Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Beyond blurbs

Today I came across this encouraging sign of dialogue in Egypt (of which there are many, but this one stands out).

"A gathering of Egyptian activists and bloggers convened Sunday in Dokki, Cairo to take part in the first ‘Tweet Nadwa’, a meeting organised for members of the social networking and micro-blogging service Twitter “to engage in new conversations and discover new contacts” according to organiser Alaa Abd El Fattah. El Fattah qualified, however, that the meeting was “not a replacement for the street; the fact of the matter is [Twitter] is present and it’s growing.” The meeting, as outlined, was meant as an extension of the many 140-character-message discussions taking place in the Twitter-verse on a daily basis. The discussion focused on the subject of youth Islamists, bringing several such activists to speak and participate, including Ibrahim Hudhaibi, Abdel-Moneim Mahmoud and Ahmed Samir."

Read the rest here. (No really, read it). "Nadwa" is Arabic for panel or conference, by the way.

If this article is accurate, I'm impressed by the following things:

  • Young Egyptians are addressing issues of Egypt's future political identity head-on- for example, the role of Islam. Props to them for bucking predictions that their contribution would end with the overthrow of Mubarak. 
  • Activists like Abd El Fattah are finding ways to develop and build upon the blurb-based social media culture. One of Twitter's weaknesses is that thoughts must be condensed to 140 characters.... so most tweets have very little substance. The format of this event dealt with this issue nicely by first letting participants express their ideas and opinions via Twitter (in their blurby comfort zone), but then having them engage with each other verbally and upping the response length from 140 characters to 140 seconds. This is enough time to express a concise but well thought-out opinion.  The structure seems an excellent way to bridge low-commitment internet activism with serious political debate, which is a major challenge facing Egypt's younger generation.
  • Activists are also channeling the power of social media in a constructive way. Rather than using Twitter to tell the world what Egyptians don't want (no to SCAF, no to fall elections, etc.), they're using it to discuss competing visions for Egypt's future. 

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