"Facebook Defeated Mubarak."
No. There's a joke that has been making the rounds in Egypt in recent weeks, and it goes something like this: Hosni Mubarak meets Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdel Nasser, two fellow Egyptian presidents, in the afterlife. Mubarak asks Nasser how he ended up there. "Poison," Nasser says. Mubarak then turns to Sadat. "How did you end up here?" he asks. "An assassin's bullet," Sadat says. "What about you?" To which Mubarak replies: "Facebook."
There's no question that social networking was a critical factor in Mubarak's overthrow. Groups like the April 6 Youth Movement and the We Are All Khaled Said Facebook page, which first called for the Jan. 25 protests that sparked the uprising, played a daring, important role in breaking the barrier of fear that had kept Egyptians in their homes.
But the popular explosion that led to Mubarak's overthrow was not simply a matter of calling for protests on Facebook; it was the product of years of pent-up rage and frustration at the corruption and abuse of power that had become the hallmarks of the Egyptian regime. The organizers carefully calibrated their messaging for mass appeal and chose a date -- a state holiday meant to celebrate the widely hated police -- that would resonate widely. Offline, they tapped into existing grassroots networks and built their own, such as the million strong who signed a petition calling for fundamental political change. Once the police fled the scene, the protesters were careful to show their respect for the military, forming human chains around Army vehicles to prevent any incident from undermining their refrain that "the Army and the people are one hand." And, as one key protest leader, Wael Ghonim, told 60 Minutes on Sunday, Feb. 13, they benefited greatly from the regime's own "stupid[ity]" -- its panic-driven shut-off of the Internet, its resort to tried-and-true tactics like hiring thugs to do its dirty work, and its failure to offer any meaningful alternative path to change.