Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Egyptian Goverment Reaches Out With Social Media | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A photo of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi taken from his official Facebook page. (AAA)

A photo of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi taken from his official Facebook page. (AAA)

A photo of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi taken from his official Facebook page. (AAA)

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Social media played a major role in the Arab Spring, with the protesting youth utilizing this as a tool to topple their leaders and governments. It seems that the Arab governments of today have learned from the mistakes of their predecessors, and they have taken to social media—YouTube, Twitter, Facebook—en masse, utilizing this as a vital public relations tool.

Social media has become an integral part of the political landscape in Egypt, serving as a new means of disseminating one’s message. Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi and members of his government are now actively using social media to communicate directly with the Egyptian people. This is something that is completely new to the Egyptian political scene—it would have been unthinkable to imagine former president Mubarak taking to his smartphone to talk to the Egyptian people. As for President Mursi, who has been in power for almost one year, he is utilizing social media to put forward his case, making use of Facebook, Twitter, and even a dedicated YouTube page.

The most recent manifestation of the Egyptian government’s social media drive was the launch of the “Ask the Prime Minister” program on YouTube. This project seeks to improve communication between the government and the people and exchange proposals, views, and even criticisms in a new and unprecedented manner.

This YouTube channel features Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, who answers questions from Egyptian citizens on a weekly basis.

The Prime Minister appeared in the first video talking about this project, saying it represents a new and direct method of communicating with the Egyptian people. He acknowledged that there was a lack of communication between the government and the people, with much of the electorate being unaware of the Cairo government’s plans and projects. Qandil said that this had prompted the government to look to social media to communicate directly with the people.

Qandil promoted this YouTube channel on his official Facebook page, also an unprecedented move for an Egyptian prime minister. He emphasized that “what is needed most at this stage is to ensure that we are always in communication, that we listen to each other, and that we share ideas and opinions about the future of Egypt.”

He added, “I know we will not agree on all matters, and that there will still be a lot of criticism, but I promise you that, whatever your questions, I will answer them honestly and openly.”

Since his inauguration as president, Mohamed Mursi has also been keen to speak directly with the Egyptian people through new channels, as well as the more conventional speeches and press conferences. Mursi launched the presidential office’s official YouTube channel just a few weeks into office, drawing stark contrasts with his ousted predecessor Hosni Mubarak. This YouTube page includes clips of Mursi’s speeches, as well as a “monthly report” dedicated to Egypt’s successes.

The Egyptian president also has a presence on Twitter feed, not to mention an English and Arabic-language Facebook page. The president has a respectable 1,347,874 followers on twitter but does not seem to be the most reliable tweeter. His last tweet was posted on April 13, in which he sang the praises of the Alexandria Library. As for his Facebook presence, the Egyptian leader has a total of 1.2 million “likes”.

Contrary to this, the Egyptian government’s presence on YouTube is less than exemplary. For example, the most recent episode of Qandil’s “Ask the Prime Minister” spot—posted yesterday—only had 723 views at the time this article was written.

As for the questions that Egyptian citizens ask the prime minister, these appear in English and range from pleas for assistance and questions about housing and unemployment, to more general enquiries such as why the Egyptian president is travelling abroad during such difficult times.

Social media is therefore also being used to measure public opinion to the Egyptian government’s decisions and decrees. While many of Egypt’s internet-savvy youth have followed Mursi’s decisions and dialogue on social media enthusiastically, we must also bear in mind that Egypt’s Twitters users are a small if vocal minority of the population at large.

Egypt’s public figures taking to Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter represents the opening of a new front in the political battle that continues to rage in the country. Will they turn the tables on the youth who used social media as a tool to oust the former regime, or will social media be turned on them in turn? Only time will tell.