Panelists: Egypt mixes old politics with new mediaa
Morgan Benton, an ISAT professor, discusses the importance of social media in political demonstrations and the Egyptian government’s ability to shut off the Internet.

In a packed room late Friday afternoon, the buzzwords Facebook and Twitter held new meanings in the context of the riots in Egypt.

The panel discussion, Making Sense of the Event, organized by history professor Mary Gayne and the Center for Faculty Innovation, explored the complexities of the crisis in Egypt.

The discussion brought together a cross-discipline of professors from political science, communication studies, history and sociology to art history and integrated science and technology.

"It's Democracy 2.0," said Brian Kaylor, a communication studies professor and panelist.

Facebook and Twitter are inherently democratic platforms; they give every man a voice, Kaylor said.

"It's back to everyone's favorite, GCOM," he said. "The medium is the message."

That power is exactly why the Egyptian government shut off the Internet last week, according to Jonathan Keller, a political science professor attending the panel event.

Protestors organized a Facebook group to plan the first march on Jan. 25.

"This started with young people," Keller said. "They realized they could be a force for change."

Since the first protest, the gaining political revolution called for President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in office for 30 years, to step down, something he announced he would do in September. On Feb. 5, Mubarak announced that his party would resign as the ruling party but not from the presidency.

"Now it's a question of how many protesters are willing to accept that date," Keller said. "I think there are enough who are not willing to wait."

President Obama has said that he wants a transition to a new government right away, but what that actually means is unclear, Keller said.

"There is no good answer," he said. "If we push for a government in Egypt, we might get an anti-American government. You have to understand how thorny of a situation that is."

If the United States does not take a stand, however, the outlook is not good, said Bernd Kaussler, a political science and panelist.

"Mubarak is playing Obama for a fool," Kaussler said.

"Mubarak is a shrewd statesman, he knows what he's doing."

For 30 years Egypt has been under a military regime. The military is involved in every aspect of Egyptian society, he said.

"Everyone thanks God because the military is there, but the military does not want a new government," Kaussler said. "I hope I'm wrong, but I'm not optimistic."

Susan Ghanem, a junior finance major, said she understands just how dire the situation in Egypt is.

"The Egyptians who spoke on Facebook are just trying to give a voice to Egyptians that are there," she said. "That's our home being destroyed."

Ghanem's family is Egyptian but she was born in America; she spent last summer in Egypt. After the panel, she hoped JMU students see Egyptians more like themselves, as Americans.

"People tell us ‘don't drink' and we riot. They are telling them not to work," she said. "I hope people realize that just because there is fighting, it doesn't mean that it's crazy Arabs blowing things up. This has been building for decades."

Contact Molly Haas at haasmr@dukes.jmu.edu.