The diffusion and exchange of knowledge among groups involved in social movements is very important for the success of their struggle. Indeed, learning from the best practices and mistakes of others in similar situations helps those involved in these struggles utilize the most effective tools, strategies, and tactics in similar yet unique situations in their political endeavors. This knowledge transfer also helps to avoid errors. During the Arab Spring such knowledge transfers occurred among many oppositional movements of the region, particularly between the Tunisian and Egyptian movements.
Connections between the Tunisian and Egyptian youth movements and activists became easily available to them due to modern information and communication technologies (ICTs). These connections were used for discussions on how to utilize the Internet-based tools and other activities relevant to their causes. For example, Slim Amamou (one of the chief leaders of the Tunisian online resistance to Ben Ali’s regime in 2010 and later a member of the first Tunisian government after the revolution in January 2011) published a blog post in mid-July 2010 soon after he was briefly detained by the Tunisian authorities for organizing online the offline protests against the Internet censorship in Tunisia. In the post he discusses how Facebook is an example of the social network system where trust plays an important role. He mentions his Twitter-related conversation with a friend – the known Egyptian activist Alaa Abd El Fattah. Fattah’s blog manalaa.net later played an important role during the Egyptian revolution as a source of information on how to bypass the Internet blackout when the Egyptian authorities almost completely cut the Internet beginning January 28, 2011. Specifically, foreign phone numbers for free Internet dial-up connections were published there enabling Egyptians to use those numbers for free Internet access when their own Internet connections were blacked out. Detailed technical instructions on how to fit the cell-phone modems to computers were published there as well.
Tunisian and Egyptian youth movements also used the Internet, particularly Facebook, to communicate and help each other. For example, in the same summer of 2010 the Egyptian “April 6th Youth Movement” posted a greeting cable on Facebook addressed to the newly established Tunisian “Progressive Democratic Youth Movement.” In this cable the Egyptian activists mentioned that they were fighting against Mubarak’s non-democratic regime and expressed full solidarity with their Tunisian colleagues’ fight against the corruption, tyranny, and monopolistic power of Ben Ali’s regime and fighting for for a truly democratic society. In the cable the Egyptians also promised to stand united with the Tunisians in their struggle, proposed to communicate at all levels, and to look forward to the joint work to spread democracy in the Arab world for the betterment of its people. In December 2010, during the rapid development of the Tunisian revolution, the April 6 youth movement fulfilled its promise. At that time, the Egyptians posted an appeal on Facebook directed to their Tunisian colleagues with an offer to allocate all their available online resources and media abilities from the April 6 youth movement to help Tunisians during their revolution. In turn, immediately after the success of their own revolution, the Tunisians provided valuable online practical advice to their Egyptian colleagues on how to effectively withstand the regime’s riot police on the streets.
In conclusion, we see that modern Internet-based technologies and tools ensured highly effective communication among the protesters during the Arab Spring – even during the most intensive efforts from the regimes to curtail dissent. Therefore, we believe that, in general, various ICTs are able to play an indispensable role in aiding the pro-democratic activists during similar highly-contentious political events in the non-democratic countries worldwide.