Thursday, July 7, 2011

TweetNadwa discusses social justice in Egypt

I've been curious about TweetNadwa, one of the new types of social media activism in Egypt that has emerged since February, so I attended yesterday's conference. The event was like a town-hall style brainstorming session. Panelists Khaled Ali, Wael Gamal, Lubna Darwish, Wael Nawara, and Mainoush Abdul Majeed gave their thoughts on social justice, the topic of the evening, after which audience participation dictated the conversation. The atmosphere was very amicable and seemed to lend itself to both a sharing of ideas and blowing off of steam.

My only qualm was that it seemed unclear how Twitter played any unique role in this discussion forum. Tweets under the hashtag #Tweetnadwa were projected onto a large screen facing the audience, but the content seemed no different than the running Twitter commentary found in any other lecture, panel, roundtable, etc. Audience members directed their attention towards the panelists, not the screen (which thankfully meant that the Tweets weren't a distraction from more in-depth discussion).

As for the content of TweetNadwa, a recurring question was simply, "what is social justice?" The audience was very frank in admitting that, to them, social justice is an amorphous idea that needs to be grounded in more specific demands. After decades of authoritarianism, what does it mean to have citizenship rights? What should the people be asking for? As one audience member pointed out, if you approach an average Egyptian at an ahwa (coffee shop) and ask him about the idea of social justice, he will have no idea what you're talking about.

Other recurring themes and notable points are as follows. I owe a big thank you to @OmarFehail for being my unofficial translator!  
  • the importance of raising the minimum wage in Egypt and guaranteeing equal access for all citizens to the state's resources, which together would make food, education, and health care more available to the average Egyptian
  • the issue of state budget allocation, which under Mubarak egregiously neglected social programs
  • the debate over compulsory education 
  • the debate over the right economic system for Egypt. Many of the panelists were outspoken socialists, and the audience tended to sympathize. Capitalism was demonized as a cruel system inseparable from exploitation and corruption. (Some Tweets that popped up onto the screen defended capitalism and accused the audience of confusing it with corruption. Other Tweets urged that neither pure capitalism nor pure socialism can solve Egypt's problem; Egypt must develop its own economic model.)
  • social justice is unobtainable under the current system in Egypt because the judiciary and the police force, among other institutions, are still dominated by former NDP members and Mubarak loyalists. "Cleansing the system" is a necessary first step towards social justice.
  • the closer that decision making is to the people, the closer Egypt will move towards achieving higher levels of social justice.

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