Parvez Sharma: #GayinEgypt
BY Parvez Sharma
February 09 2011 5:30 PM ET
Even at an estimated 19 million people, Cairo does remain a very small town. Every single time I have been there I have been struck by the small cliques of people who hang out at the same parties, go out to the same restaurants and bars, visit the same art exhibitions, and gossip endlessly about each other. There is an interesting kind of tribalism. For example, many of the expat journalists reporting on the Middle East (until the uprising Cairo was considered the safest place to report from about the region) like to drink copiously at the Odeon Palace rooftop bar off Talaat Harb street, pretty much a stone’s throw from the ground zero of the Egyptian revolution at Tahrir Square.
As in any claustrophobic society ruled by autocratic regimes, the well-off hang out with the well-off and are usually cut off from the majority of Egyptians, at least 40% of whom live below the poverty line. The well-off and the poor never inhabit the same physical spaces, let alone the same spaces on social networks.
Remarkably, about half the country’s population has access to mobile phones and about 20 million Egyptians have access to the Internet. However, the most profound thing about the ongoing Egyptian revolution is that it has brought together young activists (who decided to not be as apathetic as their parents’ generation had been) with some of the poorest, whom they never really spoke to before these remarkable events unfolding live on television.
I have continued to report from my own front line of cyber journalism. I recently did an interview for Voice of America Urdu, which I know is heard in Pakistan. My hope: Perhaps some of this remarkable revolutionary spirit of the Egyptians will travel beyond the Middle East into one of the most troubled countries in the world right now. I joked to the interviewer who asked me if I would take back my earlier comments that this was not a Twitter revolution — I said I would not and that the only Twitter revolution that I knew was really happening was on my laptop and perhaps on the laptops of others not in Egypt (and of course the very valuable but relatively small critical mass that has been able to tweet from inside Egypt).