Quest keynote to examine social media role in mass uprisings

Dr. Ashraf Attia, professor in the SUNY Oswego School of Business, will use his recent research and experiences in Egypt to present a keynote talk about the Arab Spring at the college’s annual Quest symposium on Wednesday, April 17.

Ashraf AttiaAttia will deliver his free, public presentation at 1 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, in the Campus Center auditorium. It will be a featured part of Quest, the college’s day to celebrate the scholarly and creative activities of students, faculty and staff.

The dual citizen of Egypt and the United States said he hopes to share with students, faculty, staff and the community significant findings of his and colleagues’ investigation of the roles of social media in mass uprisings that toppled oppressive regimes in the Middle Eastern nations of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen in early 2011.

The popular terms for the uprisings that began in December 2010 in Tunisia—the Arab Spring, Revolution 2.0 or the Twitter Revolution—are used interchangeably, but perhaps incorrectly.

“Social media played a mediating or facilitating role” in the Arab Spring, Attia said. “It didn’t cause the change, but it mediated the change.”

Attia, then-visiting scholar Nergis Aziz and professor Barry Friedman of Oswego’s School of Business conducted research in 2011-12 for a paper on a conceptual framework for the impact of social networks in the uprisings, published in the World Review of Business Research. They joined professor Mahdy Elhusseiny of California State University at Bakersfield for a 2011 commentary on networking tools in Egypt’s “Revolution 2.0” for the Electronic Commerce Research and Applications journal.

‘Nobody expected this’

The series of mass demonstrations, violence and demands for change across the Middle East began when technologically savvy Tunisians toppled the 23-year regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in four weeks and shared via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other Internet means not only their news, but their methods.

Less than a month later, on Feb. 11, 2011, Egyptian demonstrators forced Hosni Mubarak, who had been president for 30 years, to step down. By then, the uprisings had spread to Libya, Yemen and Bahrain and soon would to Syria.

Further researching the topic, Attia, who teaches marketing, attended the Global Islamic Marketing Conference in mid-December in Cairo. He made a presentation on the 2011-12 research on the roots and causes of the Arab Spring, and the impact of social media. He made another presentation on the successes, challenges and outcomes, including political and policy implications, of the Egyptian revolution. He recently returned from a second trip, continuing his research into social media’s impact on behavior change and public attitudes in the uprisings.

“I came to be so interested in the Arab Spring, because nobody expected this to happen,” Attia said. “To be raised in the Middle East, I never thought things would ever happen like that.”

Attia said de facto military rule and oppression had been a fact of life in Egypt since Gamal Abdel Nasser’s rise to power in 1952. Before the Internet, governments could arrest and jail people to maintain control and order, he said, but the news, much less the proof, was hard to spread.

“Now if anybody is arrested, everybody knows about it in just a few minutes,” Attia said.

Revolution continues

When Tunisia’s government fell, Egyptian opposition to the heavy hand of Mubarak, police, the military and interior ministry coalesced around the “totally fabricated” parliamentary elections in October 2010, Attia said.

Revolution 2.0 continues to play out under President Mohamed Morsi. Mubarak’s retrial on charges of conspiring to kill protestors in the revolt is set to begin in the near future.

Attia said he would like the Quest audience to “really understand what happened in the Arab world.” That would include a new understanding of what U.S. government support for stabilizing but oppressive regimes in the Middle East has wrought.

“We really do have to submit to the will of the citizens, wherever they are,” Attia said. “We (the United States) should not have supported these leaders for such a long time.”

Will democracy develop in Egypt as in well-developed democratic societies? “It’s going to take some time to reconceptualize democracy in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world,” he said. “I believe there is still a lot of division over how democracy should be applied.”

Parking is free April 17 for visitors to Quest, when hundreds of talks, panel discussions, demonstrations and concurrent events will take place largely in the Campus Center and nearby Lanigan and Snygg halls.

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(Posted: Mar 28, 2013)

Tags: social media, school of business, quest, ashraf attia