In Syria, in fact, one blogger says it was old-fashioned activism that pushed the digital world into the fight against President Bashar al-Assad.
"The street led the bloggers," says Marcell Shewaro, who left Syria for Cairo on June 19, after veiled threats from the government over her three-year-old Arabic blog, marcellita.com, which she says has about 50,000 readers a month. "Three months ago, I can't speak about Bashar, even in a restaurant. Now we are saying, 'OK, they [the protesters] are dying. What we can do is write. If we don't talk, it's now or never.' And stories are coming out, all over, even from the 1980s, because people are feeling they are not alone."
That feeling brought people together in a way that literally saved lives in Tahrir Square, says Yasser Alwan, a photographer in Cairo who spent more than two weeks in the square with protesters. "People built 20 sinks and 20 toilets, spontaneously," he says. "People brought blankets, donated tents – the third or fourth night it rained, and tarps appeared. A whole community was built in three or four days ... which is what allowed them to stay." Those same bonds, Mr. Alwan says, allowed them to surwvive the government's first siege of the square, on Feb. 2.
Jillian York, who has been following old and new media in the Arab world for several years, says the symbiosis between off-line activity and online activism is critical to how protests move forward.