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An Inside Look at the Egyptian Revolution

A mass communications class taught by Dr. Amber Smallwood recently served as the setting for a live look-in at the recent turmoil in the Middle East. Kim Fox, a communications professor at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, spoke to Smallwood's class via live video call on Skype.

Kim Fox

Kim Fox is a communications professor at the American University in Cairo, Egypt.

Fox, an American, has been in Egypt since 2009. She gave a brief summary of the media landscape she has observed in the nation, which recently experienced a revolution that sent shockwaves through the global political scene.

There is little or no cable television, she said, but satellite TV is quite popular. Magazines are numerous, and many of them are very slickly produced, with glossy photos and quality paper. But the depth of the content is often lacking, Fox said, referring to much of the content as "a lot of fluff."

There is a profound digital divide in Egypt, Fox says, with many people and areas of the country having no Internet access.

Cell phones are ubiquitous, she said, with text messaging being an extremely popular form of communication.

Fox also described her take on the rights of citizens and the media.

She said there are some freedoms the press enjoys, but they are not as extensive as those in the United States. She said this observation has led her to believe that many Americans take their First Amendment rights for granted, and that observing some of the restrictions and challenges to free speech that exist in a place like Egypt would lead Americans to have a new appreciation of their rights.

For example, she said if journalists or citizens say something "wrong," that is, something not to the government's liking, it is not unusual for them to be arrested or, perhaps worse, turn up missing.

"When people go missing sometimes, Twitter campaigns often start to get the word out to those who might know the person, making them aware that something might have happened to them," Fox said.

Usually, after two or three days, the person resurfaces, she said.

Also, some critics of the government have told her they are afraid to leave the country, for fear that it might be difficult for them to return home.

It's not uncommon for people who have criticized the government and have been overseas to experience delays in being allowed back into Egypt, Fox has been told by colleagues there. She described it as a way for the government to say "we know what you've been saying, and you should stop - watch yourself."

Fox also mentioned what's called emergency law, which is designed to limit people's opportunity to assemble. If five or more people gather, she said, they can be arrested.

This kind of oppression came to the forefront when the revolution began in late January. After a few days of the uprising, the government, under the leadership of then-President Hosni Mubarak, shut down the Internet and disabled the nation's cell phone service. Landlines still worked, but those aren't nearly as popular as wireless phones.

Social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, and text messaging, were key drivers in the early moments of anti-government activism.

The moves by the national authorities to stifle communication were intended to put a damper on the uprising.

It worked.

Briefly.

Then it backfired.

Dramatically.

The communication shutdown had the unintended consequence of driving more people to Tahrir Square in Cairo, ground zero for the revolution, Fox said. People knew that something enormous was happening, and they were determined to communicate with each other, even if it was dangerous.

Even if they couldn't email, text or tweet.

Fox said she was struck by how passionate Egyptians were about their country, and how willing to die for it they seemed to be, to create the change that they so strongly desired.

Now, there is an uncertainty that looms over the country.

But along with that uncertainty is a sense of optimism, Fox said. People want to believe that the change they made happen will result in their lives being better.

"Everyone is looking forward to the future in terms of what's possible," she said.

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