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  • Egypt's Uprising and the Shifting Spatialities of Politics
  • Helga Tawil-Souri (bio)

Shortly after being released from his twelve days in prison, Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who had launched the "We Are All Khaled Said" Facebook page, tweeted: "#Jan25 is Revolution 2.0." Two days after Mubarak stepped down, Ghonim further suggested: "Our revolution is like Wikipedia. . . . Everyone is contributing content. You don't know the names of the people contributing the content. . . . Everyone was contributing small pieces, bits and pieces. . . . We drew this whole picture of a revolution. And that picture—no one is the hero in that picture."1 Not surprisingly, Ghonim's technologically deterministic language and metaphors draw on liberatory and democratic aspects of media technologies used during the uprising, including Twitter, Facebook, and Google programs such as Moderator, all of which suggests that Egypt's revolution happened because of social media.

The catchphrase "Revolution 2.0" would be oft repeated and echoed in euphoric accounts of Egypt's revolution as a Twitter revolution, a Facebook revolution, a social media revolution, or more broadly, a new-media revolution. Enough has been written to counter claims of the Egyptian uprising as being one driven (solely) by new media technologies.2 And important interventions have been made since January 2011 (as well as before), highlighting that Facebook and Twitter use did not spring up overnight and that new media uses exist separately from a broader landscape of political expression outside the mediated realm.3 Although Ghonim's statements do not specifically address issues of space, the idea that everyone—everywhere and [End Page 160] anywhere—participated in the "revolution" alludes to an aspect of media that has yet to be critically addressed: the spatial "de-centeredness" of the uprisings.

Ghonim himself had begun the Khaled Said Facebook page while living in the United Arab Emirates, and its users were from within Cairo, as well as across Egypt, the region, and various parts of the world. The significance of the uprising in Egypt highlights the collapse of state power between local and global forces, a transformation that results from the conjuncture of different media (new and old) and the shifting spatialities these media allow. Writing after the fall of the regime, and during a period in which demonstrations and contestations over the future of Egypt are still volatile, it is easier to see the particular role of media, and yet also to recognize the importance of place. It is also important to note that by "state" I mean both the Mubarak regime and the geographic sphere over which the regime tried to impose its hegemony and control. In light of ongoing tensions over the future of Egypt's political reformulation and the role that military leadership, Islamist groups, and other groups will play in that reformulation, the discussion of the state (as a controlling regime and a spatial sphere of control) remains relevant, yet also elusive.

A number of scholars and activists have contextualized the uprising within the broader media landscape. As Armando Salvatore has argued, there was a range of "preparatory" contributions from literature, movies, and television serials.4 Cairo and Egypt were already filled with millions of voices, well before the events of January 2011.5 In other words, expressions of opposition had been circulating across different media for decades. As one of the most prolific and widely read oppositional Egyptian journalists, bloggers, and tweeters, Hossam El-Hamalawy (better known as "3arabawy") claimed, "the revolution has been ten years in the making."6 The political processes that led to the uprising in 2011 have deep historical and cultural roots.

But it is not simply a matter of temporality that needs to be considered; it is also a matter of spatiality. Although demonstrations on the streets of Egypt had taken place for decades, it was images of the Second Palestinian intifada broadcast on pan-Arab satellite channels that first brought out masses of demonstrators onto the streets of Egypt in 2000, followed by even larger demonstrations in protest against the war in Iraq, which drew more than thirty thousand people to Tahrir Square in March 2003. It was during those demonstrations that Egyptians took to the streets...


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pp. 160-166
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