The video above shows a man, joined by others, who defiantly stands in front of an armored vehicle firing a water cannon during street protests in Egypt on Jan. 25. I learned about the video, posted on YouTube, through Twitter. I started taking Twitter seriously in November, 2008, when terrorists struck Mumbai, India. I had created a Twitter account in 2007, but didn’t know what to do with it. Twitter used to ask, “What are you doing?” And I learned that people were watching TV, walking their dog, or pushing a cart in the bread aisle of their Safeway. It reminded me of The Simpson’s episode in which Mr. Burns loses his wealth and is forced to live among regular people. He goes to the supermarket and tells a passerby, “I’m shopping!” But with the deadly attacks in Mumbai, I saw Twitter crackle with moment-by-moment reports from ordinary people about what was happening there. I felt connected to the situation in a way that is not often possible on TV.

The streets of Egypt erupted because protests in Tunisia forced the U.S.-supported dictator there, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, to flee his impoverished and oppressed nation. The first spark of that revolution was the Dec. 17, 2010 self-immolation of a 26-year-old street vendor upset with police corruption (they had confiscated the produce he was selling – he died from his injuries on Jan. 4, 2011). But simmering anger in Tunisia was fueled in November by WikiLeaks, which released diplomatic cables describing the corruption of Ben Ali’s government. What will happen in Egypt is unclear. The U.S. relies on Hosni Mubarak, that nation’s “president” since 1981, as a Muslim ally in the Middle East, but he also brutalizes his own people. We can get lost in the realpolitik about a complex strategic partnership, but I have the luxury of not giving a shit. If people are suffering, they deserve better and the world should help. The world was watching on Jan. 25, thanks to Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. The Egyptian government fought back, disrupting Twitter in particular. Hours after darkness fell over Egypt and government security forces began to to do their dirty work, President Obama gave his State of the Union address. He mentioned Tunisia: “We saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.” That last bit about “all people” could be read as a veiled reference to Egypt. But who knows? On the other hand, we can hear the people of Egypt speak loudly and clearly about what they want. Twitter is blocked, but the message is getting out. Check YouTube. Check Facebook. And don’t assume that all of what WikiLeaks has done is bad, just because the government tells you so.

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