By Audrey Bastian
If we down play the role of Facebook in the overthrow of the Egyptian president, we ignore the voices of young conservative women whose main contribution is through Facebook. Before the recent uprisings, Egypt had more than 2 million male Facebook users and almost 2 million female users from a population of 77 million, totaling roughly 3 percent of the population. The 1.5 percent of Egyptian female users reached unprecedented audiences. Worood, for example, is a prolific Facebook user.
A psychology student living in Alexandria, Worood speaks just a few words of English and has left Egypt once for a vacation to Holland. She rotates her Facebook profile picture among magazine-like photos of people she doesn’t know. In fact, you won’t find her face anywhere on her profile. Her avatar switches from a newspaper announcing the martyrs of the Egyptian revolution to a cartoon girl tagged, “Kiss Kiss”.
Up until recently Worood managed two Facebook accounts, one focused on political posting, the other on the hip hop of the moment. She agreed to answer questions through Facebook in Arabic, “I didn’t influence the revolution because there were already a million Egyptians and I was not a political activist.”
Her Facebook behavior, though, draws attention. One moment she is playing Farmville, an online Facebook game, dawdling with friends and posting pictures of parties. The next moment she posts a picture of a young man hanging in a public square or a head mutilated and sewn back together.
“I definitely used Facebook to express my opinion whether in happiness for the events or to express loyalty,” Worood explained. In roughly one month’s time between January 25 and March 1 she posted 377 times on her profile. Her highest posting day tops off at 36 unique posts coinciding with escalating violence in Tahrir Square. She finally did join street protests. The next day Mubarak stepped down.
Like a peephole in the curtain, she posted videos of most all men engaged in revolutionary activity. The videos are of councils with Google Executive, Wael Ghonim, the raiding of the Alexandria police depot, political candidates, and wall to wall presses of protestors. This reposting of revolutionary events could reflect a distrust or lack of accessible news, a desire to participate, or an assertion of social approval.
Worood’s seven closest female friends and family fell into three broad categories: heavy, moderate, and infrequent posting. One posted nearly 500 times in the same period peaking at 39 posts the day after Mubarak stepped down. Three others tend to comment on and “like” others’ material with between 40-75 posts. Two of the last the last three that didn’t post at all or posted once or twice are married.
In contrast male relatives of the two most prolific girls posted 34 and 225 times during the same period. Although posting interaction remained along gender lines, a social norm even on Facebook, the women tended to have an evenly distributed group of friends both male and female that could view their posting including international friends. Occasionally brothers, sisters, cousins, and fiancés did interact on profiles of the opposite gender.
Since the revolution Worood is posting a growing number of videos of women activists. When asked if she wants to be more politically involved in the future she doesn’t respond. “In Egypt you won’t find the power with women, if that’s what you mean. Some women were influential and others weren’t,” remarks Worood. Perhaps she underestimates her contribution. Through Facebook, her voice reached beyond the four walls of her home and even beyond the borders of Egypt. Conservative Egyptian women haven’t had this reach in the past.
Audrey Bastian, MA: Linguist, Writer, Teacher, is an ASL/Arabic interpreter and teacher of Arabic. Master’s degree in International Law and World Order from the University of Reading in England. Fields of interest are Middle East, East Asia, and Language Interpretation. Won an honorable mention for “Japanese Carp” in the national Writer’s Digest competition. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org