Egyptian government fears a Facebook revolution


Many Egyptians, in what is still a police state, regard as a safe haven where they can campaign and express their opinions freely. But that could soon change following a crackdown by the authorities against various types of media.

In Egypt, many opposition movements have either started or grown significantly on Facebook, most notably the and the national campaign to support Nobel peace prize winner as a presidential candidate.

Understanding the impact Facebook now has on Egypt's political life, the Egyptian TV's most popular talk show, Masr ElNahrda (Egypt Today), suggested banning Facebook or passing a law to regulate activities in Egypt.

The show's host, Mona ElSharkawy, and her two guests heavily criticised Facebook and warned viewers against its evil and how it can be used by intelligence apparatuses all over the world to gather secret information about target countries.

Gamal Mokhtar, a technology expert and a guest on the show, said that Facebook has definitely revealed itself as a political apparatus used by foreign powers to obtain secret information about certain countries.

"We need to prevent problems, strikes and vandalism in the country by regulating it," said the technology expert. ElSharkawy also cited the April 6 youth movement as an example of how Facebook can be used destructively. She claimed (on no factual basis) that members of the April 6 group, which started on Facebook, had destroyed Tahrir Square in Cairo during one of their protests.

This comes at a time when a is under way in Egypt ahead of both parliamentary and presidential elections. , the former editor of al-Dustour independent newspaper, predicted a crackdown on the internet following the attack on many other media outlets.

"Perhaps soon we'll see urgent legislation to snuff out Egyptians' freedom of expression on the internet. And several understandings will be arrived at with representatives of the western media in Egypt," Eissa wrote two days before he was as al-Dostour's editor-in-chief.

Many other notable figures critical of the regime's violations were also recently stopped from doing their jobs. Prominent political analyst Hamdi Qandeel and the internationally have both had their columns in al-Shorouk newspaper removed.

Other pre-election measures have included of four independent satellite channels and on the mass sending of mobile text messages (a practice widely used for campaigning by opposition movements in Egypt).

The recent media crackdown – and the talk of "regulating" Facebook in – is an indicator that the regime does not have the slightest intention of playing the political game fairly and freely. The crackdown is fed by the regime's insecurity as it loses public support. With such lack of popularity, the regime has to choose between losing and cheating – and losing doesn't sound like a viable option.

It won't be surprising if the government tries to link some criminal incidents with the use of Facebook in order to gain support for regulation – for example, by making it a crime to start a political group on Facebook.

Worried by the fact that the state TV is only a tool for delivering the government's message and that criticism of Facebook was probably not an arbitrarily chosen topic, a Facebook group entitled "together to stop the ban of Facebook in Egypt" has started campaigning and attracted more than 10,000 members in just a few days.

The suggestion of a ban on Facebook shows the regime is worried of any medium that shows real trends and statistics in Egypt, which they have no control over. It's also because the regime is definitely losing the Facebook numbers game; it's hard to imagine that Mokhtar would have still suggested control over the social network if it was President Hosni Mubarak who got a quarter of a million fans on his page rather than ElBaradei.