Tweeters' forum #tweetnadwa discusses roots of the Egyptian revolution

Lina El-Wardani , Wednesday 22 Jun 2011

Ahram Online gives an account of the second bloggers' and activists' meeting in Cairo, aka #tweetnadwa, which debates the history of activism and the role of leftists and labour in the revolution

Even when they were together in the same room Egyptian most famous tweeters kept tweeting (Photo by: Lilian Wagdi)

Yesterday was the second #tweetnadwa, with nadwa meaning “forum" in Arabic. The forum gathered Egyptian bloggers, activists and tweeters at Rawabet Theatre in downtown Cairo at 6:30 on the dot to discuss the history of activism in Egypt and whether and/or how it lead to the 25 January Revolution.

While the first #tweetnadwa focused on political Islam and the panel was mostly young Islamic activists and scholars, Tuesday's discussion brought young leftists to the panel, like prominent leftist activist Wael Khalil, aka @wael; activist and blogger Hossam El-Hamalawy @3arabawy; university activist Kholoud Saber @kholoudsaber and activist Asmaa Aly @Siimmaaa.

Hundreds of Twitter users, mostly known to each other by their twitter names, huddled together in the theatre hall, many stood or sat on the floor, unbothered by the heat and crowdedness – and all of them tweeting through their phones. A large screen displayed the Tweet Nadwa Twitter page and streamed all the messages and photos related to the meeting.

Alaa led the first half of the debate, asking the panel questions to guide the discussion of through important benchmarks in activism history.

Khalil believes that the roots of the revolution started back in 2000 when the second Palestinian intifada broke out. "This was five years after the peace process with Israel started and Egyptian youth were so angry that protests broke out everywhere from universities and schools. It was amazing because these are young people who have seen Israel only as a friend" referencing the fact that the last Israel-Egypt war was before many of these youth weren't even born.

Activists responded to these angry demonstrations and The Popular Committee to Support the Palestinian Intifada was established. Its idea was very simple: to collect money and send aid convoys directly into Palestine. Sometimes the police would stop activists at Areesh and sometimes at Rafah, or sometimes somewhere in Sinai.
Khalil, aka @Wael also reminded the audience of the first big protest in Tahrir Square on 10 September, 2001. The second was on 1 April 2002.

@3arabawy, El-Hamalawy, believes the 21st century was specifically significant because in the 90s the political situation was very stagnant.

"I remember the first protest when I chanted down with Mubarak in 1998 - protesters ran away!" said El-Hamalawy to a laughing audience.

Then he went on to say that at this time protests were very small and if 1000 showed up at any demonstration it was considered a huge success, "but in 2000 when I saw 10,000 taking to the streets and the same in 2003, I almost cried of happiness."

Attendance is always hard to gauge and, according to El-Hamalawy, the masses always exceed your expectations.
Asmaa Aly, aka @siimmaaa, said she always felt that the revolution is coming “tonight, or tomorrow - maximum.”
Saber, @kholoudsaber, talked about activism during university, her first tear gas bombs experience and how a struggle with the security always gives her power. She also talked about the free union of students and professors, the 9 March professors’ movement and how activism is difficult in university because "you are constantly trying to find interesting political topics that are relevant to students’ interests."

When @alaa moved the speakers to protest in 2005, it was no longer in solidarity with Palestine or Iraq, it was purely Egyptian politics. A big protest was held in the historical and popular Shubra district with thousands protesting against Mubarak, the implied succession of his son, Gamal as president and blatant fraud and intimidation in elections. All panelists remembered this protest.

@3arabawy talked about the labour movement and how it was very active and organised from 2000 to 2006.
He recalled when Mahalla textile protests first broke out, with hundreds of women workers chanting "Where are the men? Are only women protesting?" which encouraged men to join. This started a wave or labour protests that swept Egypt and promised with an eminent revolution – and it was retweeted by almost everyone in the hall.

Then the major Mahalla protests were mentioned, including the one on 6 April that inspired a supportive group of activists to name themselves after that date; the movement to push for the independence of judges; the Kefaya movement and their role in breaking the oppression and the many who were jailed, tortured and killed for daring to criticise Mubarak, or the likely succession of his son.

Indeed, the meeting was informative, humorous and entertaining, the audience itself was varied in age, interests and activism degrees; some being very active, some just recently introduced to politics through the 25 January Revolution, but all eager to share their experiences and learn about others.

The second half of the discussion was more dynamic and interactive, as it was opened to the floor. It mirrored the Twitter-verse, where the moderator @alaa limited speakers to 140 seconds, the same way tweets are limited to 140-characters. The audience was asked not to clap, but to wave their hands in silence, instead, as if they had retweeted in order for the conversations to flow uninterrupted. Some couldn’t contain their excitement and still clapped.

As time was running out the moderator further limited the speakers to 30 then 10 seconds, making the momentum faster and more exciting.

Tareq asked the panel why labourers were not present in Tahrir except for the last week of the sit-in, to which @3arabawy answered that, actually, labourers were in on the revolution from day one.

"When you hear about protests in Suez Canal City, the delta governorates of Mahalla, and Kafr El Dawar (industrial cities), you know that the protests are 90 per cent labourers. Then they came to Cairo when the capitalists closed their factories and companies to protest with us in Tahrir, and when they opened the factories again in an attempt to crush the revolution as if life is going like normal, they assembled in their factories and started strikes," said @3arabawy to a cheering crowd.

An audience member asked the panel what kind of mistakes they have committed in the past 10 years and that they should avoid in the next decade to which @siimmaaay answered that there were many mistakes; like the constant split between politicians over ideologies and too much scepticism among activists themselves - unfortunately the same thing is happening now, even after the revolution.

@Nohaatef made a point to voice that not only did political struggle play a role in paving the way for the revolution, but also the independent cultural scene, introducing different music, plays and films than the mainstream in alternative venues other than the state's like Sawy Culturewheel, Rawabet Theatre and many more that were established recently. Also, small publishing houses that agree to publish political and literary books other than the mainstream.

A young woman from the floor said "I almost cried when you detailed your struggle for the last 10 years, and I wondered where was I all this time? What can I do now to make up for it?"

Another young man said that the revolution is not over: nothing has changed. “It is the same regime, only different names and that Egyptians must return to Tahrir.”

Another old man emphasised "The constitution first, the elections first or the poor first? No, it is the revolution first: revolution is not over; we can't talk about the aftermath. We have to talk about the now.”

Asmaa Aly, @siimmaaa, asserted the importance of grass roots work and the popular committees, "work with the popular committee in your neighbourhood, this is how the revolution continues."

@3arabawy spoke to the audience at large: ”If you think the revolution is limited to Tahrir Square, you are mistaken. We now have to take Tahrir to our universities, companies, syndicates and liberate them.”

The panel ended the discussions by asserting that their struggle didn't lead to the revolution, and as to whether it helped it manifest "...we won't understand now. We will understand later when we absorb and analyse the experience," concluded Kholoud Saber. "The revolution was made by the masses whose, understanding is much more advanced than ours. We shouldn't play the elite, we should learn from them," said Asmaa Aly.



Facebook page for tweetnadwa discussions

The following are some of the tweets posted during the meeting


@Alaa on twitter amazing how every other story about a major milestone leading to the revolution involved women taking first step #tweetnadwa

@Mfatah those who made fun of democracy and the constitution debate seem not to be aware that it's linked to bread-n-butter

@Dima-Khatib Amazing people here at #TweetNadwa .. We need to organise an Arab version.. Live streaming for example

@norashalaby The people make revolutions, not the revolutionaries: @3arabawy #tweetnadwa

@Ssirgany If the whole region doesn't catch up we'll fail. We need to support them 4 selfish reasons:#tweetnadwa

@Ssirgany: We need knowledge heritage abt farmers before going on awareness campaigns to farmers u don't know: @malek #tweetnadwa

Speaker reminds of rights of nubians. Another talks of centralization of all in Cairo #tweetnadwa

@Nadiaglory a lot to b criticized, unfulfilled things about revolution, doesnt mean nothing have changed. Hate exaggeration, unrealism #tweetnadwa

@Alioushka should we contnue dvloping indpndnt syndicates&free unions/leav altrnative spaces&take over mainstream.Syndicates shd be ours! #tweetnadwa

@TravelerW I am wildly enjoying the wide-eyed tweets of the younger audience discovering there was activism before 2011. :) #tweetnadwa

Before #jan25 we had 3 indep unions now we have 33 free independent unions. Viva #egyworkers #tweetnadwa

@3arabawy spoke about history of the labour movement and the importance of independent unions
Follow @tweetnadwa for updates from #tweetnadwa where tweeps tweetup & tweet about it :)

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