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Sunday, 17 November 2019

The keyboard warriors

All too often Egypt’s social media activists have gone against the best interests of the nation, betraying the very causes that they have been claiming most to serve, writes Hany Ghoraba

Hany Ghoraba , Wednesday 18 Sep 2019
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Egypt’s social media activists have become so prominent over the past decade or so that some consider them to be alternative or new-wave politicians within a political set of circumstances that has even led other more traditional politicians to create social media accounts to be closer to them and their followers. 

Some of these activists have garnered massive amounts of popularity and followings that cannot be easily ignored. Regardless of their political affiliations and tendencies, many have managed to set up their own cult followings, with this being as far as things have gone in the case of Egypt for better or for worse. 

Such political activism became rampant following the 25 January Revolution that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak. Social media activists then became aware of their own importance, and they turned into chief sources of news for many international news agencies in Egypt, which surprisingly dropped all sorts of journalistic traditions and published what they read or received on social media instead, often without proper verification or due diligence. 

In other words, whatever was written as a post on the Twitter or Facebook account of an activist could somehow become a verified truth that found its way to major global publications within an hour or so. That behaviour was responsible for destroying the long-standing credibility of major publications such as the US newspapers the New York Times and the Washington Post in Egypt, and other publications often followed suit.

The Muslim Brotherhood leadership was well aware of the influence of such activists, and it managed to either install or lure a number of them to serve its purposes. They helped to spread the group’s propaganda and false news after January 2011, needed to win over readers and present the Brotherhood as a viable political solution to the country’s problems. These activists then efficiently helped catapult the Brotherhood to power in the 2012 parliamentary and presidential elections. But lies cannot last forever, and sooner rather than later the majority of Egyptians found out the pervasive lies that the Brotherhood had used these activists to spread. They then shunned both, leading to the 30 June Revolution. 

Shocked by the aftermath of the revolution, the same activists who had earlier preached democracy and freedom against the clutches of “dictatorship” decided to continue on their path, ignoring the facts on the ground and not realising that they had been a tool in the hands of the Islamists. Their freedom calls were exposed as a façade to bring Islamist rule to the country, even if this meant going against the national interests and attacking the national armed forces. A dilemma was broached that Egyptian citizens have been living through ever since, and it is one that has continued even after the 30 June Revolution ousted the Islamist tyrant Mohamed Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood rule. 

The activists who had preached freedom and democracy after 2011 could not cope with the reality of politics, and so they became self-centred and self-righteous while the rest of the nation was in their view wrong. Some chose to stay in the country and become tools of negativity and rumour, or they left the country and became the same such tools from abroad, only this time with even more vicious attitudes. Some of them went on to post videos online filled with fabrications about alleged abuses, while others used their accounts to distract readers from any tangible development in the country. Others still went straight ahead in tying their fate to the Brotherhood terrorist group by moving to Turkey and Qatar and there continuing their activities.

Only a few of these 25 January activists took the time to realise that they were actually going against the best interests of their nation. The majority became an angry mob on social media. 

Hardly any of them grasped the basics of democracy and freedom, which entail listening to others’ opinions and their countering views. The irony also was that they were adopting the ideals of a group that believes in following a single ruler, or “caliph,” as part of its so-called “caliphate”. Accordingly, there was little difference between the “liberal” or “leftist” activists and those who were Muslim Brotherhood members, because all of them were parroting the same lies and spreading similar confusion among the public. 

Many of the current followers of these pseudo-freedom fighters are still appealing to some of the younger generation of social media users who were too young to witness the incidents of the 25 January Revolution and the chaos that followed it firsthand. 

The social media activists soon became a social sub-group that spread rumours and negativity and even used the vilest language against their detractors or any voices opposing their ideas. Ironically, they became the very “dictators” that they claimed to loath and said that they had fought against all their lives. Recently, some of these activists have been displaying signs of mental instability or substance abuse in the videos they have been posting on YouTube. While they still maintain some following, they have largely become a source of ridicule even to their once-loyal fans, who especially when they enter into feuds against one another accuse each other of betraying their so-called “cause”.

These social media or keyboard warriors may still have hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers, in some cases, following their twisted posts. However, that has never encouraged them to adopt the sense of responsibility that an activist should have when addressing the wider population. Instead, the opposite has happened, and the massive numbers of followers they have got has put the false idea in their heads that they are the righteous ones and anyone opposing them is entirely wrong.

Instead of becoming the next generation of politicians in Egypt that can secure a true democratic life for the country in the future, these social media activists have opted to be nuisances by adopting childish behaviour at times of great stress and challenge. While there is no denying that some of these activists once had good intentions, when the time came they chose their false popularity and personal glory above anything else. They ignored the fact that almost all of them are only as good as the time during which their social media accounts exist, and without them they will be forgotten in a matter of days since they have provided no real or lasting contributions to the country. 

Freedom through fascism against others has become the hidden motto of a large number of social media activists in Egypt. Despite the fact that the country’s conditions are far from perfect, with an uphill battle still going on towards solving its economic and social challenges, it would be a grave mistake not to acknowledge that there has been massive development in all facets of life over recent years, even as it may take years and possibly decades for the country to reach its full potential. 

However, denying any progress and intentionally belittling any development that is taking place regardless of how large it is, remains a sign of a lack of responsibility and of belonging to the very country whose best interests these activists claim to have most at heart.


The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.

 *A version of this article appears in print in the 19 September, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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