Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2700 on: Jan 27th, 2011, 08:17am »
New York Times
Egypt’s Young Seize Role of Key Opposition to Mubarak By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and MICHAEL SLACKMAN Published: January 26, 2011
Goran Tomasevic/Reuters Protesters in Cairo on Wednesday defied a ban on public gatherings, risking clashes with riot police officers.
For decades, Egypt’s authoritarian president, Hosni Mubarak, played a clever game with his political opponents.
He tolerated a tiny and toothless opposition of liberal intellectuals whose vain electoral campaigns created the facade of a democratic process. And he demonized the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood as a group of violent extremists who posed a threat that he used to justify his police state.
But this enduring and, many here say, all too comfortable relationship was upended this week by the emergence of an unpredictable third force, the leaderless tens of thousands of young Egyptians who turned out to demand an end to Mr. Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
Now the older opponents are rushing to catch up.
“It was the young people who took the initiative and set the date and decided to go,” Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Wednesday with some surprise during a telephone interview from his office in Vienna, shortly before rushing home to Cairo to join the revolt.
Dr. ElBaradei, a Nobel prize winner, has been the public face of an effort to reinvigorate and unite Egypt’s fractious and ineffective opposition since he plunged into his home country’s politics nearly a year ago, and he said the youth movement had accomplished that on its own. “Young people are impatient,” he said. “Frankly, I didn’t think the people were ready.”
But their readiness — tens of thousands have braved tear gas, rubber bullets and security police officers notorious for torture — has threatened to upstage or displace the traditional opposition groups.
Many of the tiny, legally recognized political parties — more than 20 in total, with scarcely a parlor full of grass-roots supporters among them — are leaping to embrace the new movement for change but lack credibility with the young people in the street.
Even the Muslim Brotherhood may have grown too protective of its own institutions and position to capitalize on the new youth movement, say some analysts and former members. The Brotherhood remains the organization in Egypt with the largest base of support outside the government, but it can no longer claim to be the only entity that can turn masses of people out into the streets.
“The Brotherhood is no longer the most effective player in the political arena,” said Emad Shahin, an Egyptian scholar now at the University of Notre Dame. “If you look at the Tunisian uprising, it’s a youth uprising. It is the youth that knows how to use the media, Internet, Facebook, so there are other players now.”
Dr. ElBaradei, for his part, has struggled for nearly a year to unite the opposition under his umbrella group, the National Association for Change. But some have mocked him as a globe-trotting dilettante who spends much of his time abroad instead of on the barricades.
He has said in interviews that he never presented himself as a political savior, and that Egyptians would have to make their own revolution. Now, he said, the youth movement “will give them the self-confidence they needed, to know that the change will happen through you and not through one person — you are the driving force.”
And Dr. ElBaradei argued that by upsetting the old relationship between Mr. Mubarak and the Brotherhood, the youth movement posed a new challenge to United States policy makers as well.
“For years,” he said, “the West has bought Mr. Mubarak’s demonization of the Muslim Brotherhood lock, stock and barrel, the idea that the only alternative here are these demons called the Muslim Brotherhood who are the equivalent of Al Qaeda.”
He added: “I am pretty sure that any freely and fairly elected government in Egypt will be a moderate one, but America is really pushing Egypt and pushing the whole Arab world into radicalization with this inept policy of supporting repression.”
The roots of the uprising that filled Egypt’s streets this week arguably stretch back to before the Tunisian revolt, which many protesters cited as the catalyst. Almost three years ago, on April 6, 2008, the Egyptian government crushed a strike by a group of textile workers in the industrial city of Mahalla, and in response a group of young activists who connected through Facebook and other social networking Web sites formed the April 6th Youth Movement in solidarity with the strikers.
Their early efforts to call a general strike were a bust. But over time their leaderless online network and others that sprang up around it — like the networks that helped propel the Tunisian revolution — were uniquely difficult for the Egyptian security police to pinpoint or wipe out. It was an online rallying cry for a show of opposition to tyranny, corruption and torture that brought so many to the streets on Tuesday and Wednesday, unexpectedly vaulting the online youth movement to the forefront as the most effective independent political force in Egypt.
“It would be criminal for any political party to claim credit for the mini-Intifada we had yesterday,” said Hossam el-Hamalawy, a blogger and activist.
Mr. Mubarak’s government, though, is so far sticking to a familiar script. Against all evidence, his interior minister immediately laid blame for Wednesday’s unrest at the foot of the government’s age-old foe, the Muslim Brotherhood.
This time, though, the Brotherhood disclaimed responsibility, saying it was only one part of Dr. ElBaradei’s umbrella group. “People took part in the protests in a spontaneous way, and there is no way to tell who belonged to what,” said Gamal Nassar, a media adviser for the Brotherhood, noting the near-total absence of any group’s signs or slogans, including the Brotherhood’s.
“Everyone is suffering from social problems, unemployment, inflation, corruption and oppression,” he said. “So what everyone is calling for is real change.”
The Brotherhood operates a large network of schools and charities that make up for the many failings of government social services. Some analysts charge that the institutional inertia may make the Brotherhood slow to rock the Egyptian ship of state.
“The Brotherhood has been very silent,” said Amr Hamzawy, research director at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. “It is not a movement that can benefit from what has been happening and get people out in the street.”
Nor, Dr. ElBaradei argued, does the Muslim Brotherhood merit the fear its name evokes in the West. Its membership embraces large numbers of professors, lawyers and other professionals as well as followers who benefit from its charities. It has not committed or condoned acts of violence since the uprising against the British-backed Egyptian monarchy six decades ago, and it has endorsed his call for a pluralistic civil democracy.
“They are a religiously conservative group, no question about it, but they also represent about 20 percent of the Egyptian people,” he said. “And how can you exclude 20 percent of the Egyptian people?”
Dr. ElBaradei, with his international prestige, is a difficult critic for Mr. Mubarak’s government to jail, harass or besmirch, as it has many of his predecessors. And Dr. ElBaradei eases concerns about Islamists by putting a secular, liberal and familiar face on the opposition.
But he has been increasingly outspoken in his criticism of the West. He was stunned, he said, by the reaction of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Egyptian protests. In a statement after Tuesday’s clashes, she urged restraint but described the Egyptian government as “stable” and “looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.”
“ ‘Stability’ is a very pernicious word,” he said. “Stability at the expense of 30 years of martial law, rigged elections?” He added, “If they come later and say, as they did in Tunis, ‘We respect the will of the Tunisian people,’ it will be a little late in the day.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2701 on: Jan 27th, 2011, 08:23am »
'Bunga bunga' parties were dignified soirées
Silvio Berlusconi's parties were not wild "bunga bunga" orgies but gentle soirées where modestly-dressed young women sipped mineral water and watched movies, according to a dossier of evidence compiled by the Prime Minister's lawyers.
The model Aida Yespica has defended Silvio Berlusconi Photo: REX
By Nick Squires Rome 5:39PM GMT 26 Jan 2011
In counter-attack to the allegations laid out by prosecutors over 616 pages citing various models and showgirls who attended the parties, Mr Berlusconi's lawyers have interviewed 29 witnesses who give a very different account.
The friends and allies of the prime minister have collectively presented a squeaky-clean image of the private parties he held at his Villa San Martino mansion at Arcore, outside Milan.
Their testimony is sharply odds with wire tap evidence gathered by prosecutors, which painted an image of sex parties in which starlets performed stripteases and pole dances, dressed up in kinky nurses' uniforms and allegedly prostituted themselves to the 74-year-old prime minister.
The Italian prime minister's lawyers have spent months interviewing many of the people cited in the investigation, setting the stage for a showdown between two very different versions of what happened at parties hosted by "Il Cavaliere".
They presented their dossier to parliament on Tuesday as a riposte to a 389-page dossier compiled by magistrates in Milan. In return prosecutors presented another 227 pages of evidence.
The witnesses' testimony will form the basis of Mr Berlusconi's defence if, as prosecutors have demanded, he is sent to trial on charges of paying for sex with an under age prostitute and trying to conceal the liaisons by abusing his office. All charges he denies.
He insisted on Wednesday that he would ride out the scandal. "The storm will pass, partly because of the enormous abuses committed by the prosecutors," he reportedly told supporters.
The list of witnesses includes members of Mr Berlusconi's security staff, MPs from his ruling People of Freedom Party, his personal doctor and physiotherapist, a Neapolitan singer with whom he has made CDs of sentimental ballads, and showgirls.
They claim that Mr Berlusconi's parties involved nothing racier than watching football games involving his club, AC Milan, and drinking Coca Cola and modest quantities of wine and Champagne. There was no sex, no under-age girls and certainly no prostitutes.
"He is a person who is very kind to everyone," said Aida Yespica, 29, a Venezuelan model and reality show contestant who said she has known Mr Berlusconi for at least four years. "For me, he's a father figure." The so-called "bunga bunga" room, an underground salon where starlets allegedly put on lascivious performances for the prime minister and his friends, was in fact used for karaoke sessions during which guests "ate fruit".
The prime minister, described as "gallant, hospitable, respectful and responsible", often retired to bed early because he was tired from long days' spent dealing with government business, his supporters insisted.
The only "obscene thing" about the parties was the cheesy music that was played, joked Lele Mora, a Showbusiness impresario who is under investigation for complicity in the alleged prostitution ring.
Karima El Mahroug, the teenage nightclub dancer alleged to have received money to have sex with Mr Berlusconi last year when she was 17 – an offence under Italian law – again denied that she had ever been to bed with the billionaire businessman.
The teenager, known by her stage name as Ruby the Heart Stealer, also claimed responsibility for one of the more bizarre elements of the saga – saying that it was she, not Mr Berlusconi, who falsely told police in Milan that she was the granddaughter of Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt.
Miss El Mahroug received three cash payments of €8,500 (£7,300) from Mr Berlusconi through his accountant because the prime minister felt sorry for her and wanted to help her, according to the document compiled by his lawyers.
Among the other glamorous women to be drafted into his defence are Miriam Loddo, an actress and model; Daniela Santanche, 48, a hard-Right under-secretary in his party; and Licia Ronzulli, an MEP from his party.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2702 on: Jan 27th, 2011, 08:27am »
Piano on beach sparks mystery
A grand piano has mysteriously appeared on a sandbar in Florida.
The grand piano on a sandbar in Biscayne Bay in Miami, Florida Photo: GETTY IMAGES
11:06PM GMT 26 Jan 2011
The appearance of the instrument near Biscayne Bay has prompted speculation that it may have been placed there for a music video, as a romantic date or a marketing stunt.
The stretch of coast is just north of the upmarket South Beach area known for its glitzy clubs and restaurants.
A local resident, Karla Murray, says she was so intrigued by the mystery that she swam about 200 yards out to the sandbar to investigate.
When she got there, she found that the piano was damaged and charred, as if someone had set it on fire, she said. There were no engraved messages or clues.
"I wanted to see it firsthand," said Ms Murray, a 42-year-old professional photographer who wanted to shoot the piano up close.
Derek Tolmie, owner of the Water's Edge Cafe says he saw someone playing the piano.
"It looked like somebody was playing the piano and someone was filming from a small boat," said Mr Tolmie, who noticed the instrument two or three weeks ago.
It's not clear what will become of the piano. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Jorge Pino said the agency is not responsible for moving such items and the US Coast Guard won't get involved unless it becomes a hazard to navigation.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2703 on: Jan 27th, 2011, 08:33am »
Wired Danger Room
Grow Your Own Security: Prof Breeds Bomb-Spotting Plants By Spencer Ackerman January 26, 2011 | 6:38 pm Categories: Crime and Homeland Security
Photo: Noah Shachtman
The next hydrangea you grow could literally save your life. With the help of the Department of Defense, a biologist at Colorado State University has taught plant proteins how to detect explosives. Never let it be said that horticulture can’t fight terrorism.
Picture this at an airport, perhaps in as soon as four years: A terrorist rolls through the sliding doors of a terminal with a bomb packed into his luggage (or his underwear). All of a sudden, the leafy, verdant gardenscape ringing the gates goes white as a sheet. That’s the proteins inside the plants telling authorities that they’ve picked up the chemical trace of the guy’s arsenal.
It only took a small engineering nudge to deputize a plant’s natural, evolutionary self-defense mechanisms for threat detection. “Plants can’t run and hide,” says June Medford, the biologist who’s spent the last seven years figuring out how to deputize plants for counterterrorism. “If a bug comes by, it has to respond to it. And it already has the infrastructure to respond.”
That would be the “receptor” proteins in its DNA, which respond naturally to threatening stimuli. If a bug chews on a leaf, for instance, the plant releases a series of chemical signals called terpenoids — “a cavalry call,” Medford says, that thickens the leaf cuticle in defense.
Medford and her team designed a computer model to manipulate the receptors: Basically, the model instructs the protein to react when coming in contact with chemicals found in explosives or common air or water pollutants.
“The computer program designs how the protein, which detects things, and explosive or environmental pollutant interact,” Medford explains to Danger Room. “We translate the language from the protein back to the DNA, and encode what we want in the DNA.” Her team published its findings Wednesday in the journal PLoS One.
It all started in 2003 with a Darpa program to grow circuitry. Back then, Medford heard about a program from the far-out Pentagon research arm called Biological Input/Output Systems, geared to produce “rational design and engineering of genetic regulatory circuits, signal-transduction pathways and metabolism.”
The program was essentially a call for computer-designed receptors. “I was a plant biologist,” Medford recalls, “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we put it all together, like Reese’s peanut butter and chocolate.’”
That led to a $2 million grant from Darpa, with the Office of Naval Research kicking in another million. But by far the biggest benefactor to Medford’s research is the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which last year gave her a $7.9 million grant to get the bomb-sniffing ferns from the lab to the real world.
Right now, Medford estimates she’s three to four years out. Her labs have genetically designed plants blanching white when they come into contact with TNT. But that’s in a research lab, where the amount of light is constant, “no wind, no rain, no bugs, no people dumping coffee.”
Still, with the Department of Homeland Security unsure how to field nonintrusive technology for detecting bombs at public events, there’s a premium on sensors that double as a sweet-smelling garden. Medford says she’s “going back and forth” with DHS, but won’t disclose more than that.
One big problem: Medford probably thinks it’s not feasible to get the plants to react to ammonium nitrate, a common chemical used for homemade bombs in Afghanistan (and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing) since, after all, it’s found in fertilizer.
Eventually, Medford expects to bring the bomb-detecting plants to market through genetically modified seedlings. Whatever it costs, it’s got to be less than the $100,000 to $200,000 that a backscatter “junk scanner” can run.
The reaction of the plant depends on the concentration of the chemical it comes into proximity with. Medford says her goal is to get her plants as sensitive as a dog’s nose.
And the best part? Because the proteins can live in any plant, there’s no specific vegetation that couldn’t become a sensor. Get ready for grow houses designing terror-fighting purple kush. That’s the kindest bud of all.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2706 on: Jan 27th, 2011, 11:46am »
Nick Pope Live Webcast - Worldwide Event
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Silvio Berlusconi's parties were not wild "bunga bunga" orgies but gentle soirï¿½es where modestly-dressed young women sipped mineral water and watched movies, according to a dossier of evidence compiled by the Prime Minister's lawyers. ...
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2712 on: Jan 28th, 2011, 08:38am »
New York Times
Police Battle Protesters Across Egypt
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and ALAN COWELL Published: January 28, 2011
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images Police and protesters clashed in Cairo on Friday.
CAIRO — Violent protest spread across Cairo and other Egyptian cities on Friday as thousands of demonstrators intensified their campaign to oust President Hosni Mubarak, pouring from mosques after noon prayers and clashing with police who fired tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons.
The protests came after days and weeks of turmoil across the Arab world that has toppled one leader in Tunisia and encouraged protesters to overcome deep-rooted fears of their autocratic leaders and take to the streets. But Egypt is a special case — a heavyweight in Middle East diplomacy, in part because of its peace treaty with Israel, and a key ally of the United States.
In what protesters called a “day of wrath,” a crowd of at least 10,000 people moved east from Cairo’s Mohandeseen neighborhood, trying to reach the central Tahrir Square that has been an epicenter of protest. The demonstrations were on a scale far beyond anything in the memory of most residents.
Near Tahrir Square, protesters set fire to a police truck as police lobbed tear gas to try to block access to a key bridge across the River Nile from the island of Zamalek. Some demonstrators stamped on photographs of the president and others chanted “Down, down with Mubarak.” The acrid stench of tear gas spread across the capital reaching up the windows of high-rise buildings. Television images showed plainclothes security policemen beating protesters.
At Al Azhar in old Cairo, thousands of people poured from one of the most iconic mosques of Sunni Islam, chanting “The people want to bring down the regime.” The police fired tear gas and protesters hurled rocks as they sought to break though police lines. From balconies above the street, residents threw water and lemon to protesters whose eyes were streaming with tear gas.
Similar demonstrations were also reported in the cities of Suez, Alexandria and several others, including Al Arish in northern Sinai and Mansour in the Nile Delta region.
According to The Associated Press, police officers doused one of the most prominent opposition figures, Mohammed ElBaradei, with a water cannon and beat supporters who tried to shield him. Mr. ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, returned to Cairo on Thursday, promising to join the largely leaderless protests that have so far been propelled by young people.
Internet and cellphone connections have been disrupted or restricted in Cairo, Alexandria and other places, cutting off social-media Web sites that had been used to organize protests and complicating efforts by the news media to report on events on the ground. Some reports said journalists had been singled out by police who used batons to beat and charge protesters.
One cellphone operator, Vodafone, said on Friday that Egypt had told all mobile operators to suspend services in selected areas of the country. Vodafone, a British company, said it would comply with the order, Reuters reported.
In Alexandria, as soon as Friday prayers ended, a crowd of protesters streamed out of one mosque, chanting “Wake up, wake up son of my country. Come down Egyptians.”
Police there closed on the crowd, firing tear gas as the demonstrators pelted them with stones. A stone struck the officer firing the gas from the top of the truck and the truck pulled back, but reinforcements quickly arrived and officers marshaled a new offensive.
The protest in Alexandria turned into a block-by-block battle. The riot police managed to push the demonstrators one block back from the mosque, sealing it off from both sides and slowly advancing behind the tear-gas truck.
Several women shouted “dirty government,” leaning from the balconies of their high-rise apartments to hurl bottles down on the police. Officers pounded their clear shields with their billy clubs and chanted in unison.
Then, almost incredibly, a more than two-hour pitched street battle ended with protesters and police officers shaking hands and sharing water bottles on the same street corner where minutes before they were exchanging hails of stones and tear-gas canisters were arcing through the sky. Thousands stood on the six-lane coastal road then sank to their knees and prayed. In Cairo, too, an eerie silence fell in one section of the city at midafternoon, as hundreds of protesters began a prayer session in the middle of the street, according to live images from Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite channel. Protesters bowed their heads as smoke billowed into the air behind them from the skirmishes between demonstrators and riot police.
Despite predictions otherwise, there were only sporadic protests elsewhere in the region. The Yemeni capital of Sana, where thousands had gathered a day before, was quiet Friday. Across the Middle East, attention seemed focused on Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country and often the fulcrum on which currents in the region turn. Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, the most influential Arab satellite channels, broadcast nonstop coverage of the demonstrations in Cairo.
“It has blown up in Egypt,” read the front page of Al Akhbar, an influential leftist daily newspaper in Beirut. “Today all eyes are focused on the mosques in the land of Egypt, where the protests are expected to reach their peak.”
The protests across Egypt have underscored the blistering pace of events that have transformed the Arab world, particularly among regimes that have traditionally enjoyed the support of successive administrations in Washington.
Earlier this month, entrenched autocracies seemed confident of their ability to ride out the protests. But, just two weeks ago, on Jan. 14, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia fled abruptly into exile after weeks of protest, and his departure emboldened demonstrators to take to the streets in other countries.
Images of the lowly challenging the mighty have been relayed from one capital to the next, partly through the aggressive coverage of Al Jazeera. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have given the protesters a potent weapon, enabling them to elude the traditional police measures to monitor and curb dissent. But various regimes have fallen back on a more traditional playbook, relying on security forces to face angry demonstrators on the streets.
On Thursday, the Muslim Brotherhood, which had remained formally aloof from the earlier protests, seemed to be seeking to align itself with the youthful and apparently secular demonstrators, saying it would support Friday’s protests. But it was unclear what role the Brotherhood had played in Friday’s protests, which seemed to be spearheaded by angry young people.
David D. Kirkpatrick reported from Cairo and Alan Cowell from Paris. Reporting was contributed by, Karim Faheem, Mona El-Naggar and Dawlat Magdy in Cairo; Nicholas Kulish and Souad Mekhennet in Alexandria, Egypt; Anthony Shadid and Nada Bakri in Beirut, Lebanon; and Mark Landler and Andrew W. Lehren in Washington.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2713 on: Jan 28th, 2011, 08:40am »
New York Times
January 28, 2011 U.S. Economy Grew at 3.2% Rate in the 4th Quarter By CATHERINE RAMPELL
The United States economy sped up its growth rate in the fourth quarter, chiefly on the backs of revitalized consumers and a narrowed trade deficit.
Gross domestic product, a broad measure of all the goods and services produced by the economy, grew at an annual rate of 3.2 percent in the fourth quarter, up from 2.6 percent in the previous period, according to the Commerce Department.
While an improvement, the latest output number was slightly below analysts’ expectations of 3.5 percent.
Consumer spending grew at an annual rate of 4.4 percent, its fastest pace in nearly five years and nearly double the rate from the previous quarter. As income rose and the stock market climbed, Americans felt comfortable spending again, and in some cases by dipping into their savings.
“Consumers have been on a recovering trend,” John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economics, said, citing stronger consumer confidence numbers released earlier this week. “Consumers came into the holiday season after probably having a couple of years of being fairly frugal, and with a bit more cash in their pockets, and a bit more willingness to spend that cash.”
The payroll tax cut and the extension of the Bush tax cuts that were passed in December are expected to further buoy consumer spending in 2011, with many economists expecting consumer spending to continue growing at about a 3 or 3.5 percent pace.
The economy slowed in the middle of 2010, in what had been perhaps prematurely dubbed as the Recovery Summer by the Obama administration. The slowdown was largely the result of rocketing growth in imports, which are subtracted from the government’s calculations of gross domestic product. In the fourth quarter, however, a combination of rising exports and shrinking imports contributed to the faster output growth rate.
“In the middle of last year, imports showed the biggest drag on G.D.P. growth in more than 60 years ,” said Dean Maki, chief United States economist at Barclays Capital. “That kind of rise in imports just wasn’t sustainable,” he said, and the return to more normal levels of imports later in the year helped the American economy regain some momentum.
Earlier this week, the Congressional Budget Office forecast that the economy would grow 3.1 percent in 2011, a figure echoed by many Wall Street economists.
While that rate would be faster than last year’s, it is still probably not robust enough to make a significant dent in the unemployment rate, which stood at 9.4 percent in December. In the couple of years before the Great Recession, which began in December 2007, the American jobless rate was less than half that.
“We’re still very much below the output growth rate needed to absorb the slack in labor market,” said Prajakta Bhide, a research analyst for the United States economy at Roubini Global Economics. “We’re expecting to end the year with an unemployment rate of 9 percent.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2714 on: Jan 28th, 2011, 08:48am »
Wired Danger Room
What’s Fueling Mideast Protests? It’s More Than Twitter By David Kravets January 27, 2011 | 6:46 pm Categories: Info War
photo by Muhammad/Flickr
Don’t call it a Twitter revolution just yet. Sure, protesters in the Middle East are using the short-messaging service — and other social media tools — to organize. And yes, there are sporadic reports coming out of Egypt that the Mubarak regime has shut off internet access — despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s call “not to prevent peaceful protests or block communications, including social media.”
But don’t confuse tools with root causes, or means with ends. The protests in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen are against dictators who’ve held power — and clamped down on their people — for decades. That’s the fuel for the engine of dissent. The dozen or more protesters that self-immolated in Egypt didn’t do it for the tweets.
“It’s about years of repression and dictatorship. Revolutions existed before Twitter and Facebook,” Issandr el-Amrani, a Cairo writer and activist, said in a telephone interview from Tunisia. “It’s really not much more complicated than this.”
Only about a quarter of the Egyptian populace is online, el-Amrani estimated. So street protests have grown the old-fashioned way: by leaflets and spontaneous amalgamation.
“I’ve seen a lot of small groups of people wandering the streets and people spontaneously joining them. At every house, they would yell, ‘Come down,’” said an expert on Middle Eastern censorship in an interview from Cairo.
The source, who requested anonymity out of fear of retribution, added: “This is much, much bigger than Twitter and Facebook.”
Still, it’s no secret that Facebook and Twitter are playing a role. But technology has always been involved in modern revolutions.
“In the last two decades or so, most of the political upheavals had some distinct link to communications technology,” political scientist Alex Magno of the University of the Philippines said in a 2002 interview.
Text-messaging helped spawn a revolution a decade ago in the Philippines. After television broadcasts of President Estrada being acquitted of corruption, residents took to their mobile phones texting their outrage. The streets of Manila quickly filled, forcing the president to resign.
The 1979 Iranian revolution was “closely linked” to the audiocassette, Magno said. Tiananmen was called the “Fax Revolution” because “the rest of the world was better informed than the rest of the neighborhood, because of the fax machine.”
Now, there’s Twitter and Facebook. Clearly, those tools have aided this year’s uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen — despite access to them being limited or suppressed.
Consider that at least 80,000 people confirmed on a Facebook page they would show for a Friday protest in Egypt.
“Twitter and Facebook helped, but people here were not discovering a new reality through social media,” el-Amrani said. “Maybe the rest of the world has.”
[Update, 7:15 p.m. EST]
Danger Room’s Spencer Ackerman here. I just spoke with Freedom House’s Sherif Mansour, who’s been in constant contact with Egyptian sources over the last few days. That’s about to come to an end, he said, as the Egyptian government has shut down the internet, blocking SMS and is clamping down on cellphone coverage. All that is to disrupt the anticipated protests tomorrow.
“People are scared,” Mansour said. While reports have circulated that Egyptian protesters were finding ways to get to blocked sites like Facebook or Twitter and setting up Tor protocols, “a lot of the circumvention tools and resources people have been developing were dependent on having some sort of internet exposure.” Mansour hears that sporadic cellphone outages have been spreading from protest-prone areas of Cairo and may go nationwide imminently. “The only way for transferring information is through Bluetooth,” he said.
Maybe we’ll still be able to get information live from the protests, but Mansour isn’t so optimistic. “Not before tomorrow afternoon can we expect the internet to come back,” he said, “unless people here in the U.S. are able to pressure the government to do something different.” Hear that, President Obama and Secretary Clinton? Twitter alone may not be fueling these protests. But if internet access is (even partially) taken down, it’s going to be a lot harder for the rest of the world to find out how they’re unfolding.