It is amazing to read about and watch the pro-democracy protests going on in Egypt right now. Having been to Cairo and Alexandria just this past November, I recognize a number of the major areas where the protests are taking place. But what is most amazing is to follow the story on Twitter and across the Internet. It wasn’t that long ago that we saw how influential those social networking sites were in the Green Revolution protests across Iran or the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. And now, to hear about the efforts by the government to quell the protests by shutting down cellular communications networks and other means of accessing the Internet is very disconcerting. The importance of communications media in these and other protests is reflected in how quickly the Mubarak government moved to shut it down. I was actually surprised it stayed up as long as it did. Nevertheless, the ingenuity of people to circumvent those measures to get information to us outside continues to impress and amaze me.
There isn’t a whole lot else to say at this particular moment, although it was encouraging to hear White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs say that the people of Egypt deserved to have free and open access to the Internet and mobile communications line. In the next few days I’m sure we will see things continue to unfold and evolve both inside Egypt and across the globe. The world is changing before our eyes.
UPDATE: The pro-democracy protests continue to swell in Egypt–and in neighboring Arab states like Jordan–this week as the Mubarak regime clings to what remains of its former power. The Internet is still down in Egypt, but as I pointed out earlier, there are ways to circumvent the blackout. Because landline telephone service is still operating, some ingenious engineers at Twitter and Google teamed up to create Speak-to-Tweet. To use the service, one simply has to call one of the listed phone numbers and leave a voicemail.
Voice mail messages left at +16504194196; +390662207294 or +97316199855 will instantly be converted into text messages, referred to as tweets, and posted at Twitter with an identifying “hashtag” of #egypt.
The protests and marches continue to grow even without the use of Twitter and Facebook, but the social media services are still a good way for ordinary people to communicate with the world outside of Egypt, especially if you aren’t fortunate enough to be around a CNN camera crew when they muster out onto the streets.