Al-Ahram Weekly Online   3 - 9 March 2011
Issue No. 1037
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

In a unique forum of communication, Hillary Clinton went online with young Egyptians, Nader Habib reports

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Hillary Clinton

For the first time, a top US official interacted directly with the Egyptian public. On 23 February Secretary of State Hillary Clinton participated in an online dialogue with Egyptian youths.

The Q and A was hosted by the Egyptian online portal Clinton replied to questions from Egyptian youths during a social media dialogue initiated by the portal which launched a page on its website called "Hillary Clinton Engages in Dialogue with Egyptian Youth". The page was designed specifically to gather questions from Egyptians, from which Masrawy chose several to conduct an exclusive interview with Clinton.

Masrawy's US-based correspondent Ahmed Ghanim moderated the debate in a State Department studio.

At the start, the director read out the first few lines of the address given by President Barack Obama the day Hosni Mubarak stepped down. "There are very few moments in our lives where we have the privilege to witness history taking place. The revolution is one of those moments. We have been watching history made by Egypt's youth."

At the beginning, Ghanim said Masrawy had received nearly 6,000 questions by Egyptians who during two days accessed Masrawy, Facebook and Twitter, "proving the power of the Internet". Most questions pertained to dialogue through the media, and the role of the US in supporting democracy in the Arab world and in Egypt in particular, plus its role in the Egyptian revolution. The protection of the rights of minorities, how the world now views Arab youth and who is seeking democracy were other queries.

Clinton began by sending congratulatory messages to Egyptians for their popular uprising.

One participant, Toto, believed that the Americans do not seek except their own interests, and speak about human rights while violating human rights in Iraq and supporting Israel when it tramples on the rights of Palestinians. Toto said the US warns Egypt against acquiring nuclear weapons while at the same time Israel possesses nuclear weapons.

Other participants, Abdo_hsa and Adel Hashim, expressed their admiration for Clinton, saying the US must help Egypt in understanding and deepening democracy, especially that the path of democracy, according to Clinton, was long, urging them to be patient and persistent in their goal.

Some participants urged the US to help support Egypt's scientific research programmes rather than give military aid since Egypt is not in a state of war.

On the US always supporting Israel and always using its veto in the UN, forcing Washington to lose its credibility as an honest and impartial partner in the peace process, a participant under the name Said argued that the US must be fair. He said the US "should deal with Egypt just like it does with Israel, and without imposing itself. The interest of Egypt must come first."

"What would be the reaction of the US if the Muslim Brotherhood managed to come to power through elections?" Ghanim asked. "This is not our business," she answered. But "I think that whatever their party is, it will be committed to democracy and non-violence."

A comment posted by a 19-year-old girl calling herself Visitor, said, "We as Egyptians reject any attempt to steal the revolution by foreign elements. Egyptians are able to manage their own affairs with the assistance of wise figures in the country. We made the revolution and led it without any instructions.

"Please," she added, "don't offend the former president because he was a symbol of the glorious October War by which Egypt regained its dignity."

"I am against the idea of interference by any foreigner," another visitor, Mizo, said. "It is clear that young people are well aware of Egypt's strength and its deep-rooted history. The revolution should end without any interference from any side, even if it is the strongest country in the world."

Participant his_maa said the dialogue should have been conducted with the minister of youth because the ministry "should open a dialogue with young people and not the US secretary". He believed that the US "only wants to know our intentions towards Israel and whether there are ideas being fomented about ending the 1979 peace agreement."

But his_maa found it necessary to pay tribute to Clinton, hoping to do the same with the new ministry.

In the end, Clinton said that if the Egyptians succeeded in achieving what they wanted, they would find support from the US which will enable them to start a new life, keeping in mind, she noted, the preservation of Israel's interests, thus preserving the peace agreement signed 32 years ago.

Initial reports suggest the dialogue apparently received strong reaction among social networking sites and the so- called Facebook youth. bills itself as Egypt's first and largest interactive online portal, hosting a variety of shows and channels including news, videos, sports, games, mobile applications, mail, and classifieds. attracts nearly 600,000 visitors a day, 70 per cent of whom are Egyptians. Youth make up a big portion of Masrawy's audience -- 51 per cent of the site's users are between 16-34.

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