If writer David Wolman is to be believed, social media was the main catalyst behind the Egyptian revolution, and Ahmed Maher, an engineer who founded the April 6 Youth Facebook page, its main promoter.
April 6 Youth soon became a major recruiting ground for activists, who, Wolman writes, had a significant impact on the Arab Spring that eventually led to the ouster of Egypt’s dictator, Hosni Mubarak.
Critics have pointed out that social media websites are populated largely by slactivists — those who think a token ‘like’ or ‘share’ makes one a revolutionary — but Wolman strongly disagrees.
His Maher, despite being just part of the great Egyptian revolution, is portrayed as being its conductor. He recruits acolytes, organises rallies, endures torture and sells the revolution on cyberspace. He visits his mother on his birthday, hours after being released from a police beating, and hides his bruises with a turtleneck sweater.
These passages detract from a remarkable story, also contradicting Wolman and Maher’s oft-repeated chant that Mubarak’s ouster was a leaderless revolution.
But the Single, at a scant 36 real pages, has some great passages too — including one that offers tips on how to organise protests (Bring water. Use leather gloves to protect hands from tear-gas canisters. Wash tear gas from your eyes with soda). And another that recounts a Gmail chat conversation between Maher and an anonymous activist, making you wonder if governments actually can be overthrown by shared Google links.
Did Wolman have to prop up Maher to be privy to the secrets of the revolution? Or does he genuinely believe that the floodgates of the Egyptian protests were opened by a soft-spoken engineer? One cannot be sure.