NYT Magazine: Mideast Revolution, Facebook-Style

Facebook, a platform for democracy?

A great article in the New York Times Magazine  written by Samantha Shapiro on the power of building civil society organizations in the Mideast (Egypt) and moving towards the path of democratization through the use of a powerful tool like Facebook. 

When I spoke to Wael Nawara, a 47-year-old Ghad activist who is a co-founder of the party, he explained why, for him, getting on Facebook was such a big eye-opener. If you look at Egyptian politics on the surface, he said, you might think that the Muslim Brotherhood is the only alternative to the Mubarak regime. But “Facebook revealed a liberal undercurrent in Egyptian society,” Nawara said. “In general, there’s this kind of apathy, a sense that there is nothing we can do to change the situation. But with Facebook you realize there are others who think alike and share the same ideals. You can find Islamists there, but it is really dominated by liberal voices.”

In Washington, there is increasing interest in the April 6 Youth Movement. James Glassman, the outgoing under secretary of state for public diplomacy, told me he followed the group closely. “It’s not easy in Egypt, and in other countries in the Middle East, to form robust civil-society organizations,” he said. “And in a way that’s what these groups are doing, although they’re certainly unconventional.”

Other State Department officials told me they believe that social-networking software like Facebook’s has the potential to become a powerful pro-democracy tool. They pointed to recent developments in Saudi Arabia, where in November a Facebook group helped organize a national hunger strike against the kingdom’s imprisonment of political opponents, and in Colombia, where activists last February used Facebook to organize one of the largest protests ever held in that country, a nationwide series of demonstrations against the FARCinsurgency. Not long ago, the State Department created its own group on Facebook called “Alliance of Youth Movements,” a coalition of groups from a dozen countries who use Facebook for political organizing. Last month, they brought an international collection of young online political activists, including one from the April 6 group, as well as Facebook executives and representatives from Google and MTV, to New York for a three-day conference.

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Filed under American Politics, Arts, Media, Middle East Politics

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