A Quick Glance at the Egyptian Blogosphere

As the Jasmine Revolution roars on in North Africa and the Middle East, CNN journalists and WSJ bloggers alike have been raving about the power of online social networks that have allowed Egypt’s citizens to keep the world updated on the region-wide revolution that was partially initiated in the country. But what does the Egyptian blogosphere look like? How much are Egyptian bloggers actually using their online resources? Who are these bloggers? And, most importantly, how exactly are they using the blogosphere to fuel the revolution?

In 2009, Bruce Etling, John Kelly, Robert Faris, and John Palfrey of the Berkman Center published “Mapping the Arabic Blogosphere,” revealing several key findings about Internet users in the region. In particular, Egypt is host to the largest number of Arabic bloggers due to a greater number of people with Internet access in the country—the country represents about a third of the entire Arabic blogosphere. Moreover, Egyptians are more likely to be active in online political discussions and engagements, especially among the Secular Reformist and the Muslim Brotherhood populations.

Among Secular Reformist bloggers in the country, most active online writers began as critics against Hosni Mubarak’s regime in the Kefaya movement. An example of a profile of an Egyptian blogger from the study exhibits the clear opposition against the recently toppled regime:

“This is the blog of an Egyptian computer programmer and a Coptic Christian. He writes a lot about the dangers Christians face not just in Egypt, but also around the entire Middle East. He condemns jihadist groups and urges dialogue and understanding.”

The Muslim Brotherhood continues to vocalize protests of arrests by the Egyptian government online. Although the group is illegal in Egypt, Brotherhood bloggers continue to use their name publicly rather than resorting to pseudonyms (about 78%).

One noteworthy observation—online groups in Egypt seemed more likely to gather around “political and religious ideas.” As aforementioned, although the Muslim Brotherhood is forbidden to congregate in the country, they continue to shed light on their ideas on the Internet through blogging. Along this trajectory, Etling, et al. may have unknowingly predicted the revolution for democracy with their prescience on the upheaving potential of the Egyptian blogosphere— “Opening up their thoughts to criticism within and outside their own community suggests a degree of confidence in the resilience of their ideas and amenability to debate. It is interesting to see these decidedly democratic practices taking root in civic organizations online.”

Other data reveal the demographics and the specific pockets of the Internet in which Egyptian bloggers congregate. Gender-wise, a surprisingly large number of female Arabic bloggers are found in Egypt, especially among the youth population. Unsurprisingly, female Egyptian bloggers are more likely to use anonymous identities when writing online than men.

The study also noted that YouTube is circumvented around the Arabic blogosphere more than any other website, including Egypt. The authors gave the example of “The Pasha’s Daughter Terrifying People on the Street” that has become linked all over Egyptian blogs and has received over 1.5 million views to date. The video, featuring a girl threatening a man on the street in Giza, became viral after people protested that the girl abused the position of her father, a high-ranking police officer in Egypt.

For more information, visit the OpenNet Initiative’s country profile on Egypt and read the Berkman Center’s ongoing coverage on Egypt.