Thousands of words have been written in newspapers and on social networks in the past year and a half in an effort to describe the miraculous connection that has arisen between Facebook and Twitter and the revolutions in the Arab world.
Time after time it has been argued that without social networks such as these the Middle East might not have seen change and the revolutions might not have erupted. For us Western journalists (and indeed also for our Arab counterparts ), Facebook, Twitter and certainly Cairo's Tahrir Square constituted the "Arab voice." If Wael Ghonim, the local Google executive who emerged as a leader of the protests in January 2011, tweeted a message indicating his support for Mohammed Morsi as Egypt's next president (as in fact happened ), this was confirmation in our eyes of popular opinion in Egypt.
For us, the thousands of people who went out to demonstrate in Tahrir Square following a ruling by Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court earlier this month to dissolve the parliament, represented a nation protesting that "our revolution has been stolen once again."
But somehow we overlooked the silent segments of the public that actually did not want to hear about the Muslim Brotherhood or about the revolution in January 2011. This is almost half of Egypt's public, people who "went underground" out of fear of the raucous, threatening "majority." True, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate Morsi won the elections, but he garnered a majority of less than 880,000 votes, in a country with a population of 89 million citizens.
Members of this silent population generally did not take to the streets and when they did so it was in small groups. Their voices were not heard on Facebook or Twitter and so they were overlooked in the new era of social networks, governed by the principle that if you aren't connected, you don't exist.
And here lies what was, in my eyes, the biggest surprise of the second round of presidential elections: the extremely narrow margin between the Muslim Brotherhood candidate and Ahmed Shafiq. So many journalists and commentators have become so enamored with Facebook, Twitter and Tahrir Square that we couldn't see that an entire population group in Egypt, almost half of the country's citizens, wanted to preserve the old regime. I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that Morsi might not have won had it not been for the Supreme Constitutional Court's controversial ruling - one viewed by many as untoward intervention by the country's supreme military council in Egypt's democracy. Masses of people, some 25 million citizens, did not take part in the election. Many boycotted it due to the court's decision and to some extent thereby handed victory to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood also contributed much to the cultivation of despotism in Egypt's new democracy. The square became exploited as a venue to protest Shafiq's supporters, as did the social networks. The Muslim Brotherhood warned repeatedly that, should its candidate lose, the consequences could be disastrous for Egypt's stability. They intimidated the masses in Egypt and led people to believe that should Shafiq win the vote the country would suffer months of sociopolitical instability.
Ultimately, even in the era of blogging, and of Twitter, Facebook and even satellite television stations, we should remember that these are instruments used to shape public opinion. Sometimes these tools are in the hands of the public, and sometimes they are exploited by self-interested political or economic groups.
And what about the people? Only elections can really demonstrate what the people want. In Egypt's case the election conveyed the will of a little more than half the nation.
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