Social Networking and the Gaza Protests

A Banner for the April 6th Strike in Egypt (via Facebook)

A Banner for the April 6th Strike in Egypt (via Facebook)

Social networks such as Facebook are increasingly used to organize political demonstrations like this April 6, 2008 strike and promote their coverage in mainstream news reports. In Egypt, this popularity of new media for social organizing is due in part to emergency laws that prohibit opposition groups from meeting publicly in groups of more than six people. This did make organizing mass non-violent protests challenging and time-consuming in the past, but online blog and social networks like Facebook have allowed young people to create groups, organize events, and invite friends to chat online instead.

Reforms to open up media and guarantee freedom of speech are difficult to pass. Non-violent civilian protests are pressuring government to change, but are met with resistance. Another law prohibits insulting President Mubarack and carries a sentence of one year in jail. Bloggers, journalists, and even Facebook users have been arrested for leading demonstrations. An LA Times blog Babylon & Beyond sums it up:

The crackdown on bloggers and Facebook dissidents has intensified over the last 18 months. The Egyptian government, skilled at using detention and intimidation to silence its opponents, charges that certain bloggers endanger national security.

On February 6th, 2009, Philip Rizk was arrested after participating in a protest at Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt. It is the main supply route and civilian entrance into the Gaza Strip, and was closed by Israel. Rizk is an Egyptian blogger, student at American Cairo University, filmmaker, and peace activist. His latest work, a film about humanitarian aid and Palestinian resistance is thought to be the motive for his arrest. Babylon & Beyond continues:

The cases of Rizk and the other Palestinian sympathizers expanded the Egyptian security forces’ battle in cyberspace from labor unrest, radical Islam and economic problems to the larger Arab-Israeli conflict.

On the Wednesday following his arrest, Rizk was returned to his home, according to a follow-up entry on Babylon & Beyond, because the police could not make a legitimate case against him. International attention on this case has become an embarrassment to the Egyptian and Israeli governments. Rizk himself believes the story shouldn’t focus on him, but rather on the still suffering people in Palestine. Indeed, the UN intervened to deliver school books and medical supplies through the Rafah border crossing, but Israeli officials refused to open the gates, and the delivery was delayed until Israel’s elections were over.

It’s clear the region is a difficult place for moderate Muslims to live, work, and endure. Despite that, they keep trying. Rizk was a successful example that social networking efforts might be working and surely generating attention to human rights abuses and repressive authoritarian regimes. While the outcome of peace talks is uncertain, there is talk that extremism and violence have tempered the ideology of some political leaders in favor of a more moderate, non-violent, possibly peaceful, direction. The movement toward peaceful protest, led by citizen networks online, is another reason to hope.

Do you know of any other examples? Do you have a story or article about current events in Gaza, Israel, or Egypt that you’d like to post here on Inside Islam? Have you had debates on Facebook or other networks that might help facilitate the conversation here in this post? Please leave a comment below to continue these dialogues and debates.

Update from Riyaad: March 8, 2009. This video from Al Jazeera English features face-to-face interviews with Palestinian bloggers trapped inside Gaza’s borders.

One thought on “Social Networking and the Gaza Protests

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