The recent Egyptian elections, which saw the ruling National Democratic Party secure victory by arguably questionable means, have prompted increased government restrictions both domestic and foreign media. Writing in the Huffington Post, Magda Abu-Fadil, director of the Journalism Training Program at the American University of Beirut, described the efforts as a "clampdown," but she and others also noted significant efforts to fight back.
The BBC Arabic Service wrote to Egyptian information minister Anas El Fiki to protest the harassment of its local and foreign correspondents assigned to cover the elections after one of its correspondents was put under surveillance by Egyptian security and production companies with whom it worked were threatened by senior officials in the state-run media, Abu-Fadil reported.
She also quoted the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat which said that the NDP's increased restrictions on the private media had contributed to the parliament's loss of credibility both locally and internationally.
The restrictions on the press have provided an opportunity for citizen journalists to contribute their experiences to the overall picture of the elections. Abu-Fadil pointed to a video on YouTube that shows a man forging ballot papers. "Citizen journalists and social media users have definitely been filling a void," she said.
The platform U-Shahid.org, based on Ushahidi, a project that has pioneered 'crowd-mapping,' has also been used during the elections. U-Shahid.org compiles reports of election irregularities from citizens and plots them on a map of the country. It allows contributions via email, text message or Twitter. According to the Christian Science Monitor, it is indirectly funded by the United States and by late November had recruited 125 volunteers who were all training others.
Philip N. Howard, director of the University of Washington's Project on Information Technology and Political Islam, sees hope in the online realm for allowing and generating real discussion about Egyptian politics, and for letting the outside world know what is going on. "Murabak's real opponents are tech-savvy activists and wired civic groups," he said, and believes that the Internet has become "the primary incubator of democratic political conversation."
Al Jazeera also reported on the effects of new media in Egypt, which is said has "been undeniably effective at uncovering abuses of authority in Egypt." There has been a "massive expansion" in blogging, Al Jazeera heard from Hossam el-Hamalawy who runs the 3rabawy blog. The blogging sphere has also become more diverse, Hamalawy said, with rural writers adding to the content produced by those in Cairo and Alexandria. And there is an "unspoken partnership" between social media and the mainstream publications, he said.
Former editor of Al-Dustour Ibrahim Eissa, who was sacked in October, has been continuing his criticism of the government on the paper's alternate website, Abu-Fadil said.
Further government repression is only going to lead to further attempts to evade restrictions and fight back, and the Internet in all its forms is proving an extremely valuable tool in many countries throughout the world. However, how long will it take for online opposition to really make a difference? Will it ever become so powerful that repression is ineffective?