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Facebook and Twitter in Tunisia and Egypt: Decisive?


Excerpted from a University of Virginia student newspaper:

Experts, students hold panel on Middle East

Quandt, Ayachi, Faiza meet University students in conversation concerning recent unrest, political protests in Tunisia, Egypt

By Michelle Davis, Associate Editor on February 4, 2011

Students and faculty gathered last night in Nau Auditorium to discuss ongoing demonstrations and political turmoil rapidly unfolding in the Middle East.

The event, “Revolution in Tunisia, Egypt & Beyond: Democracy on the Horizon?,” was hosted by the University’s Center for International Studies and featured a panel of speakers including Prof. William Quandt, University Lecturer Miled Faiza and Nejib Ayachi, president and co-founder of The Maghreb Center, a non-profit organization which promotes knowledge of North Africa, in Washington D.C.

Ayachi opened the discussion by detailing the events that have shaken the Middle East since December 2010. One event in particular, Ayachi said, caught the world’s attention — the actions of Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian man who set himself on fire in protest of the lack of opportunities and poor living conditions.

“What started as a revolt, initially without meaningful political slogans and regionally limited, has evolved into practically a revolution by demanding that the people be put in charge within the government system, and — in spite of the recession — keeps growing,” Ayachi said.

Faiza, who grew up in Tunisia, said the “Facebook-Twitter” effect is the driving force behind the Tunisian revolution and the unrest in Egypt.

“We were brainwashed and we didn’t know we were brainwashed,” Faiza said, describing the impact of government restrictions on social media and lack of government transparency.

As a result of government censorship of the majority of news outlets, Tunisians began to look for their news information using other media sources, such as social networking sites, Youtube and Al Jazeera, the international news network for the Arab world.

Faiza noted that the largest protest organized the day former president Ben Ali fled was initiated through a group on Facebook.

“We can say now that the Tunisian revolution was successful thanks to Facebook and Twitter and YouTube because…the Internet gave people their dignity and power back,” Faiza said. “People were able to communicate and support each other, [and had] the feeling that they could unite and organize themselves.”

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