Crowd Sourced Reform in Egypt

27 Feb, 2011

“What do you wish for?” Hany Rashwan, a 20-year-old Egyptian studying Computer Science at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, recently launched Kolena.org to allow users in post-revolution Egypt to discuss their answers to this question. Rashwan envisions Kolena, a word that means “all of us” in Arabic, as “Egypt’s online interactive Town Hall Meeting…a place for people to go to submit and vote on ideas for change.”

The importance of social media in the recent Egyptian Revolution has been a subject of debate, yet Rashwan’s project looks to position online activism at the center of Egypt’s ongoing reform process. After its first week, Kolena has attracted over forty reform proposals, distributed across categories such as Foreign Affairs, Religious Affairs, Justice, and Economic Development.

Kolena users have the ability to submit ideas for reform via their Facebook profiles, as well as respond to the ideas of others by voting them up or down in terms of importance. “Better Public Schools” currently ranks at the top of its composite list.

One challenge faced by social networks such as Twitter and Facebook is the difficult task of organizing user-generated information. Individuals have trouble rallying around specific reform projects in such an environment, however Kolena’s ranking system has the potential to foster organized and democratic political action. The site’s staff also filters posts in order to address spam and duplicates.

Until now, users on Kolena have focused on goals such as “Better Public Schools” rather than the tangible steps necessary to achieve them. This initial dialogue is an important part of any reform process and it will be interesting to see if the site evolves to directly impact political discourse in Egypt in the future. For now, Kolena.org is an idea-gatherer rather than an idea-generator. Will the Arab world take advantage of this new platform?

Rashwan was reached via email and expressed interest in expanding his site to other Arab countries.

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