When Egyptians first took to the streets in 2010 it was due to a shortage of bread. It was not, as many would have you believe, about regime change. The movement was born of necessity. Neither was it a deliberate plea to the ‘free world’ and never was Hosni Mubarak’s name ever brought up during the initial protests.
The surge in support from neighbouring countries and the platitudes given by world leaders added momentum to the movement, but only after the barbaric killing of protesters was broadcast across the world on live TV.
With the regime imposing a curfew and blanket ban on media covering the events, Egyptians took to Facebook and Twitter to organize protests. Social media was also used to highlight the atrocities committed by Egyptian forces that would have otherwise gone unreported.
In this regard, social media played a positive and pivotal role in shaping the world view of the plight of the downtrodden in the Arab world. The Egyptian experience now feels like a self-contained success story in light of resulting protests in other Arab countries.
Protests and uprisings in countries such as Libya, Yemen and Syria were also organized via social media, but without one single cause to root for each social media event created to organize event clashed with other factions attempting to either hijack these protests or instill their own agenda.
Social media in these countries did not represent a common cause and was often the result of hastily agreed protests with no clear goal in mind. No thought was given to the consequences nor at any time was their a leading figure or party that was ready to take up the banner and take over government facilities and departments in an orderly fashion.
Instead, we witnessed looting, summary executions and chaos. Protests organized quickly over social media became shell imitations of the Egyptian experiment without the necessary forethought and grassroots elements to maintain the momentum.
Protests were organized because, well, because they could and the fleeting nature of social media was the ideal platform for facilitating these protests that did more harm than good.
Unpalatable as it sounds, but history has shown us time and time again that reactionaries who prop up leaders, albeit unjust, always trump organized chaos. In a 2013 survey of the Arab street by UN researchers it was found that more than 80% of protesters were either affluent or living well beyond the bread line.
And it has unfolded almost identically in each Arab country since 2010: after the economy and the infrastructure of a country has been shattered by protesters and everyone has retreated back to their homes, militias continue to battle for control while citizens are caught in the cross-fire and bare the brunt of the chaos, be it hunger, violence or disease.