In this lesson, students will examine the impact of social media on the 2011 revolution in Egypt.
The events in Cairo, Egypt and other Middle East cities in early 2011 have reset the political paradigm for the region and created new challenges for the United States. It’s no secret that most countries in the Middle East are run by autocratic dictators that allow free expression only when it praises them, free assembly only when it supports them, and free elections only when they pick the candidates. But young, tech-savvy activist, employing nonviolent tactics are beginning to change that.
Dissent and protest are not new to the region. For decades the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has kept the pot of discontent boiling in the Middle East, often times targeting the United States as the villain. But protests in Egypt and Tunisia have citizens demanding an end to the dictatorial regimes and instituting democratic governments. Opposition groups forming at a grass-roots level are employing resistance methods that go back decades to the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. They are forming coalitions with like-minded groups at all levels of society—professional, labor, and government workers. They counsel nonviolence to their members and temper the anger with reminders to keep their “eye on the prize” and not let the brutal methods of the pro-government forces divert or discourage their cause. And they have employed the “new media” – Facebook, Twitter, and blogging—to present their case, communicate with like-minded groups, and encourage questioning and discussion that has not been seen in this region for decades.
Political analysts debate the extent to which the new media played a role in the toppling of the regimes of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. The massive public protests that ended these regimes were not just spontaneous reactions to recent oppression, but rather the release of long standing grievances with the government over poor economic conditions, corruption, and the suppression of freedoms. Each of these revolutions was ignited by the deaths of young men facing oppression and the brutality of the state when they dared complain of the abuse.
What seems to make these revolutions different from ones the past is how social media has accelerated the organizational capabilities and operations of the opposition movements. By using social media, opposition groups are better than the government at forming and carrying out strategy, instilling discipline within their ranks, and adapting to quickly changing events. It seems that it wasn’t social media that toppled the regimes but that social media served as a tool in that process; a process that also employed traditional methods of dissent served up on mass media (primarily television) to citizens of Egypt and Tunisia as well as the world.
Large computer/projection screen or access to several computers
Student Handouts: # 1 Political Cartoons, # 2 Discussion Questions for news segment, “The Role of Social Media in Egypt’s Revolution.”
In this activity, students will look at the impact of social media in the Egyptian Revolution of 2010 and how that impact may have far reaching ramifications throughout the Middle East.
Distribute copies or post on an overhead projector the two cartoons in student handout #1: The Impact of Social Media.
Organize the class into small groups of students. Have them discuss the questions below:
- What is the event or issue depicted in the cartoon?
- Deconstruct each cartoon by explaining the use of labels, symbols, caricature in each. What are they and what do they represent?
- What aspects of the cartoon (if any) are difficult to understand? What further information do you need to know to fully understand the cartoon?
- What is the cartoonist’s message?
- What is your opinion/reaction to the message of the cartoon?
Class Discussion Questions
- Describe the double meaning of the term “unfriending Mubarak” as it applies to the revolution in Egypt?
- Why is the man on the camel shouting “The Internet is coming!”? Compare and contrast this warning to a similar incident during the American Revolution?
- From the depictions in the cartoons, what seems to be the primary weapon of the Revolution in Egypt? How has the revolution in Egypt affected other governments in the Middle East?
Part 1: In this activity, students work in small groups to view two NewsHour video segments reporting on the role of social media in the Egyptian Revolution and beyond. Have students read the Background Essay before conducting this activity.
- Review with students the essential points of the Background segment above.
- The revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia and the subsequent protests in other countries is the result of long standing grievances against oppressive regimes in the region.
- The protest organization is grass-roots and employs methods similar to those of the American civil rights movement over 50 years ago.
- Social media has played a role in these protests, but has not been the reason for the revolutions’ success. It has, however, allowed opposition groups to present their grievances, communicate with their members, and anticipate changing events earlier and better than their opposition, the government. Combined with traditional media of television and 24-hour cable news, social media has also allowed them to tell their story on an international stage.
- Divide students into small groups of 3-5 and show the two video segments from the NewsHour story, “Debate continues over social media’s role in the Egyptian, Arab World Protests” to the entire class or assign the video clips as homework before you conduct the activity.
- Video Segment #1: Intro piece
- Distribute the student handout, “The Role of Social Media in Egypt’s Revolution.”
- Have students discuss the questions on their handouts in their groups. Then review each segment’s questions with the entire class.Then
summarize the following key points:
- Explain why people would have revolted in Egypt even if they didn’t have social media.
- Describe the contribution of social media in the Egyptian revolution.
- What influence did traditional media like television have on the Egyptian revolution?
- How might social media be used in the future in Egypt to help ensure democracy can be established in the country?
- What role might social media play in similar circumstances and events in other countries of the Middle East?
Assessment: Have students develop an essay or multimedia presentation on the role of traditional social media and factors such as nonviolent dissent and strong organization contributed to the successful revolution in Egypt.
- Students create their own political cartoons expressing their opinions on the Egyptian Revolution.
- Students look in to the possibility of revolutions in other parts of the Middle East and how circumstances in these countries compare to Egypt.
- Help students set up their own social networking site for a club or an organization they belong to. There are plenty of resources on the Internet to get you started and protect students from unwanted intrusion. Some of these sites are listed in the resources below.