< Tweets From Tahrir


Friday, April 22, 2011

BOB GARFIELD: Last week, Brooke reported from Cairo on the Egyptian media, post-revolution. This week, we return to the early days surrounding the ousting of Hosni Mubarak with a new book called Tweets From Tahrir, a collection of tweets sent from the epicenter of the revolution. Now, a book composed entirely of months-old, 140-character-or-fewer dispatches may sound, frankly, kind of pointless. But the book actually tells a compelling and unique story of the popular uprising that rid Egypt of a three-decade-long dictatorship in just 18 days. The tweeters featured in the book had no idea they'd be successful, and yet throughout it seems as though their resolve for change builds upon itself. Nadia Idle is one of the book’s editors. She grew up in Egypt and now lives in London. She says that when the revolution began, she watched Al-Jazeera for the pictures, but she was getting her news from Twitter. Her goal for the book was to capture a very specific moment in Egyptian history.

NADIA IDLE: We've got 55 tweeters who are part of the book and a few of them are sort of the main characters that we follow all the way through, for different reasons. Some of them are very emotive and were sort of very expressive in the way that they described things. Others were very technical and providing very specific information about what’s, what’s going on. And some were incredibly funny. And what we wanted to do was really capture a picture, an image, a snapshot of our experience on Twitter.

BOB GARFIELD: Give me an example of funny and, and while you’re at it, maybe one of poignant or especially shocking.

NADIA IDLE: I'll give you a funny one I've got in the beginning, and this is really a comment on Tunisia. Mosa’ab Elshamy writes, “Dear people watching Arabs Got Talent, there’s a better show [BOB LAUGHS] going on called Tunisia’s Got Freedom. Watch that.”

[BOB LAUGHS] There’s also funny, but also poignant, in a sense. Egyptocracy says, “I told my mother I will be on the street on Friday and she didn't try to stop me as usual.” And then there’s the tweet on the fourth of February by Mohammed Yahia saying, “No one can imagine the beautiful feeling one gets as you enter Tahrir Square. It’s like coming home and being surrounded by loved ones.” There’s also some really sort of dark moments. On the third of February, Monasosh reported that “Two of my friends confirm another one is shot through the head, dead. My friend called me crying. This is awful. Something has to be done.” So that gives you, I hope, an idea of all sort of the different sorts of tweets that we had. And as the, the drama changes, slows down and speeds up, you also read the book at that pace, as well.

BOB GARFIELD: Revolution in 140 characters or, or fewer.

NADIA IDLE: Absolutely.

BOB GARFIELD: Now, I, I still have to ask you this, ‘cause there’s – there’s something nagging about the whole idea of printing tweets on paper, which to me is like something along the lines of taking songs off your iPod and then burning them onto a CD, or maybe even pressing them into a vinyl record. It’s retro-technological. It just - it seems like it’s, I don't know, going backwards and forwards at the same time.

NADIA IDLE: The thing is, each individual tweet is not only of individual significance. It’s of a historical significance. So what this, what this exercise is, is to document history. If you now try and go back to the time of the revolution and try and use hashtag #Jan25, it’s a very, very difficult thing to try and load all the old tweets. It’s not the same as taking a piece of music and moving it from one format to the other because when you listen to it, now, you might say the quality might not be the same on one format as it is on the other. But, in fact, in this situation, that story is lost, in effect.

BOB GARFIELD: Did you include any feeds from Mubarak loyalists?

NADIA IDLE: No, we didn't, for a simple reason. Frankly, they weren't on Twitter very much. And also, we wanted to make a book about the people who change the world and, and not the people who are [LAUGHS] against it, in a sense. But it is, is a fact that, that there were very, very few antirevolutionary voices on Twitter.

BOB GARFIELD: You've mentioned more than once that you believe that this book tells the story of these remarkable 18 days that shook Egypt. What is the story, in the end? Was there one tweet that you think particularly distills it into 140 characters or less?

NADIA IDLE: There are so many good tweets, but I think there’s one that stands out, and it’s the one that goes: “I'm scratched. I'm beaten. My face is covered in blood. But this is the best day of my life.” And I think that distills how so many people felt. They felt they had one chance, one chance to throw everything at the possibility that they would be able to be part of the future of their country, that they would be able to be part of the building of a democracy with some kind of equality for the 80 million people who lived in that country, that that was it, and that it was worth throwing everything at, despite the violence, despite the insecurity and despite not knowing what the outcome would be.

BOB GARFIELD: Nadia, thank you very much.

NADIA IDLE: Thank you.

BOB GARFIELD: Nadia Idle is an editor, along with Alex Nunns, of Tweets From Tahrir, out now from OR, that’s O-R, Books.