The Arab Spring indicated a massive change in the political economic, and social structure of the Middle East. When Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Tunisia he was unaware that he had sparked a social and political shift across the Middle East. Soon after protests began in Egypt and it was clear that the Middle East would never be the same. Many of the biggest issues concerning the revolution were what to do after it ends. In this period of recovery, a transition from Mubarak’s dictatorship to a new regime and the transition from a corrupt economic system to a new one would have to occur. Egypt now faces a future of a transition and, as in any transition, steps forward must be taken cautiously and all possibilities for the future considered.
Transition indicates a fundamental shift from one state of being to another. In the case of Egypt a there are multiple transitions now taking place, brought on by the revolution. The most obvious is a political transition from dictatorship to democracy. The second is economic, from a free market with massive state intervention to one with more lassies-faire conditions. The last is a societal transition, the aspects of which must be analyzed in detail to gage their significance and predict futures for an uncertain Egypt.
An analysis of the events leading up to the revolution in Egypt give a good indication of the changes going on in Egyptian society. Social media was used to connect and distribute information, organize protests and bring information to the public light. The government shutdown of Internet connectivity in the region was a clear indication of the power of networking. The transition to a more social and networked community is important to analyzed, as it will possibly lead to significant changes in Egypt. These proposed changes are not only societal in nature but economic as according to Granovetter’s idea of social embeddedness of economics (Granovetter,M 1985). Therefore the subtle transition to a socially networked society needs to be analyzed further.
What social networking allowed Egypt to do was share information at incredible speed while also bridging “structural holes” and allowing any user to increase his social capital at the blink of an eye (Burt, R 2005). While the initial result was that entire communities previously unaware of each other were joined in protest, a further long-term result needs to be considered. Increase in awareness of the powers of social networking allowed any individual to instantly become a broker of information linking two completely separate networks of social relations with the touch of a button.
Ronald Burt’s idea of brokerage came from the perspective that only few would be able to broker connections and thus be successful by controlling information flow (Burt R, 2005). If the idea is extended to the workings of the Internet, it becomes clear that being a broker is much easier than ever before. Because of networks like Twitter where information is made fast and public, being a broker is a matter of quality and consistency of information. As seen in network structural analysis of Twitter feeds at the time of the revolution (Morrison T, 2011), the internet does not result in the elimination of brokers but in the creating of networks maps almost identical to those proposed by Burt in his writing on Social Capital and brokers (Burt R, 2005). Clearly, because the Internet has made it so easy for information to be shared, it is those who are most active and also most consistent with their information that has the chance to become brokers. In other words, there is competition for the spot of brokerage. Figure One below shows the networks of connection preceding the announcement of Mubarak’s fleeing.
Figure one- Twitter Message Spread of Mubarak’s Ousting
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As shown by figure one, several core brokers (those with red line connections) of information have the ability to share and generate information that is then absorbed by masses of people. The Egyptian revolution has shown how important the ideas of social capital and brokerage are in practice, not just in theory as in Burt’s writings, and indicate how information is shared and passed on to various sources.