Hosni's Friends

As the people of Egypt revolted against years of dictatorship this past week, they probably didn’t realize that an unlikely ally was fighting alongside them. But instead of the streets of Cairo, this man’s battlefield was . . . Facebook.

A few weeks ago, New York film historian Michael Bowen’s Facebook page looked like anyone else’s. He posted links to pictures of Kewpie dolls and old ZOOM clips on Youtube of kids speaking ubbidubbi. On January 28th, at 12:15am, he wrote a typical entry: “A cow drinks about a bathtub full of water every day.
But then, 21 hours later, everything changed.

“I love revolutions,” he wrote at 10:08pm. “I’m a revolution junkie.”

Like many New Yorkers, Bowen was avidly following the unfolding revolution in Egypt. From that moment, he began posting a stream of news, tweets and comments about Egypt, day and night. And around this time, he made a discovery: Hosni Mubarak had a Facebook page.

Well, not a real Facebook page. Clearly, someone other than the Egyptian president had created it. But the page had about 700 friends.

So Bowen started writing to write the people on Mubarak’s friends list, asking them why they were Facebook friends with a dictator.

They began to write them back.

“Starting to get notes back from the Mubarak FB friends I messaged to ask why they were friends with him,” he wrote on Feb 1. “Marietta Demova says: ‘He is a handsome man - i do appreciate people with different thinking.’ Well, good for you, Marietta. You go, girl!”

Many seemed not to be aware of their affiliation with Mubarak.  “Ha!” he wrote later that same day. “In response to my note about her FB friendship with Hosni Mubarak, Nina Womack writes ‘Huh? Who?’ I think I'll friend her!”

Other responses were less friendly. “Seriously, did you honestly give a shyt [sic] or did you know anything about him prior to what is going on in the news currently?” one man wrote in a response Bowen posted on his wall. “Or do you follow all the worlds atrocities via the news as fad personal causes?”

Hostility aside, it’s a good question. I tried to contact Bowen, but he didn’t return phone calls, emails or FB messages. So I couldn’t ask him what it was about the revolution in Egypt, out of all the events of the world, that so gripped him. Or what it really means to be Facebook friends with a dictator. Or why a film historian would feel the need to wage a such a vendetta.

As the days passed, Bowen seemed more and more disdainful of the people he contacted. His rhetoric began to swell. “The arrogance of bourgeoisie narcissism...” he wrote. “They parade their criminal sympathies in your face, then accuse you of having behaved 'inappropriately' for asking them to explain themselves.”

It seemed that in some way, writing to Mubarak’s “friends” made Bowen feel as if he were working in solidarity with the Egyptian people. “Joke coming out of Cairo,” he posted on Feb 6. “Mubarak dies and goes to Heaven, where he meets Nasser and and Anwar Sadat. They ask him, 'How did they kill you? Poison or a bullet?' and Mubarak replies: 'Facebook.' ”

But there were still moments of self-doubt.

“This little game I've been playing sending notes to people who friended Hosni Mubarak's FB page has started to become quite depressing,” Bowen wrote that same day. “How many times will people tell me, ‘No biggie. It's just a FB thing’? How many more will start screaming anti-American rhetoric at ME, as if I was the one friending a guy who is a pure lapdog of US imperialist policy? And the strangest replies - I got more than a few - start to feed me some bullshit, pseudo-ethical rap about how they do not judge people and ‘love’ everyone equally. So that explains how a corrupt, murderous dictator wound up as one of your 1,700 FB friends, pal? I frankly hope these assholes have their balls shoved down their throats by the hateful regimes they are too ‘spiritual’ to judge.”

On Monday, Mubarak’s page had lost thirty friends. Bowen counted it a victory.

“Yes, I know that Mubarak did not create this page,” he wrote, “and yes, I know that my gesture means almost nothing compared to the blood and tears of the Egyptian people. But what is an individual to do in a nation whose entrenched foreign policy is incapable of separating itself from dictators and capitalist sociopaths?”

On Feb 9, he got an even greater victory.


"So you are going to stop and go back to your non soapbox posts?” one of Bowen’s friends replied.

“That's even more serious than changing his relationship status to ‘it's complicated,’ ” said another.

“I liked Michael's earlier, funnier, post,” a third lamented.

With the Facebook page down, Bowen seemed at a loss. He briefly considered attacking the wiki page for Mubarak, but didn’t follow through.

Today, when Mubarak finally stepped down, Bowen posted: “VICTORY IN EGYPT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Then, he posted: “WAKE UP AMERICA!!!!!!!!!”

And then … nothing.

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