Posted: March 18th, 2023
Mubarak instated sweeping reforms that liberalized Egyptian economic policy within a neoliberal framework, but those reforms came at the price of repression, oppression, and corruption leading to widespread income disparity and disenfranchisement especially among the male youth population. Inspired in part by a similar revolution in Tunisia, the protesters in Cairo successfully toppled the Mubarak regime and became part of what has been dubbed the Arab Spring. Critical to the 2011 revolution in Egypt were the participation of women in the political sphere and also the use of social media to facilitate, hasten, communicate, and organize the movement. One protestor famously said, “We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world,” (Chebib & Sohail, 2011, p. 139).
Without a doubt, “social media played an instrumental role in the success of the anti-government protests that led to the resignation of the country’s dictatorial leader,” (Eltantawy & Wiest, 2011, p. 18). However, the role of social media may be overall less important than the demographic features of the revolution and the stagnancy of post-revolutionary Egypt. Social media did not trigger the movement but it was a critical “facilitator and an accelerating agent” of revolution (Chebib & Sohail, 2011, p. 155). The Internet certainly provided an alternative space for political momentum gathering and collective activity. “For any mass movement to take place, a space for communication is needed. A few decades ago, this used to happen in bookshops and underground newspapers’ offices,” (Chebib & Sohail, 2011, p. 143). Now in the 21st century, social media form and frame political space. The 2011 revolution would have happened with or without the Internet, but doubtlessly social media helped the protests be as organized and responsive as possible, and also helped the protestors communicate their messages to the world instantaneously, simultaneously gathering feedback and allowing the movement to spread throughout the Middle East as it had already done from Tunisia into Egypt.
The role of women in the revolution was even more critical than social media. “Women have played a central role in bringing about the success of the revolt that toppled Egypt’s 30-year-old Mubarak regime and dismantled its ruling apparatus,” (Hafez, 2012, p. 38). In fact, “women made up 20 to 50% of the protesters in Tahrir Square,” (Hafez, 2012, p. 37). However, the role of women in the Egyptian revolution was and remains dichotomous and paradoxical. On the one hand, women emerged into the public sphere — typically a patriarchal space reserved for the men who possess political power. The virtual public sphere of the Internet and social media also paralleled the public sphere symbolized by Tahrir. Social media did therefore help to democratize the revolution and enabled the emergence of women in Tahrir Square. There is an interface between the participation of women in the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 and the catalyzing effect of social media.
However, it is important also to point out that the aftermath of the revolution was anti-climactic and gave rise to intense misogyny and the simultaneous repression of mass movements that spread via social media. Hafez (2012) refers to the “marginalization of women in a post-revolutionary Egypt,” almost as if it were a direct backlash to their revolutionary participation in a traditionally patriarchal society (p. 40). “Violence toward and abuse and harassment of women are the outcome of masculinity built on hate and deprivation and is therefore one of the core factors underlying” the lack of responsiveness of the post-revolutionary government to the actual needs of the majority of Egyptians (Hafez, 2012, p. 40). Also, the Revolution meant losing institutions of social order. Winegar (2012) mentions the “continued lack of basic security after the revolution,” and the need for police reform because in actuality the police were one of the primary targets of revolutionary reform (Winegar, 2012, p. 70).
The Egyptian Revolution therefore needs to be understood both in terms of neoliberalism and intersectionality, even more than through the overly simplified proximal issues of gender and social media. Joya (2011) claims the Egyptian revolution and Arab Spring in general “has to be understood in the context of neoliberal economic shift,” (p. 367). Ironically, the neoliberal economic shift actually facilitated in part the breakdown of patriarchal authority even while Mubarak proclaimed himself to be a “benevolent, omnipotent father as state leader,” (Hafez, 2012, p. 39). Mubarak’s role as father played into a patriarchal consciousness that theoretically supports the will of masculine power, leading to the subordination of women. That subordination is often tacitly or even explicitly accepted as part of a Faustian bargain in which power is given over in exchange for economic protections. A victory in Tahrir Square offered for the first time an opportunity for women to play an important role in the political reconstruction of their country. The opposite happened because patriarchal power is too difficult for patriarchs to surrender. “The more that males are subordinated, denied patriarchal benefits, and associated with females, the more extreme their gender differentiation from females will be,” (Hafez, 2012, p. 40). The Revolution pointed out the flaws in patriarchal neoliberalism, but had no cohesive answer.
Unfortunately, a “politics of disappointment” has emerged, “which comes in part from framing the revolution as a youth-led teleological process,” (Winegar, 2012, p. 69). Understanding the Egyptian Revolution requires an understanding of how patriarchal power continues to shape Egyptian culture and values. If the Egyptian people can understand how intersectionality works, the future promises “positive developments such as the rise of political parties, independent trade union federations and other social groups aiming to participate in rebuilding a democratic society,” (Joya, 2011, p. 367). Patriarchal power is what breeds the very same inequalities that led to revolution in the first place. Meaningful change can only be expected if women play as active a role in politics as in protest.
Aouragh, M. & Alexander, A. (2011). The Arab Spring| The Egyptian Experience: Sense and Nonsense of the Internet Revolution. International Journal of Communication 5(1):15
Chebib, N.K. & Sohail, R.M. (2011). The reasons social media contributed to the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. International Journal of Business Research and Management 2(3): 139.
Eltantwany, N. & Wiest, J.B.(2011). The Arab Spring| Social Media in the Egyptian Revolution: Reconsidering Resource Mobilization Theory. International Journal of Communication 5(1): 18.
Hafez, S. (2012). No longer a bargain: Women, masculinity, and the Egyptian uprising. American Ethnologist 39(1): 37-42.
Joya, A. (2011). The Egyptian revolution: crisis of neoliberalism and the potential for democratic politics. Review of African Political Economy 38(129): 367-386.
Winegar, J. (2012). The privilege of revolution. American Ethnologist 39(1): 67-70.
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