03 Nov 2011
"Same book, different cover." That was how a well-connected social media manager described Egypt's post-revolution transition when the Meedan team met him last week in Cairo.
Working in a pristine air conditioned office located in the rapidly expanding hinterland of the Egyptian capital, our contact nevertheless expected 2012 to be a year of dramatic growth and vitality in the Egyptian web publishing market.
In the city centre, heavily armed soldiers still surround the crumbling Maspero television building, long the propagandistic power base of the Mubarak regime, now circled with barbed wire and military vehicles.
Yet on a Friday night in Tahrir Square, protesters roam freely, chanting to the top of their lungs and waving deeply satirical placards lambasting the Egyptian political establishment.
These are the contradictions in Cairo today, eight months on from the historic revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
To some extent it is hard to really believe there is a transition taking place at all. Twelve thousand people have faced military tribunals - a vast figure dwarfing the Mubarak regime's use of military tribunals. The Emergency Laws remain in place. Leading activist Alaa Abdel Fattah is back in jail. Nonprofits receiving foreign funds are portrayed as an existential risk to the nation. The military wants its budget to be secret even from the country's elected leaders. Al Ahram still leads with whatever the ruler (once President Mubarak, now 'Al Musheer' - General Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) is up to. Tensions are still running high after the tragic events of the Maspero protests and allegations of torture in prisons continue to flow.
But there is more to Egypt now than that. Young people are more deeply engaged in politics and economics than ever before. Yes, the political scene is fragmenting as different ideological camps jostle for power, but thousands still take to the streets every Friday. When I was living in Cairo in 2006, a 20-person protest against health insurance reforms for public sector workers was ringed by scores of security personnel and plain clothes police. That doesn't happen now. And of course now social media really are buzzing with activity as young activists explore their next options and share critiques and information.
Where Egypt is leading is not easy to predict, but certainly the talent, dynamism, resourcefulness and enthusiasm of Egyptians suggest a bright future is within grasp. But now more than ever, those of us who have friends in Egypt need to be supporting Egyptians in whatever ways we can.
At Meedan, we are working on a participatory live blogging platform that enables citizens to work alongside professional journalists to sort, mark up and evaluate emerging reports from the social web. This work - in partnership with leading independent newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm - is designed to support citizens to monitor and report on their country's transition from authoritarian rule.
But there might be many other ways we could develop projects to support citizens in Egypt and the wider Middle East to share information and to express themselves to a global audience. Our expertise is in web design, journalism and online translation. How could we deploy this expertise to help? Feel free to post your ideas below.