January 28, 2011

Say's a friend's status on Facebook: "The Egyptian regime has shut down Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Blackberry, and SMS. We expect tomorrow's media / communication blackout will be worse. You'll have to cover their backs, you'll have to spread the news around the world. Stand by them. Please spread this status - they need help!!!"

On behalf of most Pakistanis I can safely say we sympathize. And on behalf of the Pakistani Government, I assure their Egyptian contemporaries they empathize. But from the collective wisdom of people who have imposed and survived similar restrictions over the past two years we can offer Egypt the following advice: do yourself a favor, let it be. Muzzling the virtual world is one of the most senseless, and ultimately inefficacious moves any government can ever make.

First of all it doesn't work. A day after the famous facebook ban, I was using an ingenious proxy-type-thing run of an .exe file off my desktop that allowed me to access not only facebook but any other website that may have been banned to Pakistan. Apparently, little gizmo on desktop allowed other computers to think I was connecting from Brazil. Three days later I had access to three other solutions, each of which claimed to be even more foolproof when it came to bypassing national censors. Life pretty much continued as before, except this fairly mundane, every day task of logging on to facebook became in itself an act of rebellion. Like with the movie Slackistan (recently banned by the Pakistani censor board) facebook gained even more popularity than before as people suddenly began to realize the power of social media and instant connectivity.

The Government of Egypt on the other hand is in the same lamentable situation as our guys were. Seeking to impose their authority in the face of imminent revolution is a difficult thing to do anyway. Tunisia scared the living daylights out of most of them, and all of a sudden their position seems vulnerable somehow. In all humanity's various ages, it has always been known (refer to Machiavelli's Prince if anyone has any doubts) that controlling information, and communication, is the simplest and most effective method to govern. Simply by deciding who knows what (information broadcasting) and controlling communication channels the government assumes power and control. Not for nothing are gatherings of more than X number of people banned whenever those in control sniff whiffs of dissension. Frankly, in their place perhaps I'd do the same thing collectives lead to collective action, and as our Tunisian friend will tell you it's not always the most comfortable place to be.

But here's the issue: internet censorship is beyond useless. A virtual world has been discovered which - short from pulling the plug on the whole thing altogether and regressing to the dark(er) ages - nothing much can be done about. Whether the government likes it or not (and they have no real reason to like this shit) there is no way to prevent collectives from developing around whatever theme is popular with the masses. If those-in-power are lucky, it's a collective around haute couture, if not so lucky attention is directed towards political regimes. The point is, the internet is one massive human collective. And yes, powers without any public legitimacy, are in trouble. Censor away, my loves, it's only going to make the situation worse. The solution, perhaps is courting public franchise and responding to collective needs and opinions. It's unfair to the power-brokers out there, I know, but what-can-one-do? Time's-a-changing my friends, and thank God for it!

Good luck with your battles my Egyptian friends. And to contribute to your cause, oh-people-of-the-world, here's a tip: Ultra-Surf. *cheers*


Aneela Z said...

dekho there you were gnawing at your finger nails what to write about and the Egyptians give you enough fodder for a new post, shabash!!

Anonymous said...

I'd be interested in seeing what happens in Tunisia post-dictatorship. The real challenge starts now, in terms of building systems within. My best wishes for all the Tunisians!

Deepak Iyer said...

Tiny problem with your solution: It only works for 'websites' that are blocked.
In Egypt, the 'internet' is blocked.

Xeb said...

A: Haan, quite the interesting place aaj kal - the Middle East.

Anon: Me too. It's comparatively easy to revolt, much much more difficult to pick up the pieces. Good luck to them, I say.

D: Oh, they got there did they? Last I heard they had banned Social Media (facebook, twitter and gang). Much smarter of them to ban the internet altogether. But dude! Talk about going back to the dark ages. Poor Egyptian net-addicts will go nuts-nuts-nuts! I can't be internet deprived for more than a day without totally feeling it! :(

Deepak Iyer said...

I think Egyptian net-addicts have larger issues to worry about right now.
As for you .. I can see how the lack of internet and thereby stalker guy can severely damage your self-esteem :P

Xeb said...

Its get interesting, and interesting-er. And stalker guy is - unfortunately - not limited to the internet.