The official Facebook page of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
CAIRO: They described it as a “Facebook Revolution” due to the momentum garnered on the social networking website for the nationwide protests that ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
The young tech-savvy generation that brought change and led the January 25 Revolution were called the “Facebook Youth.”
Now, one by one, Egypt’s governmental bodies are hopping on the bandwagon by setting up their own Facebook pages to communicate with citizens.
On Sunday, Egypt’s Cabinet of Ministers launched its own page with a video of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq explaining its goal to communicate with people, which include the “wonderful youth” who make up more than 50 percent of Egyptians.
“Through constant communication we will be putting up everything for discussion in order to get your feedback to make decisions so that we will all be on the same page and build Egypt on the basis of unity,” he explained.
“Now is the time to renew the trust and cooperation in order to fulfill the goals of all parts of society,” Shafiq added in the video.
The page features news related to the Cabinet and its different ministries, and regularly lists emails, telephone numbers and other means to receive citizens’ feedback and complaints.
For example, March 24 was set for the first court hearing in the lawsuit to remove the name Mubarak from streets, squares and other locations around Egypt. Comments on this announcement varied from those strongly opposing the decisions — saying that the names should remain as a tribute to the former president — and others who said it is simply a way to divert people’s attention from other important matters at hand. Others demanded that the judge in the case not to be a member of the National Democratic Party.
So far the page has attracted more than 70,500 Facebook users.
The Ministry of Interior was among the first government body to launch a Facebook page, attempting to reach out to citizens amid growing discontent at the apparent lack of police forces on the streets of Egypt. Police presence has been noticeably sparse since their withdrawal on Jan. 28 when the army took to the streets.
“We just want to tell the Egyptian people that we are one of you, your sons, brothers, uncles, neighbors and friends. We love you and we care for you, we know there are corrupt people but remember that corruption is in every field…we are back, even though we never went, we are back with the slogan ‘We Protect…We serve,’” the page says, signed by Egyptian Police Officers.
With more than 75,000 members, the page features announcements of the latest ministry news and has a special place for people to submit their complaints.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces also created a Facebook page after taking control of Egypt’s affairs when Mubarak stepped down.
The page, which is dedicated "to the sons and youth of Egypt who ignited the January 25 Revolution and to its martyrs," was apparently set up by the head of the council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. He said, "Fruitful cooperation in the coming period with the honorable sons of Egypt would lead to stability and security."
The Ministry of Education is on its way to creating its own Facebook page, with an eye on “befriending” students.
“Facebook is a communication tool, and it’s available for everybody to use. The government and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces are wise to realize that this is an important media channel to reach Egypt’s youth,” said Rasha Abdulla, chair of the journalism and mass communication department at the American University in Cairo.
“However, the problem lies within the message, not just the channel. If you have a great communication channel but the messages are not great, you’re still not going to get through,” she noted.
“That’s why while the army page has been somehow popular among Egyptian Facebook users in transmitting statements from the army, so far the [Cabinet’s] page has not caught on because most Facebook users do not acknowledge the current Cabinet and want it changed,” Abdulla pointed out.
Even though reaching people through social media is a direct way, one of the Facebook youth thinks otherwise. Khaled El-Sayed, member of the Jan. 25 Coalition, finds that the way to reach the people is to “fulfill their demands.”
“Before the regime fell their has been numerous pages on Facebook promoting Gamal Mubarak and other figures and yet they did not understand the people, a small part of communicating with the people is through Facebook but the bigger part is to do what they want,” he explained.
“If you fulfill the demands of the people you won’t need Facebook to reach them,” El-Sayed said.
Political analyst Emad Gad, from Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, agree with El-Sayed, saying that the government can’t just change its tools without real change from within.
“The Ministers of Justice, Interior and Foreign Affairs are distorting the image of the rest of the Cabinet so first the prime minister and these three ministers have to leave then anything that’s done afterwards can help improve the image,” he explained.