Egypt’s 2011 revolution was remarkable for its self-awareness. The power to photograph, film, and broadcast protests across the Internet in real time seemed to prove the emancipatory power of technology. At Tahrir Square, an independent media group formed by a handful of young activists called Mosireen collected videos recorded by smartphone-wielding protesters that documented police abuses. Mosireen hoped to use the crowd-sourced videos as evidence against President Hosni Mubarak’s brutal security forces in court. But those trials never came to pass: Egyptian courts cleared Mubarak and some of his top aides of any responsibility for the shooting of demonstrators in the revolution’s first days.
The state’s narrative—if the erasure of the revolution’s history can be called a narrative—has lurched between farce and tragedy. In January 2011, as anti-regime protesters filled Tahrir Square, state television broadcast images of empty streets. After the 2013 coup, prosecutors used Mosireen’s videos, available on its YouTube channel, against protesters in court. Earlier this year, Egypt’s government struck all reference to the 2011 and 2013 uprisings from school textbooks.
Recently, Mosireen launched its Internet “resistance archive,” named 858—the number of hours of footage the archive contained when it went live. The collection includes footage shot during the revolution by both members and non-members (many of whom choose to remain anonymous). When I spoke with members of Mosireen, they described the act of assembling their video archive as a defense of the revolution’s memory against the regime. Members requested anonymity, as they collectively share credit for their work, and gave pseudonyms that double as their usernames in the online archive. “Putting together this archive is a subversive act,” one member who goes by the name Krypton said. “It’s a way of battling the narrative being put out by the state to erase history, to have people forget what was possible.”