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The Internet is not the cavalry.

Egypt and the Myth of Electronic Revolution

Tens of thousands continue to take to the streets of Cairo, Egypt in an effort to end President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year authoritarian rule. Elsewhere in the world, there are people who are disproportionately more concerned with the average Egyptian’s ability to communicate with them than with what drove the average Egyptian to the streets in the first place.

These people have moved the issues of Egypt’s unemployment, high food prices, and government corruption to the back burner. They are instead focusing on how to get the Internet back up and running in Egypt—and to what end? So the average Egyptian can communicate with citizens of the world who will in turn come a-runnin’? No, it’s so those outside Egypt can resume feeling good about themselves by virtue of feeling bad for Egyptian citizens when they read their Twitter posts and see their Facebook uploads.

This is tantamount to walking up to a burning home and instead of heeding the residents’ cries for help, hurling cell phones at them so they can call you and talk about the experience.

It’s okay to say, “I feel helpless in the face of what these people are now enduring on top of their unemployment, high food prices, and government corruption.” It is not okay to hide this feeling behind a self-righteous campaign wielded from one’s device of choice and say, “Their most important tool is communication—with us!” No, they’re already communicating with the man who hasn’t addressed their issues. That’s not you, Desktop Dan.

Egyptian citizens have already been robbed of their most important tools by their own government. Unless you have a job, affordable food, or an honest government leader hiding in your pocket, you’re of no use to anyone in Egypt—or any other citizen of a destabilized nation.

Despite growing enthusiasm for remote-control revolutions, they are ineffective and unproductive. At best, communications will do little more than send a lot of people scurrying to the Internet to find out the correct spelling of the country in question and make others in the world aware of what’s happening—assuming the communication is in a language you personally can understand.

The monolingual militia need remember that while many Egyptians (and other citizens in need around the world) do speak English, the bulk of any communication coming directly from an Egyptian citizen is going to be in Arabic. You could swing a lot of dead cats ’round the States before hitting anyone who understands Arabic.

Tom Twitter, Fred Facebook and thousands of their closest untrained friends are not going to change anything or make anyone’s life better no matter what post they read or uploaded picture or video they see. That power, in the United States, rests with the Executive Branch and USCentCom (United States Central Command).

An American could join the U.S. military or get a federal job that might land them somewhere near CentCom, the Treasury Department, or the State Department, or they could secure employment or a volunteer position with USAID (United States Agency for International Development) or any number of other international agencies that help with everything from basic living needs to negotiating with a difficult government leader. Any of this, however, requires a lot more work than anyone is willing to do who also thinks Twitter is a revolutionary tool.

Those who would denounce the opportunity to secure a U.S. federal job by pointing out our own unemployment, high food prices, and government corruption need only ask themselves, “Why, since I think my country is so bad off, am I focusing on the communication debacle of another country instead of working to meet the basic needs of the citizens of either?” There is only one answer: “I am not concerned with the basic needs of either. I am upset that anything or anyone could or would interfere with the flow of information I personally seek.”

It is okay to admit powerlessness in the wake of a fellow human being’s suffering, especially when s/he is thousands of miles away. It sucks, many of us wish it wasn’t like this, and many wish they could do more. It is not okay to take the path of least resistance and then claim to be running the gauntlet.

If you really want to help someone somewhere in need, pick a culture or country, learn the language, get educated in a field of study that could help with situations like the one in Egypt, and apply for the jobs that would take you there and allow you to walk the walk. If you really can’t muster up more than talk, text, and the chance to be known for both, Maury Povich is always looking for guests.

Photo: Amr Nabil, AP

About Diana Hartman

Diana is a USMC (ret.) spouse, mother of three and a Wichita, Kansas native. She is back in the United States after 10 years in Germany. She is a contributing author to Holiday Writes. She hates liver & motivational speakers. She loves science & naps.

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