Core to Commonplace: The evolution of Egypt's blogosphere
Unlike their English-language compatriots, Arabic bloggers spoke primarily to an Egyptian audience and sought to enhance the technology available for writing in Arabic on the internet. Ahmad, who started blogging in November 2003, created the Wikipedia entry in Arabic for “blog,” describing what it is, how to set one up, and promoted the term modawana as the Arabic term for blog. These bloggers often explain that they write in Arabic because it is their mother tongue and they are more comfortable writing in Arabic than in English, but also because they want to talk to their fellow citizens. “In Arabic people are trying to come up with a new discourse” and create content in Arabic on a range of topics – like climate change or nuclear power – that does not really exist in Arabic, explained Amr G. He told me that if he were to write in English, his posts would just be one more voice in a cacophony and thus “wouldn’t matter” the way they do in Arabic.
The impact of early adopters would have been limited without the multiplying effect of the networks of bloggers, activists, techies, and journalists they helped create and nurture. Techies helped develop Arabic writing and vocabulary online and offered their skills to human rights organizations and other bloggers. Others like Hossam el-Hamalawy worked as journalists or freelancers for Western news organizations. This cross-fertilization between journalists and bloggers helped create momentum for the new technology. Castelles defines a network as a set of interconnected nodes, with nodes representing points at which a curve intersects itself; networks are dynamic, innovative, open structures that are infinitely expandable and integrate new nodes as long as they share the same communication codes. The core bloggers became central nodes in the Egyptian blogosphere because of their visibility and activity.
The activist stage: 2005-2006
By 2005 the Egyptian blogosphere had burgeoned into several hundred blogs, with experts estimating the number at about 400; by 2006 this number had increased nearly threefold according to Alaa Seif al-Islam, host of the main Egyptian blog aggregator. The blogosphere began to mature in 2005, developing new dynamics given the structural and relational factors that set opportunities and constraints on citizen activism. In Egypt these factors were both domestic and international. The former included government policy on freedom of expression and the media, choices about IT infrastructure and the emergence of a new political movement that focused on government reform and change. International factors included dynamics of U.S. foreign policy towards Egypt, the role of Western media and human rights organizations in certifying bloggers as a privileged group worthy of coverage and advocacy, and developments in IT. The opportunities configured by these internal and external dynamics helped propel the Egyptian blogosphere into the limelight and channel its development into an outlet for activism
Egyptian policy was to a large extent responsible for helping spur the development of bloggers into activists by adopting unpopular policies and cracking down on citizens who attempted to demonstrate against them. As Meyer explains, “dissidents” and “activists” are created through common cause and the construction of identity around that cause, which is often in response to government policies and configurations of the political environment. He offers the example of Eastern Europe, where “the state, by limiting democratic means of participation, turns everyone with a grievance into a democracy activist.” Hosni Mubarak helped spur cyberactivism when he announced that in May 2005 there would be a referendum on a constitutional amendment to permit multi-candidate elections. The referendum offered citizens the chance to express their dissatisfaction and opened up debate about Mubarak’s presidency, the possible succession of his son Gamal, and critiques of the political system that had kept Mubarak in power longer than any other Egyptian ruler since Muhammad Ali in the 19th century. Within this context, a symbiosis developed between Kifaya, activists and bloggers, which lasted through 2006.
The catalyst that propelled the Egyptian blogosphere into an active realm of contention, making activists into bloggers and bloggers into activists, were demonstrations in spring 2005 against the proposed constitutional referendum and in support of judicial independence. Several hundred protesters gathered in Tahrir Square for a demonstration during which women were assaulted by state security forces and hired thugs. The sexual assaults garnered media coverage by the local and international press, as did the arrests of several bloggers. All of a sudden a new category emerged: bloggers. The American media picked up on the story and recognized the category of ‘blogger’ as an organizational identity frame. International human rights organizations began regarding them as a category of social identity that could be named, invoked and politicized – they were citizen journalists. As such, they became beneficiaries of the advocacy and exposure granted professional journalists by international organizations like the Committee to Protect Journalists, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, and others. These organizations reported on bloggers’ issues, published press releases, advocated for their protection, pressured governments on their behalf and offered them the resources of their transnational networks.
A series of sexual assaults in downtown Cairo occurring on Eid al-Fitr in 2006 became a defining moment in the Egyptian blogosphere and illustrates their power to set the agenda for mainstream media. On October 25, 2006 dozens of women were assaulted on the streets of Cairo by gangs of men while the police stood on and watched. A group of bloggers was sitting at a café when a friend ran in to tell them what was happening, compelling them to go to the streets and take pictures and video of the crimes being committed against random women. They posted them and wrote about what they saw, a newsworthy event without doubt. Yet for three days the attacks were unacknowledged by the authorities or the news media until Nawara Negm was invited to be on the popular talk show al-Ashara Massa’an to talk about a different subject. Negm asked the host, Mona Shezly, why there had been no coverage and Shezly decided to check it out, eventually leading to comprehensive coverage throughout the Arab and Egyptian news media.
The role of blogs in reporting on the abuses is widely credited by bloggers and journalists with triggering mainstream media coverage and as forcing the government to respond. “The online fuss did catch the attention of the BBC and eventually other news organizations and talk shows and people in Egypt are a bit more aware about sexual harassment as a result, and things are happening,” according to one blogger, whose translation of a detailed Arabic post from Malcolm-X into English brought her “loads and loads of hits and links.” This event marked a turning point in the power of the blogs as alternative and credible information sources. Malek Mustafa, the first blogger to post about the attacks, saw his average of 30 comments per post increase astronomically to 750 on these posts.
In 2005 al-Dustur, a weekly Egyptian newspaper hostile to the government, initiated a blog page to introduce the Egyptian blogosphere to a larger public. With only about 10 percent of the population online, Ihab El Zakhy, then editor for the independent al-Dustur, started a blog page in the newspaper to bring attention to the blogs and give them wider readership.
In 2005 the pan-Arab satellite channel al-Jazeera broadcast a documentary about Egyptian bloggers called Bloggers, Opposition and a New Voice, which dramatically increased awareness among the general public about blogging and its political impact. As one blogger put it:
[Al-Jazeera Producer Ahmed Zin] focused on the effect of blogs in political reform going on in Egypt and this movie really had dramatic effect on the awareness or more people know what is blogging. I think my mother didn't know what is blogging till she watched the movie. I think in that time lots of Islamic activists started to be aware of what's blogging and the effect of writing on the internet.
Many bloggers, furthermore, were able to build credentials via their blogging to get positions freelancing. As several bloggers noted, many of the youth working with independent news media like al-Dustur, AMAY, Ikhwanweb and al-Jazeera Talk started as bloggers then became journalists. Brotherhood bloggers said they felt compelled in many cases to freelance on the side of their studies because the organizaion does not have its own newspaper or channel. “The media are the greatest power at this time and need to have it tell about Islam and society’s problems,” said Somaya Badr, a MB blogger whose father, also a member, has been arrested before. “But being a blogger doesn’t qualify you as a journalist. If as an activist bloggers cover demonstrations and events it gives her experience but not as a writer, just doing journalism.”
It was during this phase that Egyptian bloggers made a name for themselves at home and abroad as they focused on publishing articles, photos and videos of demonstrations and videos of torture and state-sponsored violence. The high profile of particular bloggers, many of whom published in English at least some of the time, garnered attention from human rights organizations since many of their activities coincided with Kifaya, which was seen by Western politicians and media outlets as a promising movement for reform. This attention made their case resonate with a Western audience when they were arrested and tortured, as several of the most prominent were, though this was primarily for their activism – as bloggers – on the streets rather than the content of their blogs. It was during this period that the term “citizen journalist” became fashionable and Western media started to confer this status on bloggers in general rather than as an identity enacted at particular moments.
There were still a limited number of bloggers at this time and many knew each other through meetings offline at rallies and protests. Bloggers reinforced their online community through these gatherings, often convening for dinner or iftars during Ramadan. They expressed solidarity with each other as bloggers across the political and religious spectrum.
In 2006 members of the Muslim Brotherhood started to emerge on blogs. The history of the MB blogs parallels that of the larger blogosphere in that it began with a small core group of activists and has since expanded and diversified. A young journalist, Abd Al Moneim Mahmoud, was the first blogger to explicitly identify himself as a Muslim Brotherhood member on his blog Ana Ikhwan (I am the Muslim Brotherhood), which he started in October 2006 with the help of blogger-activist and journalist Nora Younis.
By early 2007 many more young MB members, men and women, had started blogs. A few key leaders like Esam el-Erian and Khaled Hamza encouraged talented youth to start blogs. By this time the impact of blogs had been noted by some in the leadership. While it does not appear that anyone ordered members to blog, some said they were encouraged to do so. A few leaders have their own blogs, and even those without their own sites read the more prominent bloggers. Several well known MB bloggers said that they had received calls from leaders about particular issues or questions raised in a post. Yet blogs proved a mixed blessing for the MB when a debate about the party platform in September 2007 made its way into the blogosphere and appeared to some members to be “airing dirty laundry” best kept private within the organization. Brotherhood bloggers remain divided today on whether this embrace of blogging is a good or bad thing. 
 Doug McAdam, Sidney G. Tarrow, and Charles Tilly, Dynamics of Contention, Cambridge Studies in Contentious Politics (Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
 Deborah L. Wheeler, "The Internet in the Arab World: Digital Divides and Cultural Connections," (Jordan's Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies: 2004).
 "World Development Indicators," (The World Bank, 2008).
 Such figures also elide the difference between access, which measures an individual’s capacity to go online and ability to use internet, and use, which measures behavior (Robert J. Klotz, The Politics of Internet Communication (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2004), 19-20.
 Based on the author’s informal survey of her informants. Several people expressed surprise by the question “do you have a computer at home” since “everyone has a computer” and this is simply “taken for granted” or you “don’t even ask this question these days.” Alaa Abd el Fateh noted in an interview that “it is a rare town that does not have a NetCafe” "Egyptian Linux Advocates' Replies ", Slashdot http://interviews.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=04/05/13/1346237 (accessed 7 Feb. 2008).
 Courtney Radsch, "How Al Jazeera Is Challenging and Improving Egyptian Journalism," Reset: Dialogue on Civilizations 22 June (2007). http://www.resetdoc.org/EN/Radsch-Ucsb.php [accessed 21 July 2007]. Courtney Radsch, Middle East: Charter Checks Satellite Tv Revolution (Oxford Analytica, 2008).
 "World Development Indicators."
 Amira Howeidy, "A Day at 'Hyde Park'," Al Ahram Weekly, 27 March - 2 April 2003.
 Wael Abbas, 14 April, Interview, Personal Communication, Personal Communication. Cairo; Lee Rainie, Susannah Fox, and Deborah Fallows, The Internet and the Iraq War: How Online Americans Have Used the Internet to Learn War News, Understand Events, and Promote Their Views (Washington, D.C.: Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2003); Gordon Robison, The Promise of New Technologies in the Arab World (Los Angeles: USC Center on Public Diplomacy, 2005); M. Wall, "'Blogs of War': Weblogs as News," Journalism 6, no. 2 (2005).
 Sherif Ahmed, 10 March, Personal Communication, Personal Communication. Cairo.
 The official name of the movement was the Egyptian Movement for Change (al-Haraka al-Misriyya min ajl al-Taghyir) but it became more commonly known as Kifaya.
 Mona El-Ghobashy, Egypt Looks Ahead to Portentous Year (MERIP, 2005).
 George Ishaq, 12 July, Interview, Interview. Cairo.
 Exact numbers are notoriously difficult to specify, but most bloggers interviewed give the figure 20-30 at the outset and perhaps 100 by 2004.
 The precise figure is unknown but several of the first bloggers interviewed described the blogosphere in Egypt as predominantly English.
 Ahmad Seif El Islam Hamad, 30 April, Interview, Interview. Cairo.
 Baghdad Burning, http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/, is probably one of the most famous. The story about a girl blogger from Iraq writing in English captured the attention of the Western press and she published her first book in 2005 (Riverbend, Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq, 1st Feminist Press ed. (New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2005).
 Tarek Amr, "Three Years Blogging," in Not Green Data (2008).
 Srinivas Melkote, "Everett M. Rogers and His Contributions to the Field of Communication and Social Change in Developing Countries," Journal of Creative Communications 1, no. 1 (2006): 113.
 Everett M. Rogers and F. Floyd Shoemaker, Communication of Innovations: A Cross-Cultural Approach (New York: The Free Press, 1971).
 Ernest J. Wilson, The Information Revolution and Developing Countries (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004).
 These applications did not gain popularity until the third phase
 Wilson, p 404.