There is a great deal of discussion about the role of social media in the political transformation of the Middle East after decades of stagnation. That leads us to reflect on a broader question in this issue of the Cairo Review: What is the future of the Internet? Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams provide some fascinating answers in The Cairo Review Interview. They spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival 2011 with Walter Isaacson, the president and CEO of the Aspen Institute. Isaacson is the author of Steve Jobs, the new biography of the late founder of Apple Inc., which immediately shot to No. 1 on Amazon’s bestseller list. At one point, when Isaacson asked if technologies that enable a freer flow of information inevitably bend the arc of history towards democracy, Williams preferred to hear what Isaacson had to say. “The answer,” Isaacson replied, without missing a beat, “is yes.”
The interview with the “Twitter guys” is part of our Special Report on the Internet, which also features an essay on free speech and censorship in the digital age by writer and activist Jillian C. York. She was spurred to study online expression while living in Morocco after she discovered that the authorities had blocked a favorite Internet site. She went on to work at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, and is currently at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. “I really learned about the field from Tunisian activists,” says York. “Some of them have been at the cutting edge.”
Another expert on the subject is Rasha A. Abdulla, an associate professor in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication here at the American University in Cairo. In “The Revolution Will Be Tweeted,” she offers a detailed account of digital activism in Egypt. She has been researching online communication since 1989, when, as an AUC undergrad, she got hooked on Bitnet, a network that linked universities together. Joining the Tahrir Square demonstrations in January, she got a first-hand look at how Facebook and Twitter played a part. “It was amazing to see the plethora of laptops and mobile phones, sometimes in the midst of a war zone,” she recalls.
We have enjoyed putting together this issue of the Cairo Review and hope it deepens your understanding of the Internet as well as of the Arab transformation. As we witnessed here in Cairo this year, they are two of the important global topics of our times.
Dean, School of Global Affairs and Public Policy