From Twitter to Tahrir

With her live tweets, Gigi Ibrahim '11 played a significant role as a citizen journalist during the revolution

Photographed by Rachel Beth Anderson

Future generations will remember the Egyptian Revolution for many reasons: for the protestors' insistence on nonviolence, for its ripple effect across the region, for the way it brought about the dramatic end of the Mubarak regime, and for the way youth the chief agents of the revolution were able to mobilize new technological tools to further its spread. Indeed, newspapers and international coverage focused so much attention on the use of social media in the revolution that, for a time, it was termed perhaps hyperbolically the first Facebook Revolution.

A handful of young, entrepreneurial activists were behind this transformation in the tools of protest, alerting the world through their tweets minute-by-minute, often getting news out long before any established news bureaus could report the story. Gigi Ibrahim '11, perhaps better known by her twitter handle @Gsquare86, is one such activist. The AUC graduate, who has a history in activism, was one of only a few who were able to tweet, even through the Internet blackout.

Ibrahim is vivacious and active. She has a tendency to act out her stories as she tells them: dipping and ducking, gesturing as she demonstrates the events of various protests. Her history in activism is long and varied, beginning with her teenage years in California, after which she came to AUC to major in political science.

Ibrahim credits a class she took at the University with inspiring her to return to political activism in Egypt. "I took a political science seminar about social mobilization under authoritarian regimes, and through this, became aware and read all about the history of mobilization," she said. "I was so inspired that I started to contact people from many of the activist movements in Egypt and began attending meetings and protests on the subject. It was through this that I got involved with Al-Haraka Al-Shababiya Al-Democratia Lil Tagheer (The Popular Democratic Youth Movement for Change)."

It was through this group that Ibrahim joined the ranks of citizen journalists. "I would go to protests and tweet what is happening," she said. "Even in those days, we would organize using all sorts of social media sites and in face-to-face meetings. Thousands of people would say they were attending, but then it would be the same 50 people at each protest."

Still, she maintains that the role of social media was important for the foil it played against state-run media. "In an authoritarian regime, any form of citizen journalism becomes activism," she explained, adding that the January 25th Revolution was supported by new social media technologies, but not inspired by them. "There is no revolution without a struggle," she said. "Social networks made this logistically easier, but this could not have happened without dedicated activists and the existence of a collective struggle."

As @GSquare86, Ibrahim has more than 11,000 followers from Egypt and across the world. She tweets about events in Egypt and developments in the continuing revolutions across the Middle East in Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Syria. Even while using this personal twitter handle, she is aware of the importance attached to her words. "Verification is very important to me," she affirmed, crediting the close-knit community of activists that has developed with ensuring that the news they put out is accurate. "It is very important to confirm anything that I tweet or re-tweet if I did not see it with my own eyes."

Due to her role in getting information out when there was little indication to the rest of the world just what was going on at the beginning of the revolution, Ibrahim has received worldwide attention.

A Skype interview with her was broadcast over the Lede blog of The New York TimesWeb site, and she was one of a handful of Egyptian youth to be featured on the cover of TIME magazine's edition about the Egyptian Revolution. "I could never have imagined how much the revolution was going to change my life personally," said Ibrahim. "On a personal level, my family has always thought of my activism as risky and useless. I even had to lie to go to protests. When the revolution happened and they saw how my role was important, it was like winning two revolutions: one for the country and one with my family and everyone who doubted me. In this post-revolutionary era, it is great to see all of us on the same page."

By Madeline Welsh