Egypt’s 2011 Internet Shutdown: Digital Dissent and the Future of Public Memory
Artist Presentation & Panel Discussion
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On January 27, 2011, during the first days of Egypt’s uprising, the national government shut down the Internet to quash online dissent. To circumvent the blackout, programmers developed Speak2Tweet, a digital platform that allowed Egyptians to record voice messages by phone. Composed of thousands of audio recordings from those volatile days, these messages were automatically uploaded to Twitter, producing a unique archive of the collective Egyptian psyche during a time of unprecedented upheaval.
On the 10th anniversary of the Egyptian internet shutdown, and in conversation with Abdelkarim Mardini, the co-developer of Speak2Tweet and Middle East media scholar Adel Iskandar, Heba Y. Amin revisits the importance of Speak2Tweet. In light of escalating digital surveillance and censorship, all the more notable during the current pandemic, the panelists critically engage with the revolutionary promise once associated with social media platforms. What impact have advances in communication technologies had on the freedom of speech, dissent, and democracies worldwide? And what can be gleaned today from listening to these unrestrained voices recorded a decade ago this month?
The discussion is moderated by Anthony Downey.
Amin is currently working on an online platform to preserve this oral archive and maintain its vocal diversity. Project Speak2Tweet is part of Amin’s solo exhibition at The Mosaic Rooms When I see the future, I close my eyes.
Heba Y. Amin is a multimedia artist from Egypt. She works with political themes and archival history, using mediums including film, photography, archival material, lecture performance and installation. Amin is currently the 2021 Spring Audain Visual Artist in Residence at the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University. She is the co-founder of the Black Athena Collective, curator of visual art for the MIZNA journal, and currently sits on the editorial board of the Journal of Digital War.
Adel Iskandar is a Middle East media scholar, postcolonial theorist and an Assistant Professor of Global Communication at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. He has authored several works including Egypt In Flux: Essays on an Unfinished Revolution (AUC Press /Oxford University Press, 2013) and Media Evolution on the Eve of the Arab Spring (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). Iskandar’s engaged participatory research includes supporting knowledge production through scholarly digital publishing such as Jadaliyya, of which he is co-editor, and academic podcasting such as Status.
Abdelkarim Mardini is currently Group Product Manager at Google in Paris and responsible for Privacy and Security features on the Chrome web browser. Mardini has extensive experience working in emerging markets, the US and the Middle East. In 2004, he co-founded OpenCraft, a pioneering open-source software development company in Cairo, Egypt. He also held various development and research positions with Sports Media Inc., the Distributed and Real-Time Systems Group at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and Step 9 Software Corporation in Washington DC.
Anthony Downey is Professor of Visual Culture in the Middle East and North Africa (Birmingham City University). He is the Cultural Lead and Co-Investigator on a four-year AHRC funded research project that focuses on cultural practices, education, and digital methodologies in Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan (2020-2024). He sits on the editorial boards of Third Text and the Journal of Digital War, respectively, and is the series editor for Research/Practice (Sternberg Press, 2019–ongoing). He is currently writing up his forthcoming volume Unbearable States: Digital Media and Cultural Activism in a Post-Digital Age (2021).
Image: Heba Y. Amin, Project Speak2Tweet, 2020, installation view. Courtesy of The Mosaic Rooms.
Image (square): Heba Y. Amin, Project Speak2Tweet: I’m the Son of the Nile, 2013, 2’43” Video Still. Courtesy of the artist.