The Internet has gone beyond social interactions and played an important role in several recent political uprisings in the Middle East, according to Gelare Khoshgozaran of Iran, a graduate student studying fine arts, who participated in a panel held Thursday.
The Office of International Services hosted a discussion with four students from Egypt, Iran and Jordan in Doheny Memorial Library to discuss the social and political impact of the recent events in Egypt and the Middle East.
The panel discussion was the latest in a series of events by the Office of International Services known as “State of the World” seminars, which have been ongoing since 1989. The seminars aim to give international students at USC the opportunity to share their unique perspectives on world events.
About 30 people attended Thursday’s event, where student panelists shared their ideas and experiences regarding the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and discussed how the uprisings have affected events in surrounding countries.
“The Tunisian revolution was definitely a catalyst in the Egyptian uprising, but there were many other things that happened in the past 10 years that were actually introductions to these uprisings,” said Mohamed Saleh, a doctoral student from Egypt studying economics.
One of the central themes of the discussion was this series of revolutions in the Middle East following the initial uprising in Tunisia in January and the Internet’s role in these events.
Saleh described the growth of social media as integral to the events that led up to the end of Mubarak’s regime. He said some of the largest stepping stones to the revolution, such as a countrywide strike in 2008, were coordinated through media like Facebook.
Muhannad Al Salayta of Jordan, a doctoral student studying dentistry, said a new group of protestors known as the Youth of March 24 Movement is starting to embrace digital media and the Internet by setting up a live streaming camera.
“It seems to be a very good tactic,” Al Salayta said. “Cyber media plays a very big role in Jordan. Almost everyone uses Facebook. It really changes the way people aggregate and organize.”
Khoshgozaran said the Internet allows people to live in ways that aren’t possible under their culturally oppressive and conservative society.
“The virtual space becomes this platform for us to use as a substitute for whatever was lacking in the society on the streets,” Khoshgozaran said. “When it came to political activism, it was there and it affected the way that we thought about our society outside of the Internet.”
The panelists also acknowledged the ways social media have connected people to current events by eliminating the middle man in news distribution.
“Normally the news and information gets filtered, and sometimes you look at the news of an event and it’s so alienated,” Khoshgozaran said. “But when I’m an individual and take a picture of the protests on the street of Tehran and immediately upload it to Facebook, it’s nothing professional, but it is more real.”
Mohamed El Sheikh of Egypt, a graduate student studying building science in the School of Architecture, said in the past intimidation was a useful tactic for the government. Now, he said, intimidation only makes the protestors stronger and more passionate.
“This time, everyone had the same grief and sadness inside them,” El Sheikh said. “We were better able to organize and form a very strong group opposing the regime.”