• Social media: a new virtual civil society in Egypt?

      Sharbatly, Abdulaziz (University of BedfordshireUniversity of Bedfordshire, 2014-11)
      This project seeks to trace the power of social media in serving as a virtual civil society in the Arab world, focusing on Egypt as a case study. This study aims to explore the role of social media in mobilising Egyptian activists across generations, and particularly in reaching out to people under the age of 35 who constitute around 50 per cent of the population. Studies preceding the 2011 uprising reported that young Egyptians were politically apathetic and were perceived as incapable of bringing about genuine political changes. Drawing on a range of methods and data collected from focus groups of young people under the age of 35, interviews with activists (across generations and gender), and via a descriptive web feature analysis, it is argued that online action has not been translated into offline activism. The role of trust in forming online networks is demonstrated, and how strong ties can play a pivotal role in spreading messages via social media sites. Activists relied on social media as a medium of visibility; for those who were not active in the political sphere, social media have been instrumental in raising their awareness about diverse political movements and educating them about the political process, after decades of political apathy under Mubarak’s regime. The most important benefit of using social media is the increased political knowledge and information available regarding the political situation in Egypt, despite many young people still confining their political activities to passive acts of ‘share’, ‘like’ or ‘post’ on social media. Activists have used social media to ensure visibility of their actions, not only nationally, but also regionally and internationally. There remains a strong need for offline organization and activism by using social media as a communication avenue, not necessarily as a catalyst for changing the political process. A number of problems associated with the use of such media in political deliberations concerning Egypt are highlighted, notwithstanding the positive effects of social media on the political socialisation of young Egyptians. One such problem is the lack of sustainability in online campaigns which should ideally convert into offline collective action. It can be argued that a sustainable civil society and a truly diverse public sphere rests on more sustainable, offline action, which can indeed bring about significant changes in the Egyptian political sphere.