February 10, 2011 / 8:55 PM / 8 years ago

In Egyptian uprising, crowds learn quickly

LONDON (Reuters) - When news first broke that President Hosni Mubarak was about to step down, the mood on Twitter was jubilant.

Opposition supporters shout in their stronghold of Tahrir Square, in Cairo February 10, 2011. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

"Mission accomplished. Thanks to all the brave young Egyptians," Wael Ghonim, the young Google executive who became an unlikely hero of the uprising, posted on his Twitter feed (twitter.com/Ghonim)

"People insanely cheerfull," posted an Egyptian blogger known as Sandmonkey. "There isn't an empty inch in Tahrir." (twitter.com/Sandmonkey)

But then came the doubts. The powerful military which has dominated Egypt since toppling the monarchy in 1952 was perhaps, they said, simply reasserting its authority by announcing it was taking control of the nation, while sacrificing Mubarak.

"Er .... coup?" journalist and blogger Issandr el-Amrani asked on his Twitter feed. (twitter.com/arabist)

"Mubarak may be done, but the army is likely to hang on. It's a military dominated regime. Mubarak was their steward for the last 30 years," Steven Cook from the Council on Foreign Relations commented. (twitter.com/stevenacook)

"Will people be satisfied under mil rule? This could create splits among the opposition, and that is probably what the army is hoping for," wrote Michael Hanna from the Century Foundation on his Twitter feed (twitter.com/mwhanna1)

“Is this to head off real transition + consolidate power within mil state? Demands should focus on civilian national unity gov for transition,” he wrote.

In a measure of quite how influential social media has become, the tweets from Cairo became more questioning as the instant debate on Twitter gathered momentum.

Within hours, the protesters were already adapting to a new reality which might see Mubarak leaving, but replaced by another military-backed government.

Ghonim, after being criticized for his earlier “Mission Accomplished” tweet by others in the real-time discussion, appeared to backtrack.

“Guys, dont do much speculations for now. Just wait and see,” he wrote in an updated post.

"We didn't fight and sacrifice all of this, so as to have the army, which is ruling us from 1952, remains in power!" wrote 3arabawy. (twitter.com/3arabawy)

"Dear Egyptian army, be like the Egyptian people and surprise everybody by choosing the civilian state choice," wrote Zeinobia. (twitter.com/Zeinobia)

Psychologists would say authorities control crowds by pushing them in one direction or another on the assumption people can be made to respond as groups — and usually those groups take a more extreme position than the individuals involved.

Yet the Twitter posts had everybody behaving as individuals.

Within hours, people were trying to explain why the protest movement that wanted Mubarak to leave would not be satisfied with his replacement by another military-backed ruler.

"Impt:RESPECT 2 #Egypt revolutionaries, acknowledge what they've achieved & continued solidarity as they vow 2 go on 4 civilian-ruled #Egypt" wrote Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy on her Twitter feed. (twitter.com/monaeltahawy)

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