It is just three short years since January 25th 2011 and the first dizzying days of the mass protests at Tahrir Square in Cairo. Since then we have seen a worldwide uprising sweeping across entire continents from Tunisia to Thailand, from Bosnia-Herzegovina to Venezuela. In many ways these events have altered the political landscape more rapidly than anyone had previously thought possible. However, it is now time to ask the question ‘What really has changed?’ as the popular demonstrations in Kiev’s Maidan have now developed into a distinctly Cold War-esque scenario with the same old East-West power blocs squaring up for old fashioned military conflict.
Back in the beginning of 2011, I wrote a piece for Reality Sandwich called ‘Revolution 2.0’ in which I pointed to Egyptian Google executive (and short-term political prisoner) Wael Ghonim, who was credited with creating the first facebook page to promote the protests in Tahrir Square. In a CNN interview on February 11, 2011, he coined the term ‘Revolution 2.0’ to describe the ‘Internet’ or ‘facebook’ revolution that was in the process of sweeping the Mubarak regime from power in Egypt. At that moment there was a palpable sense of optimism and opportunity provided by the newly widespread tools of mass peer-to-peer communication. Ghonim passionately articulated the view that social media would lead to a fundamental change in the ability of oppressive regimes to control the populace by controlling their media. ‘If you want to free a society, just give them internet access.’ said Ghonim.
This claim wasn’t without substance. Ghonim’s Facebook page ‘We are all Khaled Said’ mobilised hundreds of thousands of young Egyptians in a way that was previously considered impossible. The sheer force of numbers took the Egyptian regime by surprise and the heavy-handed repression that followed was immediately visible on the world’s media through the eyes of thousands of phone cameras. Revolution 2.0 seemed full of promise, especially for the potential for non-violent struggle being possible through sheer people power. It felt like a ‘V for Vendetta’ moment when the people rose up as one and overwhelmed the impotent forces of the police and army unwilling to fire upon their own people.