President Obama today credited Twitter for mobilizing the thousands of Egyptians who were responsible for the overthrow of strongman Hosni Mubarak. He also gave a shout out to smartphones.
Rather than talking up technology, the president should give more credit to those brave enough to demonstate against the hard-nosed Egyptian security forces.
The president’s statement comes as a backlash builds against endless praise of social media as the key driver in the Tunisia and Egyptian revolts.
Laurie Penny of the New Statesmen says people rebelled because the job prospects of the vast bulk of Egyptians in their twenties and thirties are nil. They are finding “their lives measurably less tolerable than they had anticipated,” she wrote.
Twitter and the Internet are simply tools that “don’t cause mass uprising any more than a handgun causes mass murder,” according to Penny, who blames the media fixation on technology's role of organizing unrest as a failure to tackle the root cause on the protesters.
“News people everywhere have blogged exhaustively over the way in which protesters in Cairo, Tunis, Paris and London are using the Internet to communicate. What did they think we were going to use—smoke signals.”
Another overlooked point: Egypt “turned off” the Internet during the height of the protest, yet the crowds still packed Tahrir Square.
To upgrade the childhood saying: sticks and stones broke the bones of Muburak’s government, tweets never harmed him. It was the mass of human bodies willing to take beatings from thugs armed with clubs, not Google or Facebook, that did Mubarak in.
Those brave bodies are now on the march in Iran, Bahrain and Yemen. Obama offered scant support for the Iranians during the 2009 revolt that ultimately fizzled.