On January 27th, 2011 Egyptian authorities succeeded in shutting down the country’s international Internet access points in response to growing protests. Over one weekend, a group of programmers developed a platform called Speak2Tweet that would allow Egyptians to post their breaking news on Twitter via voicemail despite Internet cuts. The result was thousands of heartfelt messages from Egyptians recording their emotions by phone. A few years later the messages are no longer accessible to the public.
Speak2Tweet composed a unique archive of the collective psyche; as the voices disappeared in the depths of cyberspace, this project brings forth the unique narratives and, in turn, connects them once again to the physical realm. Project Speak2Tweet (2011 – ongoing) is both a research project and a growing archive of experimental films that utilizes Speak2Tweet messages prior to the fall of the Mubarak regime on February 11, 2011 and juxtaposes them with the abandoned structures that represent the long-lasting effects of a corrupt dictatorship. The project interrogates the re-imagining of the urban myth, of visualizing the city from the “personal” perspective through the highly problematic constructs of (un)democratic tools. It explores the emergence of the imagined city from internal monologues and investigates historical narratives via glitches in digital memory. Through the multi-layered spatial relationships, the project attempts to portray the psychology of the urban realm. As the visual archive grows, Project Speak2Tweet changes and transforms into an altered space that mimics the hallucination of the inner voice.
Egypt’s 2011 Internet Shutdown: Digital Dissent and the Future of Public Memory
Heba Y. Amin, Abdelkarim Mardini, and Adel Iskandar in Conversation moderated by Anthony Downey
Text published in Camera Austria (March 2021)
On the 10th anniversary of the Egyptian Internet shutdown, Heba Y. Amin revisits—in conversation with Abdelkarim Mardini, the co-developer of Speak2Tweet, and the Middle East media scholar Adel Iskandar—the importance of Speak2Tweet through her artistic project called Project Speak2Tweet (2011–ongoing). In light of escalating digital surveillance and censorship, all the more notable during the current pandemic, the panelists critically engage with the revolutionary promise once associated with social media platforms. What impact have advances in communication technologies had on the freedom of speech, dissent, and democracies worldwide? And what can be gleaned today from listening to these unrestrained voices recorded a decade ago this month? (January 28, 2021)
On January 27, 2011, in the first days of Egypt’s uprising, the national government shut down the Internet to quash online dissent. To circumvent the blackout, programmers developed Speak2Tweet, a digital platform that allowed Egyptians to record voice messages by phone. Composed of thousands of audio recordings, the messages were automatically uploaded to Twitter, producing a unique archive of the collective Egyptian psyche during a time of unprecedented upheaval.