‘Scared, excited, hopeful’ tweeted activist Mona Seif, aka monasosh, on January 24th 2011 in anticipation of the protests planned for the following day. On the eve of revolution, the tide of protest about to engulf the country felt far from inevitable, incredible as that seems now. Less than 24 hours later, already everything had changed: ‘This is happening!!!!’ tweeted Tarek Shalaby as Egyptians took to the street on the first of 18 days of continuous protests that pushed Mubarak from his perch and shook the country to its core.
Tweets from Tahrir is the story of Egypt’s revolution told through the twitter feeds of a handful of activists, now international names as the intense interest that surrounded the uprising propelled them onto the world stage. A year later, it is a story we are all familiar with, and this collection of 140-character thoughts, observations, pleas, demands, even jokes glimpses back into the process of revolution as it unfolded.
‘Pray for #Egypt. Very worried as it seems that government is planning a war crime tomorrow against its people. We are all ready to die #Jan25’ said Wael Ghonim on 27th January, the night before the ‘Day of Rage’ forced the police off the streets in one of the most decisive days of victory for the protesters. ‘I have never seen #Egypt this way. This is not Mubarak’s Egypt anymore. And it never will be again’ wrote Sharif Kouddous, on the 29th as people began to organise themselves into popular committees to take the space of the retreating state.
These are a tiny sample of the outpourings of emotion recorded on Twitter and compiled by the editors, Nadia Idle and Alex Nunns, who aim ‘to document a fraction of those remarkable messages before they disappear into the vacuum of cyberspace’. It was through Twitter, and Al Jazeera, that many outside Egypt followed and experienced the revolution. As a tool for communication and an alternative press it acted as a lifeline into events for people not on the ground. The idea that this was a social media revolution, be it Twitter or Facebook, has long been discarded, but this technology can be recognised as one of many weapons with which people fought a brutal regime.
Yet, there is something strange about the revisiting of tweets in this way, something a bit anti-Twitter. As a medium of communication so totally situated in the present tense, one that acts as an unadulterated stream of consciousness from the profound to the inane, the mundane to the momentous, it somehow jars against the whole purpose of this platform to research, collect, edit and then publish its output.
It is, of course, not the first project to use Twitter as an alternative record of events. Gillian Slovo’s play The Riots, about the unrest that swept across the UK last summer, is an interesting, if different, example. It opens with a projection of tweets that ground the audience back in a particular time and place and simultaneously demonstrate how the immediacy of these messages and their proximity to the events can stand as powerful testimony. Similarly, this book pulls readers back into events as they unfolded, and provides a history of sorts – one of short cries of fear, panic, joy, anger, determination – and one that is unclouded by hindsight.
A year after the start of Egypt’s revolution, there have been a flood of books on this subject, as a plethora of different voices present their experiences and analyses of those 18 days: from journalist and activist Ashraf Khalil (whose tweets are also recorded in this book) to former head of state-run news Abdel-Latif El-Menawy’s ‘insider’s’ version of the chaos of Mubarak’s last days in power.
This is a different beast altogether. It is not a work of great depth, nor does it give much in the way of analysis or insight into what happened or why. At worst, it is a bit of a gimmick. But it does have value, if we take it for what it is in the words of its editors: ‘a readable, fast-paced account of the Revolution that gives a sense of what was being said on Twitter’.
And as news from Egypt is increasingly dominated by terrible and mounting abuses of power by the military, and talk of counter-revolution that seeks to roll back the hard-won ground of the protestors, this book provides a snapshot of the hope, energy, empowerment and incredible achievement of the those 18 days.
Tweets from Tahrir can be obtained exclusively from the publisher’s website: www.orbooks.com/catalog/tweets-from-tahrir
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