Born in the wake of the January 25 Revolution, Egyptian protestor Jamal Ibrahim named his baby girl “Facebook”, in honor of the Egyptian revolution and its youth movement, for whom the “Facebook” website became a defining characteristic. It is also the symbol of the popular uprisings that have since followed the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. From what we now see in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and other Arab countries, it appears we will soon be hearing about other newborns named after websites like “Twitter”, “YouTube” and maybe even “Google”, who knows.
I wish matters had ended there; with these pleasant, symbolic names, which provide us with a smile and give us hope that we desperately need. However, footage of flaring protests in a number of Arab capitals, and the sight of live ammunition being fired on protesters, particularly in Libya, where repression has taken an unprecedented bloody turn, have turned the current Arab revolutions into ferocious and terrifying events. But there is definitely no chance now for turning back or withdrawal.
Gaddafi’s regime tried to control or destroy all news related to the protests and demonstrations. It imposed an unprecedented media blackout, to hide the atrocities being committed against the Libyan people. The regime did not hesitate to target its citizens with gunfire, bombshells and jet fighters. Yet all these measures were futile against an unrelenting electronic domain, boosted by mobile phone technology, allowing people to film the most horrifying and heinous brutalities, and then broadcast them via the internet. Thus, the Libyan people became the source of all major footage and information.
Though Libya is now under siege to Gaddafi’s iron fist, a stream of news is still pouring in via “Twitter”, with thousands and thousands of short messages per minute. The same is happening with other social networking sites, and also “YouTube”. Even with the state trying to cut off the internet and communications, and with Gaddafi issuing threats, and labeling foreign media channels as “dogs”, other outlets have made it possible to circumvent such intentional disruptions.
A fierce fire has erupted, and there is no way Gaddafi’s regime, or any similar governing system, will be able to put it out. No longer will it be possible to impose silence and blackouts, and we will see things we never could have dreamed of seeing before. Whenever Libya’s name springs to mind, we would imagine a country that is out of touch with its age, modernism, and the technological revolution. But today, and right before our eyes, the world as we know it is being turned upside down. Through “Facebook”, “YouTube” and “Twitter”, we are witnessing this turnaround in a real and gritty light. What used to take months or maybe even years to obtain, today doesn’t need more than a mobile snapshot and a computer click to be within everyone’s reach.
This mixture of social media, satellite TV, mobile phones and cameras, along with frustrated and confused youths, and decades of rage and repression, has proved to be explosive in the Middle East, a region which will no longer be contained. It seems that the story is still in its infancy. We are looking at a new path which heralds both dreams and responsibilities; for it could bring about the social and political justice we aspire to, but also has explosive tendencies. It is a nascent and tender phase, which needs care and attention, just like the newborn baby girl “Facebook”.