Massive street protests in Egypt are spreading virally as tech-savvy demonstrators are using Twitpic, Facebook and YouTube to disseminate videos and photographs.
Opposition leaders in Egypt declared January 25, 2011 as a “Day of Rage” where protesters would take to the street against President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule. The protesters include secularists, Islamists and Communists/ultra-left-wingers--a veritable who's who of the Egyptian opposition. The recent overthrow of the dictatorship in Tunisia by a peaceful democratic opposition movement has presumably emboldened the masses throughout the Arab world.
Exact numbers of protesters cannot be estimated due to the ongoing events. However, a massive flood of internet photographs and videos shows a gigantic presence in Cairo, Alexandria, and other Egyptian cities.
The Egyptian government appears to be engaging in censorship methods that are either half-hearted or oblivious to the specifics of social media. Contrary to early reports, Twitter has not been blocked in Egypt.
UPDATE: Twitter now confirms that it was blocked in Egypt. See statement tweets below:
Cell phone towers were deactivated in several areas according to trusted sources.
CNN's Ben Wedeman, who maintains an active Twitter presence, reports that cell phone relay towers were deactivated but that Egyptians are still able to access Twitter. Other Twitter streams belonging to well-known Egyptians in English, Arabic and French corroborate Wedeman's claim.
While access to Twitter via mobile phones is painfully slow in Egypt, users with access to computers have been posting stunning videos and photographs via Twitpic, Facebook and YouTube that are then being widely retweeted, reposted and reblogged by sympathizers around the world.
A Twitter representative pointed Fast Company to a HeredictWeb report noting that Twitter in Egypt has become inaccessible to many users.
One video, posted by a YouTube account named MFMAegy, shows a protester courageously single-handedly standing down Egyptian riot police and water cannons (at approximately 1:25), in a Tiananmen Square-like moment. The video was shot by a balcony overlooking a large street protesters and bystanders are clearly overheard shouting in Egyptian Arabic in the background.
However, reports of possible YouTube censorship of protest videos are disseminating. One video posted to YouTube and then shared on Facebook claims to show Egyptian riot police being assaulted and seriously injured by protesters. However, the video was taken offline for a Terms of Service violation.
An amazing picture stream, posted by Mahmoud El-Nahas, an Egyptian architect, appears to show riot cops surrounded by more than 1,500 protesters in the northern city of el-Mahalla el-Kubra. It is unclear whether they are simply outnumbered by the protesters or rather they decided to join them.
Another YouTube video, posted by user nadernagib, shows a massive street presence at a protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square--a location equivalent in prominence and civic role to New York's Times Square.
An Egyptian opposition Facebook page, Mama Qarat, just posted this stunning picture of the protests in Tahrir Square:
A spontaneous street campaign has also arisen around Tahrir Square, with verified reports surfacing of residents unlocking their WiFi signals so users can get around mobile phone outages and of restaurant owners giving the protesters free food and water.
The media old guard has also been doing an excellent job of covering events, with The Guardian's coverage being a must-read (and see). Strangely, Al Jazeera is barely covering the protests, which has raised questions on Twitter and Facebook of whether the network is biased. Al Jazeera maintains close ties to the ruling family of Qatar, the autocracy where it is based.
As of press time, it is 9:15 p.m. in Cairo and more than fifty thousand Egyptians still appear to be in the city's streets, with no signs of stopping.
Readers interested in keeping up with the events are urged to follow Egyptian journalist Mona el-Tahawy's Twitter feed and the wall of the Egyptian opposition el-Shaheed's Facebook account, which is posting minute-by-minute updates from hundreds of Egyptian Facebook users including photos and news of the latest events.
Blogsofwar's Egypt Twitter aggregator is also a must-read, especially for those who can understand Arabic.
Read more Egypt protest coverage.
[Photo of defaced Hosni Mubarak poster posted by Twitter user @alasmari]
Follow the author of this article, Neal Ungerleider, on Twitter.