Citizens in Egypt have been using Twitter, Facebook and other pathways of the Internet to communicate to the outside world, challenging the government of President Hosni Mubarak.
Authorities have shut down Internet services, but protesters are finding ways to get information out and organize mass rallies.
While Egypt's government has to shut down Internet services, the U.S. State department is using Twitter and other social media service for statecraft and diplomacy. Phillip J. Crowley, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, is regularly tweeting diplomatic policy as the situation in the Middle East escalates. Egypt receives over $1.3 billion annually in military aid from the U.S. Department of State.
Since Thursday night, Crowley has sent out the following tweets to his more than 11,000 followers:
"Events unfolding in Egypt are of deep concern. Fundamental rights must be respected, violence avoided and open communications allowed.";
"We are concerned that communication services, including the Internet, social media and even this #tweet, are being blocked in #Egypt."; and
"We are closely monitoring the situation in #Egypt. We continue to urge authorities to show restraint and allow peaceful protests to occur."
Crowley doesn't confine his tweeting to foreign policy. He used Twitter to encourage Congress to avoid cutting funding to his department following President Obama's State of the Union speech: "Progress in #Pakistan, and other key states, is put at risk if#Congress cuts funding for #diplomacy and #development back to FY2008 levels."
He also manages to inject some humor and sarcasm into his 140-character, unclassified diplomatic messages. Regarding a statement from Mark Stephens, the lead defense attorney for the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, asserting that if his client is extradited to Sweden, there is a risk the U.S. will seek to detain him at Guantanamo Bay, Crowley tweeted,
"The claim by the lawyer for #JulianAssange that his client could go to #Guantanamo is pure legal fantasy. Save it for the movie."
Hollywood producersto Andrew Fowler's forthcoming book about Assange, "The Most Dangerous Man in the World," for a movie.
On October 28, 2010, Crowley sent Twitter messages to Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his birthday:
"Happy birthday President #Ahmadinejad. Celebrate by sending Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer home. What a gift that would be. #Iran"; and
"Your 54th year was full of lost opportunities. Hope in your 55th year you will open #Iran to a different relationship with the world."
For Crowley, Twitter is the new kind of "unclassified" diplomatic cable service, in which the entire world gets to be in the audience and even participate in the conduct of statecraft.