Ad Agencies in Egypt Reopen as Protests Continue in Bahrain

from my blog published in Advertising Age

MCN Chairman Akram Miknas has a view down to the square where the protests in Bahrain are unfolding, swelling, gripping yet another Middle Eastern nation. He is mesmerized. One by one, in countries where people feel marginalized, deprived and where they have no voice, they’re gathering togther to say ‘Enough!’. But this is Bahrain and Miknas has a love and long history here. He and his family are honorary citizens – a very rare honor. Over frantic calls from family and friends, Miknas watches the gathering masses, not knowing what would happen next, and wonders how the next few days would affect his advertising businesses, his clients, his country.

MCN – an Interpublic majority owned company runs several key agencies in the region – including McCann FP7, UM, Lowe, Initiative, Weber Shandwick, MRM and more – and Miknas has seen the industry and his business being affected. In Egypt, the office has come back to life now, playing catch up after more than week of shutdown, but it’s been really bad for business. In Tunis, things are normal again, but who knows, Miknas fears, what is about to unfold across the region. Clients aren’t always very bold in uncertainties – media plans and tv shoots get cancelled in seconds. Business can move from great to good and spiral into ‘wow, now what’ in hours.

As I post, Thursday Feb 17th noon here, things aren’t going well. Bahrain police have catapulted the situation into high alert – aggravating the protesters. Tomorrow is billed to be huge there. All social is buzzing. Caught between the fight for rights, between sectarian (Shia vs Sunni) stands, and not knowing what they’re shouting for, it’s a mess. No better in Libya. No worse in Yemen. No nothing in Iran, for fear of getting killed. And, steady, steady, wait and watch in Egypt. Oh, and our industry?

More than one client is asking the social media question. If everyone’s attention is on the social channels or on protest-centered news, how come media planning agencies haven’t scrambled and gotten into the social action more heavily? How come the creative agencies haven’t quickly responded with viral videos and interesting creative that would thrive on this new focus?

The advertising industry is playing cautious. Every one is quick to recognize the mobilization tools for the protests – the internet, mobile, social media – but we’re not seeing quick shifts away from traditional tv and print into social and search built around the new momentum for brands. Particularly for global and regional brands who have no idea which way the power tides shift. And who have to remain loyal to the immediate. “How come your brand won’t wave our flag now?’ asked one protester, about why brands were shying away from taking the side of the young, and supporting them with wither “direct or subliminal support”. “We will remember this” he warned me.

Starting in Tunisia, then rolling across like thunder in Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Yemen and Iran – this whole new age concept of freedom across the internet is contagious – and the youth in this region are clicking on faster then you can say democracy. And, lest we forget, more than 55% of the population in this region is under 24. And a huge number of them have mobile and 24/7 access to the internet.

One client-side marketing manager, at a key regional pitch for a rather large account in the region, pointed out that all the econometric modeling and media absorbtion predictive tools had gone for a toss – they didn’t see #Jan25 coming. Nor the emergence of Al Jazeera TV as a channel with their live coverage. Or google as a tool for the information hungry.

So, no, TV wasn’t top dog in Cairo for the youth segment the last couple of weeks. Nobody was watching our spots. Advertising as we knew it in the region with tv as hero was suddenly in flux. Messages were more real time, more crisp, shorter, relevant, behaviorally targeted in the immediate. They weren’t formatted for 30s. They were 140c.

Posted on February 18, 2011

Fighting With Social Media Until Now, Egyptians Prepare For More Physical Battle

From Advertising Age / Global News

It’s very early morning in Cairo on Wednesday and I’m being told on the phone that the protesters are bracing for the worst. Omar Sulieman, the Egyptian vice president, has warned that his government “can’t put up with continued protests,” reflecting the regime’s wrath at what’s now 16 days of pro-democracy protest that’s had global coverage. With his “no ending of the regime” stand getting even harder, and the protesters even more determined to “stay until they go,” most of my contacts are preparing for an all out. “We’ve tried hard on Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger,” said Ahmed. “Now we’re preparing for battle.”

The revolution may no longer just be tweeted. It will be bled.

Necessity is the mother of intervention. When all else failed, they went Bluetooth and memory stick. Day after day, as one communication door closed down, the people in Egypt have used new doors and intervention and invention. When all electronic channels were shut down, it went physical. Tahrir Square, #Jan25, #Egypt. The first “phygital” revolution in history.

Change doesn’t happen on a social network alone, change happens on the street. It’s physical, it’s blood, sweat, fire, rocks, bullets.

There’s a set of the urban hip in Cairo who are now pounding the streets in Tahrir Square in their Converse who’ll claim it all started on their ‘Berries and iPads. This is a modern-day revolution, with keyboard and mouse instead of guns and Molotov cocktails or sticks and stones.

“We’re winning this on information,” claimed a young advertising executive who was involved. Shared information, where-to and how-to tips kicked off and mobilized this uprising. Starting, we are told, on Facebook. And then it picked up momentum across various channels of communications, like Twitter, BBM, voice-to-tweet, open IPs and physical memory-stick sharing.

An uprising is a mass thing, and the mass doesn’t reach critical until it involves a cross-strata of society. This time around, the socially adept, technologically enabled urban youth got involved, and often actually activated the masses because they felt empowered and enabled. “What’s different this time around here in Egypt is that this isn’t just a bunch of disgruntled, unemployed young men hurling rocks,” said a colleague, comparing the situation to some other parts of ongoing intifada in the region. They’re educated, aware, and unhappy. They’re hurling tweets.

One poster boy in Tahrir Square this time is Google’s marketing head for the Middle East and North Africa: Wael Ghonim, blogger and activist. When he disappeared off the streets, locked up by the authorities for socially mobilizing the uprising on Facebook and helping push #Jan25 to unprecedented trending, the social networks were rife with anger and acceptance. If you blog, they arrest you. You are known by your handle. And then, on his release on Monday, there was widespread celebration and a whole new momentum fueled by victory.

The other thing we’ve noticed this time is that the people have intervened and invented in amazing ways beyond text. People are turning not working into networking. We’ve seen dozens of photos and handheld videos shared on the internet, but they’re often passed on physically to start with. Digital cameras and camera phones are enabling the street-citizen journalist. And a lot of these were handed over to foreign journalists in various formats, on the street and in hotel lobbies. When Al Jazeera was allowed back on, their Creative Commons has helped the people of Egypt find their audio — and video — voice.

Posted on February 18, 2011

Live From Tahrir Square: What Egyptians Are Tweeting Today

From Advertising Age/Global News:

Well, they got @Sandmonkey this morning. The Egyptian micro-celebrity and blogger Mahmoud who goes under the handle Sandmonkey was put in a cage, arrested. Not much of a surprise, and a bit too late. He’d already got the word out, tweet by tweet, video upload after another, and he had done enough social damage to #Mubarak. He moved the dictator towards #epicFail. As the internet opened up a little, protesters were tweeting live from the now legendary #Tahrir Square. And the world is following. Most related topics are trending on top 10 as I post, in the U.K., in Canada, and in the US. One way or another, one hashtag or another, #Jan25 and #Egypt is captivating tweet.

The world is watching in awe as social media is playing a small but significant part in tearing at decades of repressive regime. In London, #Jan25 is higher at No. 2 than the happier celebratory #Kung Hei Fat Choi for Chinese New Year. In India the topic holds four of the top 10 slots. I read on a tweet that more people are following the Egyptian revolution on social worldwide at any given time than on TV. The revolution is not on television! Social is helping today’s frustration, anger, and resentment amongst the literate youth be voiced with a loudness unprecedented. And, hush, but a little bird says that the power of social is kindle, waiting across many a Middle Eastern flashpoint. Scary.

In Egypt, friends are now being able to contact us. They’re telling us how the entire narrative, the tide was turning one way, then another, mostly in a well mannered way using the power of next gen media. Groups are organizing quickly. Information was being passed, bloodbank requests were being RT’d and doctors responding. And Washington was being beckoned to action. The world was being told. Minute by minute. My tweetstream on #Jan25 is flowing so fast, I simply am unable to catch any of it. The news channel Al Jazeera is running a live Twitter feed on their portal. Uploads are flooding YouTube, and #Jan25 is getting thousands of likes on Facebook. For once, an entire world is following a revolution 24/7. This is huge.

However, saying it’s a social media revolution would be belittling the hundreds wounded and scores who have given up their lives. This is not a revolution about armchair or laptop protesting. It’s not about ‘leaning back’ (watching it on tv) or ‘leaning forward’ (participating via laptop). It’s out on the street. It’s being written in blood. Young and old Egyptian blood. But as our friends from Cairo tell us, social media, and channels like Al Jazeera are playing a significant role amongst the urban youth who have mobiles, who have access and who know how to ‘like’ and ‘hashtag.’ And Mubarak’s people know that. Armed with knives and guns, they are raiding Liberation Square, moving in out amongst the pro-freedom protesters, spreading panic, inciting violence. Because they know that the people are armed with courage, and determination–and support and empathy that’s growing by the tweet, by the second.

Breaking: I just logged on to And got: Error establishing a database connection. That’s yet another RT of Mubarak#Fail.

Posted on February 18, 2011

Booted Off Web, Egyptians Find Twitter Work-Around on @Speak2Tweet

From my blog published on Advertising Age/Global News:

DUBAI ( — It’s happening in Tahrir Square, it’s happening in Alexandria and it’s unfolding on Speak2Tweet. The revolution in Egypt is not on TV or radio, but tugging at Mubarak 140 characters at a time.

For the first time (since Iran’s Twitter-fueled uprising was “socially sidelined” because Michael Jackson died and hashtag Michael Jackson — #MJ — became much more popular than hashtag IranElection — #IranElection), social media is standing up and being counted in the Middle East. During the earlier Iran uprising, as protests were being mobilized and heralded on the microblog, the U.S. State Department asked Twitter to postpone a scheduled site maintenance that would have shut down the most powerful communication tool for protesters in Iran. Today we are witnessing another uprising, this time far more serious, and far larger in scale. Here in our region, social media is becoming a channel for freedom of expression, for change, and it is being recognized — even hailed — as a human right.

As the Mubarak government turned Egypt into Gypt (everything “e” was cut off), Twitter quickly joined hands with SayNow (a Google company, yes,) to work around the ban and created @speak2tweet. This amazing new “channel,” created for the people of Egypt, is a game changer. It allows for anyone with access to a telephone line to leave a voice message –- which is instantly converted to a tweet.

And what’s really sweet is that it all came from official sources. The top tweets about @speak2tweet were from Google and Twitter, not from some nerd in a back office in Cairo. And the people of Egypt aren’t going to forget that in a hurry. In the past, Egypt has been called Facebook Nation, for the times that general strikes have been organized and mobilized using the power of social media and the popularity of Facebook amongst the young, urban population in Egypt.

This time around, Google and Twitter are the leading facilitators. A joint statement coming from SayNow and Google MENA said “Like many people, we’ve been glued to the news unfolding in Egypt and thinking of what we could do to help people on the ground,” and added a strong note of support with “We hope that this will go some way to helping people in Egypt stay connected at this very difficult time. Our thoughts are with everyone there.” Wow. Well done social.

I managed to connect with Ahmed, one of those Egyptians who’ve grasped the power of the importance of free expression. He said, “It’s not religious, it’s not political. It’s social. Today, I don’t care if you’re Muslim or Christian, today I want to know if you’re social” (meaning if you are able to connect via a social media channel and spread the word).

As I post, my Twitter feed is continuously showing voice tweets coming out of Egypt. It’s very early morning there on Thursday, Feb. 3. The vigil is continuing, and some of the pro-Mubarak supporters (apparently organized and rustled up quickly by the government) have opened fire, injuring several in the pro-freedom crowd. It’s beginning to go south. Violence is flaring.

I’m keeping up with the news, tweet by tweet, live from the square. I’ll post a couple here. Then I’ll have to go work. Write up yet another presentation for a pitch selling the power of social media. For a fast moving consumer goods client. But, for now, from #Egypt:

#egypt #Jan25 Just saw a protester hit by a Molotov. Saw him catch on fire. Other protesters managed to put him out.

We just knew that one of the demonstrators just died from live bullet shot by the NDP thugs here in Tahrir Sq. #Egypt #Jan25

Continued gunfire from #Tahrir #jan25 #Egypt

Just witnessed a guy getting shot in the head. On Al Jazeera. In Egypt. #jan25

And a call out to the US of A. Thugs waited until west asleep to attack! CALL US state department to condemn use of US weapons to kill Egyptians 202-647-4000 #Jan25 #Egypt

Posted on February 18, 2011

@Sandmonkey arrested and blog down. Here's his last post

Egypt, right now: by Sandmonkey
Sandmonkey, Egypt’s most famous English-language blogger, was arrested on 3 February 2011 while attempting to deliver medical supplies to Tahrir Square. About one hour later, his blog was suspended. The obvious conclusion is that his arrested was not at all random – that Hosni Mubarak’s security forces were following him online and planned his arrest (the Sandmonkey tweeted that he was on his way to deliver medical supplies to Tahrir shortly before he was arrested). He wrote the following this morning, and posted it on his blog. I have re-posted it here, with out correcting any typos. This is strictly copy-and-paste.

I don’t know how to start writing this. I have been battling fatigue for not sleeping properly for the past 10 days, moving from one’s friend house to another friend’s house, almost never spending a night in my home, facing a very well funded and well organized ruthless regime that views me as nothing but an annoying bug that its time to squash will come. The situation here is bleak to say the least.

It didn’t start out that way. On Tuesday Jan 25 it all started peacefully, and against all odds, we succeeded to gather hundreds of thousands and get them into Tahrir Square, despite being attacked by Anti-Riot Police who are using sticks, tear gas and rubber bullets against us. We managed to break all of their barricades and situated ourselves in Tahrir. The government responded by shutting down all cell communication in Tahrir square, a move which purpose was understood later when after midnight they went in with all of their might and attacked the protesters and evacuated the Square. The next day we were back at it again, and the day after. Then came Friday and we braved their communication blackout, their thugs, their tear gas and their bullets and we retook the square.

We have been fighting to keep it ever since.

That night the government announced a military curfew, which kept getting shorter by the day, until it became from 8 am to 3 pm. People couldn’t go to work, gas was running out quickly and so were essential goods and money, since the banks were not allowed to operate and people were not able to collect their salary. The internet continued to be blocked, which affected all businesses in Egypt and will cause an economic meltdown the moment they allow the banks to operate again. We were being collectively punished for daring to say that we deserve democracy and rights, and to keep it up, they withdrew the police, and then sent them out dressed as civilians to terrorize our neighborhoods. I was shot at twice that day, one of which with a semi-automatic by a dude in a car that we the people took joy in pummeling. The government announced that all prisons were breached, and that the prisoners somehow managed to get weapons and do nothing but randomly attack people. One day we had organized thugs in uniforms firing at us and the next day they disappeared and were replaced by organized thugs without uniforms firing at us. Somehow the people never made the connection.

Despite it all, we braved it. We believed we are doing what’s right and were encouraged by all those around us who couldn’t believe what was happening to their country. What he did galvanized the people, and on Tuesday, despite shutting down all major roads leading into Cairo, we managed to get over 2 million protesters in Cairo alone and 3 million all over Egypt to come out and demand Mubarak’s departure. Those are people who stood up to the regime’s ruthlessness and anger and declared that they were free, and were refusing to live in the Mubarak dictatorship for one more day. That night, he showed up on TV, and gave a very emotional speech about how he intends to step down at the end of his term and how he wants to die in Egypt, the country he loved and served. To me, and to everyone else at the protests this wasn’t nearly enough, for we wanted him gone now. Others started asking that we give him a chance, and that change takes time and other such poppycock. Hell, some people and family members cried when they saw his speech. People felt sorry for him for failing to be our dictator for the rest of his life and inheriting us to his Son. It was an amalgam of Stockholm syndrome coupled with slave mentality in a malevolent combination that we never saw before. And the Regime capitalized on it today.

Today, they brought back the internet, and started having people calling on TV and writing on facebook on how they support Mubarak and his call for stability and peacefull change in 8 months. They hung on to the words of the newly appointed government would never harm the protesters, whom they believe to be good patriotic youth who have a few bad apples amongst them. We started getting calls asking people to stop protesting because “we got what we wanted” and “we need the country to start working again”. People were complaining that they miss their lives. That they miss going out at night, and ordering Home Delivery. That they need us to stop so they can resume whatever existence they had before all of this. All was forgiven, the past week never happened and it’s time for Unity under Mubarak’s rule right now.

To all of those people I say: NEVER! I am sorry that your lives and businesses are disrupted, but this wasn’t caused by the Protesters. The Protesters aren’t the ones who shut down the internet that has paralyzed your businesses and banks: The government did. The Protesters weren’t the ones who initiated the military curfew that limited your movement and allowed goods to disappear off market shelves and gas to disappear: The government did. The Protesters weren’t the ones who ordered the police to withdraw and claimed the prisons were breached and unleashed thugs that terrorized your neighborhoods: The government did. The same government that you wish to give a second chance to, as if 30 years of dictatorship and utter failure in every sector of government wasn’t enough for you. The Slaves were ready to forgive their master, and blame his cruelty on those who dared to defy him in order to ensure a better Egypt for all of its citizens and their children.

After all, he gave us his word, and it’s not like he ever broke his promises for reform before or anything.

Then Mubarak made his move and showed them what useful idiots they all were.

You watched on TV as “Pro-Mubarak Protesters” – thugs who were paid money by NDP members by admission of High NDP officials- started attacking the peaceful unarmed protesters in Tahrir square. They attacked them with sticks, threw stones at them, brought in men riding horses and camels- in what must be the most surreal scene ever shown on TV- and carrying whips to beat up the protesters. And then the Bullets started getting fired and Molotov cocktails started getting thrown at the Anti-Mubarak Protesters as the Army standing idly by, allowing it all to happen and not doing anything about it. Dozens were killed, hundreds injured, and there was no help sent by ambulances. The Police never showed up to stop those attacking because the ones who were captured by the Anti-mubarak people had police ID’s on them. They were the police and they were there to shoot and kill people and even tried to set the Egyptian Museum on Fire. The Aim was clear: Use the clashes as pretext to ban such demonstrations under pretexts of concern for public safety and order, and to prevent disunity amongst the people of Egypt. But their plans ultimately failed, by those resilient brave souls who wouldn’t give up the ground they freed of Egypt, no matter how many live bullets or firebombs were hurled at them. They know, like we all do, that this regime no longer cares to put on a moderate mask. That they have shown their true nature. That Mubarak will never step down, and that he would rather burn Egypt to the ground than even contemplate that possibility.

In the meantime, State-owned and affiliated TV channels were showing coverage of Peaceful Mubarak Protests all over Egypt and showing recorded footage of Tahrir Square protest from the night before and claiming it’s the situation there at the moment. Hundreds of calls by public figures and actors started calling the channels saying that they are with Mubarak, and that he is our Father and we should support him on the road to democracy. A veiled girl with a blurred face went on Mehwer TV claiming to have received funding by Americans to go to the US and took courses on how to bring down the Egyptian government through protests which were taught by Jews. She claimed that AlJazeera is lying, and that the only people in Tahrir square now were Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. State TV started issuing statements on how the people arrested Israelis all over Cairo engaged in creating mayhem and causing chaos. For those of you who are counting this is an American-Israeli-Qatari-Muslim Brotherhood-Iranian-Hamas conspiracy. Imagine that. And MANY PEOPLE BOUGHT IT. I recall telling a friend of mine that the only good thing about what happened today was that it made clear to us who were the idiots amongst our friends. Now we know.

Now, just in case this isn’t clear: This protest is not one made or sustained by the Muslim Brotherhood, it’s one that had people from all social classes and religious background in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood only showed up on Tuesday, and even then they were not the majority of people there by a long shot. We tolerated them there since we won’t say no to fellow Egyptians who wanted to stand with us, but neither the Muslims Brotherhood not any of the Opposition leaders have the ability to turn out one tenth of the numbers of Protesters that were in Tahrir on Tuesday. This is a revolution without leaders. Three Million individuals choosing hope instead of fear and braving death on hourly basis to keep their dream of freedom alive. Imagine that.

The End is near. I have no illusions about this regime or its leader, and how he will pluck us and hunt us down one by one till we are over and done with and 8 months from now will pay people to stage fake protests urging him not to leave power, and he will stay “because he has to acquiesce to the voice of the people”. This is a losing battle and they have all the weapons, but we will continue fighting until we can’t. I am heading to Tahrir right now with supplies for the hundreds injured, knowing that today the attacks will intensify, because they can’t allow us to stay there come Friday, which is supposed to be the game changer. We are bringing everybody out, and we will refuse to be anything else than peaceful. If you are in Egypt, I am calling on all of you to head down to Tahrir today and Friday. It is imperative to show them that the battle for the soul of Egypt isn’t over and done with. I am calling you to bring your friends, to bring medical supplies, to go and see what

Mubarak’s gurantees look like in real life. Egypt needs you. Be Heroes.