noticed. And they are still doing so now, as the Revolution continues to unfold.
While not a “Twitter Revolution,” these collected twitter messages are important on so many levels. Idle and Nunns have selected well, incorporating many of the voices who shaped and continue to shape this People’s Revolution. Providing a day by day account, they let us see events not only as they happened but as the people on the streets saw them.
From the insouciance of ManarMohsen’s:
A Facebook event for a revolution in Egypt: http://on.fb.me/hQioSL. Don’t forget to RSVP. (“Maybe if you’re still unsure of your schedule.)
to the sudden shock when protesters first faced the full force of the regime’s response:
So many people have died, hospitals are in need of blood. Please tell everyone u know to donate blood at hospitals
Tweets from Tahrir captures the raw, warm humanity of the participants – witty, angry; horrified and ecstatic.
We also see how the immediacy of the twitter network both allowed organizing minute by minute but also supported activists who were suddenly in the middle of history:
#Jan25 I watched TV for an hour this morning and got really scared Then I went outside and it was borderline jubilant out there
The messages also document the changing political understanding of the activists – and the amazing way the Revolution evolved on the fly – moving from reform to a call for a full overthrow of Mubarak and then the “new” government he tried to buy time by announcing.
This integration of strategy with emotion is also a fascinating study in how agile this new generation has become. In their hands, the 140 characters of twitter can be as elegant a manifesto as any – and then move them into action.
One of the authors, Nadia Idle, is an Egyptian who flew home to be in Tahrir and perhaps this explains why this book works so well. Since I was watching the events in Egypt very carefully, following twitter and writing about developments several times a day here at FDL, I was a bit uncertain about Tweets from Tahrir. After all, we just saw all this happen … but I found it very moving to read. Listening again to these voices – so individual and yet so unified … and being able to hear them all in context, in the flow of this historic time makes this little book so much more than simply a compilation.
The authors are quite clear that these words and these actions are just a beginning – from the activists’ final messages about what comes next in Egypt they also reach out to their sisters and brothers in Libya, Bahrain and beyond. As one of them puts it so well:
I keep hoping this will spread to more and more countries. I’m sick of waiting for democracy from the West, its time we TAKE IT!