Please activate JavaScript!
Please install Adobe Flash Player, click here for download

uni'wissen 02-2013_ENG

Getting around in the Egyptian capital Cairo, the largest city in North Africa, takes a lot of patience: The distances are great, the streets often congested. Visiting friends from other parts of town takes a lot of planning, time, and energy. Many citizens therefore always carry their smartphone and thus also their social networks with them wherever they go. “The internet, and especially Facebook – ‘al Face’ – is an easy and effective means of keep- ing in touch with friends and participating in their lives alongside school or work,” says Kathrin Sharaf. The Freiburg ethnologist is writing a disserta- tion on the ways in which concepts of friendship in Cairo’s middle class influence internet use – and vice versa. When she began, Sharaf had no idea that the project would also be of such im- mediate topical interest: Right in the middle of her research, the Egyptian Revolution broke out; her seven-month phase of field research in Cairo began just after the peak of the uprising in 2011. “Then things really boiled over on Facebook, even between friends,” she says. But who is actually in contact with whom on laptops and smartphones in Cairo? One of the main findings of Sharaf’s dissertation is that friendships maintained over the internet are gen- erally based on acquaintances made outside of the internet. “Contact requests from strangers tend to be frowned upon,” she says. “The basic “True friendship can only exist between people who have sat face to face with each other” principle is that true friendship can only exist be- tween people who have sat face to face with each other.” Connected with Your Own Parents Sharaf speaks of a specific form of caution that is particularly prevalent among young Egyp- tians. This is due among other things to a fear of ruining one’s reputation, for instance when pic- tures are shared uncontrollably in social net- works. “The Egyptian society is very conservative.” Societal conventions that govern friendships in everyday life are also adhered to on the internet: “For example, you don’t share any photos of girls smoking a water pipe.” Many older Cairenes from the middle class also use social networks. It is not unusual to be friends with one’s own parents on Facebook. “There are also many modern myths, for instance about brothers who are supposedly registered on Facebook under a false name in order to keep watch over their sister.” Women thus often have two Facebook ac- counts, says Sharaf: one for a larger group and one for close friends. “It is a special honor to be invited to this friendship account.” These more private accounts are where women share photos from weddings, births, parties, or vaca- tions. Social networks are a place where one’s friends are always present: “I’ve seen it happen that people who haven’t seen each other in a 9