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9 Tahrir Square, January 2011: Crowds, Rumours, Civil Society and Globalization

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Chapter Summary

To date, the majority of writing on the January 2011 uprisings in Egypt has argued that it was social media and civil society that enabled and fuelled this ‘revolution.’ These accounts pay scant attention to the historical significance of Tahrir Square and its standing as a site for insurrections (specifically 1946 and 1972). Key facts that do not fit with the social media ‘narrative’ are omitted. For example, the Egyptian government blocked Facebook and Twitter for eight days, yet still crowds gathered and moved. The mechanisms by which this happened remain unexamined. The notion of civil society is invoked as a driving force behind the crowd’s actions in Tahrir Square. However, this contradicts the prevalent definition of civil society as a controlled, ‘self-limiting revolution’ aimed at minor reform as opposed to violent revolution. The crowd in Tahrir Square created an autonomous domain of political action through the combination of globalized communicative means (e.g. Facebook), with local rumours, face-to-face interactions, panic, and uncertainty. Rumours were major players in mobilising and enthusing the crowd; interviews and diaries of people who participated in the January 2011 uprising – cited in this paper – testify to this. One participant speaks of the crowd’s ‘collective thinking,’ a phrase reminiscent of Gustave Le Bon’s ‘collective mind,’ that reflects on the crowd’s unconscious, homogenous, invincible power. The uprisings triggered memories of images and pictures of Mubarak’s regime corruption and brutality, circulated via blogs and Bluetooth. The Egyptian government censored traditional media (e.g. newspapers), against which Egyptians created mediascapes, instigators of societal and political change. The catalysing powers of January 2011 are rhizomatic and multiple; the current dominant narrative about Tahrir Square, both in the media and academia, is reductive as it does not acknowledge irrational and local phenomena such as rumours.



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