Turkish Rabia experience: 'Awakening' of new generation
Social media, street protests, played key role in keeping memory of Egyptian massacres alive

When Egypt's first elected President, Mohammed Morsi, was arrested after a military coup, thousands of democracy supporters massed near the Rabia Square in Cairo to call for Morsi's return to power.

The military response was swift and brutal: In the ensuing days, 3,510 people were killed and more than 20,000 were injured. People from around the world protested on social media and in the streets.

Protesters began raising four fingers in the air and asked the military to listen the will of the people. The sign was a call to remember the Rabia massacres; in Arabic, Rabia means four.

A group called the Rabia platform, based in Istanbul, was founded to make sure the military brutality is not forgotten. The group has declared Aug. 14 a day to recall the Rabia events.

"We declare the day as World Rabia Day in order not to forget the Rabia massacre and to support the pro-democracy struggle of Egyptians," the group said in a written statement.

Olum Var Haci, one of the most influential Turkish twitter phenomena, ran an account -- @olumvarhaci -- that played a crucial role in bringing the Rabia issue to the attention of social media in Turkey.

"Since I was born, I have been witnessing bloodshed in the Muslim territories," Olum Var Haci said. "And I am hoping this will end one day, and Rabia is a form of this hope."

Olum Var Haci is the name by which he is known on Twitter. He asked that his real name not be revealed.

Soon, "Rabia" became the symbol of resistance against the coup. And not only among Egyptians. People around the world felt connected to the symbol through their own experiences. And signs -- yellow, with a hand in black showing the gesture and bearing the legend R4BIA -- became ubiquitous.

"It was Ramadan, and without even going to our homes, we gathered in Sarachane square in Istanbul and we had our iftars there," said Olum var Haci. "We met new people during these gatherings." Iftar is the fast-breaking meal during the month of Ramadan.

Turkey, in particular, seemed one of the countries most moved by the protest. People across the country, from the humble to the mighty, raised four fingers in solidarity with their brethren in Egypt.

Even Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the Rabia sign during a speech and praised the Rabia protests.

Olum var Haci told The Anadolu Agency that social media played a vital role in popularizing the symbol and the protest.

"For the first time, we used on social media a yellow and black Rabia symbol and it quickly became popular. It was during the demonstration in the Sarachane park after a massive massacre in Egypt," Olum Var Haci said, referring to a park in Istanbul. "We sprayed the walls and started using the symbol in social media."

The sign also became a common sticker on rear windshields. And people renamed some squares around the country "Rabia," including one in the city of Sarachane, in southern Turkey.

"Since the first day of this account, the tweets about Rabia were the most popular ones, despite the fact that, usually, ironic and funny tweets get more attention and get more retweets," Olum Var Haci said.

The struggle of the Egyptian people moved Turks who had never previously been politically involved.

"The Egyptian people's stand in Rabia Square touched Muslims around the world as honorable," said a medical student in Istanbul who gave his name only as Oguz. "For the first time, I joined a protest. I wanted to show my opposition to the massacre."

Oguz, 23, said the Rabia massacres were an awakening for his generation, and the Rabia symbol brought young people together regardless of ethnicity or national origin.

The symbol, Oguz said, represents hope.

Another medicine student, Talha, 22, who is involved in social media and participated in the street protests, described Rabia as important for Muslims.

"Rabia represents those Muslims who are being despised, killed and resisted for their independence," Talha said.

Besides individual attempts, the platform was established to "raise the awareness of the Rabia discourse," said Cihangir Isbilir, who founded the Rabia platform. The organization represents 500 non-governmental organizations and media outlets, and has an unofficial membership of more than 10,000 people.

Regardless of the religious and ethnic, and national differences, the platform "aims to bring those who value and support independence, democracy, and human rights together," said Isbilir.

Olum Var Haci argued that social media in Turkey including Twitter affected the awareness in other Muslim countries.

"The popularity of Twitter use in Turkey and the political involvement among the users, often made in some cases as TT among the World list," he said, referring to Trending Topics. "And most of the time, people from other Muslim countries contacted us after our demonstrations or popular hashtags so they could do the same in their own countries."

Isbilir, too, argued that social media was critical in keeping the protests alive.

"Such activities in social media and in street protests give a moral boost to those who are seeking justice, and particularly those who are in Rabia squares,” said Isbilir.

"It is often difficult to hear the voice of people who are facing such violence and this protest raises awareness,” he added. "Perhaps all these activities will not bring any positive result in favor of those people anytime soon. But the voices raised against the coup showed that, for many people, the Egyptian coup is not a valid government, and they will not be able to hold on this too long.”

Last Modified: 2014-08-13 09:34:53
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