Arab Spring Complete Research Work
Syed Muhammad Jalal Ud Din Asad Shah SMC Ba 5 (Journalism) Course Instructor Ma’m Rida Sohail International Mass Media and its Impact Mid-term Assignment – Arab Spring 16/11/2012 Introduction The Arab Spring, referring to the chain reaction of revolutions in the Arab world, is considered to have begun in Tunisia when a small produce seller lit himself on fire to protest the government taking away his job.
Some say that this event, coupled with enough pressure from outside media sources, sparked the revolution of the younger generation in Tunisia that overthrew their prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi; others argue that the area was ripe for revolution thanks to the infusion of democracy in Iraq. Regardless of the initial cause, this single countries act started a snowball effect of democratic revolution that has rolled its way through Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen, Lybia, in a few smaller instances in other countries.
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Detailed Summary of “Arab Spring”
On 17th December 2010 something occurred in the small Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid that should lead to a so-called “revolution”. On that day, a desperate Tunisian teenager, who tried to support the livelihood of his family with his vegetable stand there, lit himself. Again and again he was bullied and also harassed by the behaviour and conditions of the Tunisian police in this village. His self-immolation happened one year ago and he died of his injuries. This sad act sparked major protests by angry and frustrated young people in Egypt.
Some followed Muhammad Buazizi example and also committed suicide after his sad death. The first so-called revolution in the Arab world has been triggered. Whether this “revolution” has been really triggered all alone from within Egypt by this sad act should be questioned. It wasn’t the first demonstration against the rise of food prices, but those protests were not able to overthrow the dictator. This changed with these protests in spring 2011. One should consider that these developments around these demonstrations have been driven from the outside, too.
For example, the name of Former U. S. diplomat Jeffrey Feltman appears repeatedly in connection with these so-called revolutions in the Middle East. The events in Tunisia spilled over to other states and for example, the Tunisian dictator quickly left his homeland to find asylum in Saudi Arabia. Some say a bit too quickly. Even before the wave of “revolutions” (“Arab Spring”) reached Egypt, this interesting wave reached the both states Morocco and Algeria. Again, the people took to the streets in protest against rising food prices and against the corruption within the country.
Of course, the people in Algeria and Morocco also protested against the injustice. Finally, the demonstrations in Egypt began on 25th of January. These protests in Egypt were primarily socially motivated demonstrations, in which the people wanted to give vent to their anger. Triggered by the financial crisis (U. S. is mainly to blame for this) the food prices and housing prices also increased in the Arab countries. Where the foreign/western countries did not intervene, the demonstrations disappeared again. Take a look at Algeria.
It seems that nowadays hardly anyone reminds about Algeria that there people also protested against the government and that these demonstrations were brutally dispersed or even mowed down. It seems that the Western governments decided secretly that an Algeria under the lead of Bouteflika is safer for Europe than an Algeria, which is ruled by Islamists. Some experts of the Middle East talk about the beginning of these demonstrations and revolutions about an “Islamic revolution” (even Islamistic revolution) which is masterful ignored by the West till today.
The West even ignores these statements about an “Islamic revolution” gladly. However, the results of the first elections in Tunisia and Egypt speak for themselves: In both countries the Islamists have gained extremely more power and influence. Not surprising at all. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt supported and still supports the protests against the power of the Egyptian military. It sometimes seems that the Muslim Brotherhood also forces chaos within these protests because it might be useful for their goals.
Not to mention that the Muslim Brotherhood offered people money to vote for them at these elections in Egypt. A wonderful example of the democratic sense within the Muslim Brotherhood. Sure a lot of people are able to recall the 11th February. The Egyptian dictator Mubarak resigned at this day and handed “all” the power to the Western-backed military. At the moment, the Egyptian military clings to the power in Egypt and the Egyptians are not able to reach a break to rest after their “revolution”. But this revolution in Egypt was not the last revolution of this “Arab Spring” in 2011.
The Yemenis were encouraged by the events in North African countries and started to take to the streets, also to demonstrate against their Yemeni government. Shortly before this outbreak of “revolution” in Yemen, the people were again humbled by the corrupt government and the proposed constitutional amendment, which would keep the Yemeni leader Saleh for some more years in office. The frustration of the Yemenis erupted finally. As far as we know, the Yemenis always have demonstrated in a peaceful manner against the government and military.
The bloodshed started as the clan of Sheikh Ahmar began to act against the Yemeni government to enforce the interests of the clan and this Sheikh. After a longer period of a back and forth and a long stay in Saudi Arabia, Saleh finally agreed to the proposal of the Gulf Cooperation Council and left his post in Yemen. Nobody exactly knows the future of Yemen. What is only certain to say is that the near future won`t be easy for the country and that you are actually able to call Yemen a failed State. Yemen always was a “forgotten” country and the situation within the country is really getting worse.
The Libyan revolution should not necessarily carry this title of a “revolution”. Viewing at Libya it is indeed clear that foreign countries supported those “rebels” to overthrow the ruler Muammar Gaddafi. Not to mention the clear statements about the events in Libya by independent journalists like Lizzie Phelan and others. Although both Western countries, France and Italy, extolled the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi until early 2011 and both governments did everything in motion in order to impress the leader in oversee, it was above all France, which quickly forgot about the alliance and any agreements.
It seems that the huge fear of an independent and more powerful Africa and a Libya with major projects was behind the intentions of the Europeans and the Americans. Some would also say that this was behind the intentions of the West to destroy the structure and plans of this country. Not to mention the huge amount of important mineral resources, of course. The armed rioters were celebrated as rebels and supplied with arms and money by the West / NATO. First they helped to pass the Libyan city of Benghazi as a liberated ity to the rebels and afterwards they started a war, based on lies, to determine the fate of the finally murdered Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. After Muammar Gaddafi’s assassination and the capture of his son, Saif al-Islam, it suddenly became very silent about the situation in Libya. It seems that they want to prevent, that the Western population learns something about this false revolution in Libya and above all, they want to create time to bury all corpses of innocent. So that there won`t turn up any unpleasant questions. The truth is sometimes very brutal. Libya is now exploited and finally ruled by al-Qaeda and CIA related people.
Also people in Bahrain were at the beginning of this year encouraged by the events in other Arab countries and they went on the streets to protest. The majority Shiite population wanted to achieve more equal rights and above all, that the Bahraini opposition will lose their status as mute puppets in the government. In Bahrain, it was a brutal crackdown of the “peaceful demonstrations” by the government. And all words, which U. S. President Barrack Obama had about these violence by a regime, was a gentle criticism that the Bahraini ruling family should not act brutally against demonstrators. But this was not enough.
The Bahraini ruling family asked for help with the crackdown of protesters and the friendly Saudis delivered tanks and their soldiers to “bring down” the demonstrations in the neighbouring state. After all, no one really outraged about that and no one spoke about a “humanitarian intervention” in Bahrain or even in Saudi Arabia. It`s a hypocritically world, isn`t it? The reporting on the brutal events in Bahrain has been suddenly discontinued. They remained silent. The West and others did not want to risk, that the Bahraini ruling house loses its power. After all, the United States of America own an important military base in Bahrain.
Furthermore, they couldn`t risk, that the Shiites in Bahrain are really successful in receiving more power and also co-determination in the country, because this would mean that the Iranian influence is increasing in Bahrain. Nothing, what the West really wants. If there will be a resume about the so-called Arab Spring in these days, it seems that nobody is going to mention Bahrain just as Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait The Saudi king tried to bribe his people with money, to buy it finally. But this strategy has not worked especially in the east of Saudi Arabia, on the border to Bahrain, where many Shiites live.
Especially in this region a lot of Shiite people were constantly on the streets to show their protest. By a new fatwa, which declared such demonstrations against the ruling family in Saudi Arabia as un-Islamic, this known ruling family has created an almost free rein in the suppression of the demonstrations. Of course, such a fatwa is used to ban protests against the ruling family in Saudi Arabia and to justify crackdowns of protests. Also such a fatwa does not seem to be very Islamic finally, but that’s nothing new in Saudi Arabia. The fool’s freedom for the Saudi ruling house is intensified by the looking away of the West.
Who wants to lose Saudi Arabia as a partner in these days? After all, there are still many sources of oil which can be exploited. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia is a good partner of the West in the fight against Iran – though this country is not necessarily a true friend and ally of the West. Saudi Arabia has a very strong interest to keep the power of Iran limited and to take care with every option that the power of Iran doesn`t increase. After all, it is often about the supremacy of Sunnis and Shiites in the Arab-Islamic world. Saudi Arabia isn’t interested in losing its (religious? power/influence to Iran. At the beginning of this year 2011 there were also demonstrations and violent clashes between protesters and the police in Jordan. The people protested for a new government. The Jordanian prime minister was replaced. The frustration of the Jordanian people is still palpable and there, but you do not hear anything any longer about Jordan. They do not want to take the risk to overthrow a Sunni ruler – especially not in a country where the majority of the population is actually Palestinian. It would not be foreseeable, which reaction would be triggered.
So while the West deliberately keeps silent about some regions, they are running on full speed when it’s about other countries which are not the “favourite children” of the United States, other countries and organizations. One of the best examples is Syria. In Syria, the demonstrations began relatively late and were fuelled from outside. Not to mention the financially and other support for the Syrian opposition groups within and abroad by the United States – this support started already by the Bush administration and is still continued under the administration of Peace Nobel Prize-”owner” Barrack Obama.
The demonstrations in Syria began peaceful, although foreigners were smuggled into the country to force violent situations within those protests. The peaceful protests were soon stopped because of this. The arming of several bunches of extremists, Islamists and criminals did the rest. The weapons were smuggled in quantities beyond the borders of the country – even before these demonstrations in Syria have started. A not to be underestimated role in the so-called “uprisings” in Syria may have played the comeback of an U. S. ambassador to the U. S. embassy (Damascus) in February this year.
Of course, this comeback of a questionable U. S. ambassador to Syria was also helpful with the policy against Syria This “Syrian unrest” is happening since nine months – although it is said that there is a horrible crackdown of protesters by the Syrian army and security forces. Not to mention that a real “unrest” looks different to the real events within Syria. But in favour of Western policy it is sure useful to sell these events in Syria to the Western population as a “peaceful unrest” of “peaceful demonstrators”, who just want freedom and democracy.
The Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should be overthrown, without any foreseeing of the consequences. It is easy to see these attempts of overthrow the Syrian government and President in connection with the “Foreign Policy” of America, Israel and probably (mainly? ) AIPAC. It is written on the flags of America to protect Israel, which the U. S. President Barrack Obama again made clear in the last days. Because of this and the powerful AIPAC lobby within the USA, they have on their agenda to destroy the so-called “Axis of Evil” – despite the probably consequences.
An upcoming President of the United States needs a huge financially base to become president and he also needs the support of such Lobbies and positive opinions about his attitude to Israel. Real independence is sure something different. If you destabilize Syria, an important supply line between Iran and Hezbollah is interrupted. But the West has made up its plan without Syria, which still holds well against all sanctions, propaganda and lies of Western countries, organizations as the NATO and questionable media. But it is in the stars how long Syria will survive this.
What is sold as “Arab Spring” is absolutely a huge lie. A lie, what is becoming increasingly obvious, especially after the Islamists won the non-independent & questionable elections in Egypt and Tunisia. A lie, which has the end, that the bloody crackdown on Shiite protesters in Bahrain and the situation and events in countries such as Jordan and Algeria are simply not included in the so-called retrospective analysis. A hypocritically sale of the so-called “Arab Spring” – a recapitulation, which is more than blind in one eye. A lie by which a war was fought in Libya (and there are still clashes, of course).
With tens of thousands of casualties – with a big thanks to NATO and Western interests. Whether one can still speak of a “spring” is more than questionable. The Arab states became puppets of the West, even more than already in the past. The West has tried to use his influence and how this failed “Arab spring” will going to end will be sure turn out in future. The West still missed to reach all goals yet, because the government in Syria is still not collapsed and the majority of the Syrian population supports the President Bashar al-Assad and the promised reform process.
Also the Iran is far too powerful to attack it, without fearing huge consequences. There still other Arab states where dictators are in power. The West just seems to be blind or is this behaviour a confirmation of the imperialistic lies and propaganda? If you want to sell the so-called “Arab spring” as a real pro-democracy movement of the Arab youth, then you should not keep simultaneously the dictators of the Gulf States, Jordan, Algeria and Morocco in office and power. The Arab Spring is a farce, which has plunged many countries into chaos.
These countries will have to fight with the consequences for the next decades. The problems, why the Arab youth mainly protested on the streets, are still there – everywhere. The acts to solve these problems of the Arab youth and societies are not even started yet if you consider Iraq, which is served as an example of democracy in this region; you quickly recognize that this supposed democratic government is much more corrupt than the former dictator. How the Arab population and primarily the Arab youth are going to handle this is unclear.
Maybe more “Arab springs”, maybe more victims and wars. Probably. One is clear – the Arab neighbours have been weakened and this is one of the main goals of Western interests, Imperialism and also of Zionism. It is said a picture explains better than 1000 words, but when picture muddle up with words then the following appears The Nature of the Arab Spring The Arab Spring is the name that has been given to the recent wave of protests and political unrest in the Arab region of the world.
This phenomenon began with the Jasmine revolution in December 2010 that overthrew the authoritative Tunisian government and has spread to neighbouring countries including Egypt, Syria and Libya. The Arab Spring has exhibited a common demand for democracy and civil rights from the nations involved and has already lead to revolutions in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and has caused political changes across many other Arab Countries. Shifting political attitudes and values regarding democracy amongst the Arabs can be seen in the following graph
Note the Democracy preference and Reject strong Leader in the Middle-East column. This survey was taken a year before the Arab Spring. The data it shows predicts remarkably well the opinion of the Arab people and was a sign of things to come. The findings have undoubtedly been correlated with the events of 2011. What is ironic is the high preference for democracy in Middle East compared with Eurasia and the fact that Middle East & North Africa region had the lowest democracy index rating (3. 43, 2010) according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (2010).
This highlights another great disparity between the desire of the people and the reality. Arab Spring and the youth It’s often said revolutions eat their young, but rarely has it been such a feast. On the streets of Tunis and across the Middle East, the young revolutionaries have been taken aback. A movement that spread on Face book, Twitter and YouTube is today being run by a generation that lived without computers most of their lives. Now, if the Arab Spring fails to incorporate the younger generation, it could meet the fate that so many revolutions do – leaving out those who first sparked change Tunisia
The democratic process in Tunisia is very encouraging. Regime change took place almost with no victims compared with Egypt, Libya and Syria. The elections brought to government a moderate, enlightened Muslim party, which raised the fears of secularists but is trying by all means to assure its opponents that it is open to sharing power, accepting peaceful transition of power through the election polls and building a civil state. Morocco and Algeria The king of Morocco went far beyond that of Jordan. He does not have to deal with similar delicate internal elements.
As a matter of fact, he started a process of internal conciliation several years ago, and trying to preempt a revolution in his country, he allowed a reformed constitution to be legislated in May 2010, and free democratic elections on Nov. 25 of that year. The Islamic movement won the majority as expected, but the change is taking place peacefully though seriously. The change will have an impact on Morocco’s relations with its neighboring Arab countries. A positive improvement in relations with Algeria is developing.
If this continues, it will allow for opening the borders between the two countries, which have been closed for 17 years. The Arab Spring is changing the way of thinking among the new regimes. The political climate between Morocco and Algeria will have an impact on resolving the dispute over the Western Sahara. This may allow for the resurrection of the Maghreb Union, which was created in 1989 but crippled as a result of deteriorating relations between Algeria and Morocco. Elections are scheduled in Algeria for 2012, and the regime promises free and democratic elections.
If this happens, and it most probably will, it will add a new dimension to the reform movement in North Africa. Syria The Syrian version over the protests is similar to that of the rest of the world in that the larger, general class of the country, in this case the Sunni Muslims, are protesting the rule of the elite sect, the Alawites in Syria – including the current President Bashar al-Assad, due to the apparent disparity between classes. The protests began in mid-March but have escalated as Assad backed down for original promises of peace-talks and reform and has begun to oppose the protests with force.
The situation has since escalated as military members, once members of the elite sect, have begun to defect to the protestor’s side, putting the country on the brink of civil war. These latest developments in Syria and the rest of the Arab Spring are important because they prove that international accountability can, in fact, produce large-scale change in a country. When enough people or media outlets that carry enough weight get behind even a single person that is willing to stand up to the injustice, enough momentum can be generated to cause institutional change.
The average American must care because we are a part of that momentum. If the average citizen lacks care, the media lacks support over certain topics, and international accountability and pressure loses its power. The Arab Spring reminds us that individual people with the courage to generate change have power if a watching world is willing to respond. By staying up to date and active in the discussion of these events, the average American too can have a part in great change for millions around the world. Egypt What where the students’ goals? The Egyptian revolution began on the 25th of January.
Tens of thousands of marchers occupied Cairo’s Tahrir Square to protest against President Hosni Mubarak and his government. Egyptians had been growing angrier over a number of issues including government corruption, rising prices, poverty, and social seclusion. The major point leading to the revolution was the overthrowing of the Tunisian government by fellow Arabs. As the demonstrations in Egypt grew more violent, protestors rallied behind a common goal, the complete overthrow of the President Hosni and his government. How did they communicate? The protestors consisted mostly of young “tech-savvy” Egyptians.
On January 28, in an attempt to prevent the protestors from communicating, the Egyptian government shut down internet access and some mobile phone services were shut down in certain areas. This only fuelled public anger with the government demonstrators begin using non-wireless dependent devices to communicate. Through fax machines, land lines, and radio broadcasts, the protestors have been able to still coordinate their movements and get information out of the country. What were their activities? Isolated pockets of protest erupted into country wide demonstration on January 28 as thousands protested the government in Tahrir Square.
They were met with repressive opposition by police forces (Asser). The government responded to the protests by shutting down all internet providers in order to cut off communication among the protestors. This only fuelled public anger. Protestors turned to land lines connections, fax machines and in some cases dial up connections through foreign nations such as Sweden and France to spread information (Daily Mail Reporter). Quickly, police forces melted away and the army was called in to keep the peace. On February 1st the demonstrations in Tahrir Square had terminated into the “March of The Million. Looting soon became rampant through the streets and neighbourhoods set up armed night watch groups to protect their homes. The protestors had been relatively non-violent, but on February 2 pro-government demonstrators marched in Tahrir Square to meet the anti-government forces. The Scene soon erupted into violence as both sides began throwing stones and petrol bombs. Since then, the anti-government Forces erected barricades around Tahrir Square and voiced their refusal to leave until President Hosni Mubarak finally stepped down from power (Asser). Were they successful? The Protestors were successful.
Under mounting pressures, President Hosni Mubarak resigned from presidency, finally ending his nearly 30 year rule. Power was then given over to the military which began drafting a new government and constitution. What has happened most recently? Since the resignation of President Mubarak, power has been given to the military which has dissolved parliament and suspended the constitution. The military said that it would give up control after a parliamentary election in the fall and a referendum was released in March for the public to vote and ratify amendments to a new constitution.
Since then however, the military has-been blamed for slowing the pace of democratizing the nation and remaining loyal to the core of President Mubarak’s government, leading to fresh protests in the recent months. In august, Hosni Mubarak was brought into court to be tried for the deaths of those who died in the protests. In October, the military released a statement saying that an election would be held for parliament in November followed by a separate election for president. The military also announced they would now retain power even after the elections in order to see the transfer to democracy through.
The Parliament will play a subordinate role to the military council for the time being until the new government is fully established and a new constitution is ratified, a process which might last until 2013. At the moment the future of Egypt has promising potential, but is still unclear. What would I have done? I would have joined the protestors in the streets. I love that I live in a democracy and if I lived in country like Egypt that limited my rights, I know I would jump at a chance to change things.
However, if I heard that looters were out, I think would go home and help be part of a neighbourhood watch to protect my friends and family because I feel that they should come first before government. Libya What were the goals of the students? The major protest credited with starting the revolution was a demonstration held in the city of Benghazi. The protestors were angry over the imprisonment of a human rights activist named Fethi Tarbel. Tarbel openly spoke out against the government, especially in regards to the 1996massacre at Abu Salim prison where more than a 1,000 prisoners were executed.
The protestors were met by police forces that used water cannons to break up the crowds and eye witnesses reported that police were driving their cars at high speeds into the crowds. The situation quickly erupted into an anti-Gaddafi protest that spread to neighbouring towns. Public anger over the nation’s rampant unemployment, poverty, civil rights violations, and lack of free speech fuelled the protests which demanded an end to Gaddafi and his regime. How did they communicate? Revolutionaries had to be careful about communicating online because the government was monitoring sites like face book, twitter and other social networking sites.
Some groups adapted and began using Mawada, one of the biggest dating sites in the Middle East, to secretly recruit new members and communicate. They would pose as couples on Mawada and swap coded messages to each other disguised as poetry and love letters. For the most part however, Libyans did not embrace the internet for communication as Egypt and Tunisia did in their revolutions. According to Nasser Wedaddy, a civil rights outreach director for the American Islamic Congress, Libyans were very afraid of the government monitoring the internet.
What got information spread around was actually people outside of Libya who, free from Libyan jurisdiction, were able to take what photos and videos were uploaded and spread them around the media, creating much of the support for the anti government forces. What were their activities? The protests that began in Benghazi evolved into a revolution and soon rebel forces consisting of civilian recruits and army personal that had defected made the city of Benghazi their base and quickly forced all security forces out of the city.
Riots spread to neighbouring cities and rebel forces burned down police stations and seized local radio stations to spread propaganda against the government. Pro Gaddafi forces moved to open war with rebel forces, engaging in ground assaults and bombing raids. Anti-government rebels were forced to retreat from the better armed pro-Gaddafi forces. Due to attacks on civilian targets, the western nations of the world gave their support to the rebel cause and began launching air raids on government strong holds and military groups.
With military advice and equipment provided by NATO forces, the rebels began slowly advancing on the capital of Tripoli and held the city of Misrata in western Libya which was under heavy siege. After months of little progress, the rebels pushed forward with a new offensive and captured Tripoli. The rebels established the National Transitional Council which was recognized as the new legitimate government of Libya. Rebel forces went on to capture the rest of the loyalist held cities which finally resulted in the death of Gaddafi. Were they successful?
The rebel forces were successful. In their last major offensive, which took place from August 13to October 20, they captured the capital city of Tripoli and all other cities still held by loyalist forces and on the 20th of October Gaddafi was finally killed in a rebel attack on his strong hold Role of Women As the world hurries to analyze and understand the events of the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011, numerous factors will be considered, most of them highly relevant and perhaps with more of a demonstrable effect on events than the levels of female subordination.
It is for this very reason that it is necessary to conduct research into the effects of female subordination. There has been talk of women’s rights in the context of the uprisings of the different Middle Eastern and North African countries, but there needs to be real, in depth analysis of the relationship between the treatment of women and the changes occurring in societies as a whole. In analysis of the events that occurred in 2011, I expect there will be much made of the nature of the previous regime, the personal styles of each of the dictators, and the economic situations of the countries, including the role of resources.
I strongly believe that the factors, as well as the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the threat of terrorism and the presence of oil, are factors that affect women acutely and intensely, and that we can learn more about these different factors by examining them through the lens of the treatment of women. While it is difficult to establish whether it is a case of causation or not, there is a strong correlation between the treatment of women and the repression of society as a whole. Studying the way women are affected in these situations will provide further insight into societies and prospects for the future.
I have proposed analysis of specific events with the aim of developing this line of analysis further. I propose examining the relationship between the subordination of women and the level of protest experienced in varying countries knowing that it is possible that it the relationship I have predicted may not be accurate, but secure in the knowledge that it will lead to a better understanding of the factors shaping the situation in the Muslim world and potential developments in the future.
It is my hope that this research would contribute not only to the study of women’s rights and the importance of gender equality, but also to the field of democratization studies as we observe countries that uphold the rights of women making successful, peaceful transitions to consolidated democracy. The “Social media revolutions” We have seen so far what the most important phenomena on the Arab Internet were in the years before the revolutions. But when it comes to gathering people, fast-paced communication, and – ultimately – performing a revolution, both blogs and forums are fundamentally flawed.
Here comes the unique role of modern “actual” social media – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc. , with their widespread and mass usage, free access and equal rights. Through social networking sites, a single message – regardless if it is a manifesto, the date, time and place for a gathering or a video showing defenceless citizens killed by the army – can reach thousands of people within minutes, each and every one of them being able to express their opinion on the matter, gives a suggestion or share an idea, everybody being able to become an activist and organizer.
As far as it is possible – because they are in many cases very intertwined – I’ll try to examine separately the role played by the different channels of the social media online ecosystem. Facebook Facebook is, probably, the biggest site on the Internet now – it is almost as frequently visited as Google’s search engine page; as of September 2011, it is confirmed to have as many as 800million accounts (which is more the 1/10 of the entire human population).
Naturally, it is the most popular social networking platform in the Middle East and North Africa as well for example, Egypt alone has more than 7 million Facebook subscribers; in Tunisia they form a rough 1/5 of the population of the country, and that ratio is typical for most of the countries, with the exception of Libya, where there are only around 50,000 accounts (this fact can be attributed to the heavy censorship and restrictions by the country’s previous regime).
This figures are the main reason why Facebook was the most important communication tool in most of the Arab spring revolutions; even though it is impossible to say that the access to the social network per se has become the reason for the revolution, it is completely impossible to tell the story of events preceding and following the iconic January 25th 2011 without accepting the crucial role that Facebook played in them. The driving force of these events is much older, and it was encoded in the very nature of the Egyptian pre-revolution regime and social structure of the country.
However, it is safe to say that the revolution itself was sparkled in, and with some reservations, by Facebook. That revolution revolves two “pages”, one created in protest to the murder of Khalid Said, tortured and killed by Egyptian police for posting materials exposing corrupt officials – “We are all Khalid Said”, which is English-speaking and for that reason has drawn to itself not only Arabs, but many western supporters of the Egyptian cause, and “The April 6 youth movement”, which is in Arabic; the second is far older and originally emerged around a protest action in 2008, but kept its popularity.
Combined, at the time of the protest, the two major groups consisted of more than half a million people, which grew literally in a few days after they were founded. Basically, there were no events that directly preceded the protest of the 25th; there was just an idea for a peaceful demonstration that circulated through the community pages; the rally itself was simply the act of moving the anti-government protest from the online world to the physical one.
That was the very role played by Facebook – it was where the protest brewed, and when it was ready to move on the streets, it managed to gather some 50,000 people on the very first day, due to the good organization and widespread information on the social network.
The follow-up of that event did not differ from any other people’s uprising – more and more attended every next protest, clashes with the police and the army occurred, and, ultimately, the Mubarak government was overthrown. The important and new parts here are the methods of organization and spreading of information, which amplified and facilitated the process of overthrowing the regime.
Egypt is the most clear example of the use of Facebook during the Arab Spring, it being the place where the ideas and organization grew; in Tunisia, for example, as the first country to start the chain of revolutions, no such simple and differentiated organization existed; of greater importance there was the online presence of the members of an informal group called “Takriz”, who have been doing their activist work online for the past 10 years, and just embraced Facebook as a new operational space, very useful when it comes to rapidly sharing information and reaching a broad audience.
Members of this group even admit that the organizations of football club supporters were equally important to Facebook groups and “Facebook activism”. The crucial importance of Facebook is very well expressed in the words of one of the members of Takriz: “Facebook is pretty much the GPS for this revolution. Without the street there’s no revolution, but add Facebook to the street and you get real potential. For that reason, when the drastic event which could be used as a pretext for mass protest activity happened – in this case, the self-inflammation of Muhammad Bouazizi – the organization was already laid, the contacts were already built and the signal for the protest was given, they grew extremely fast. Here, if not on the same scale, it served exactly the same role it did in Egypt – a public sphere in which to discuss new ideas and find followers, n organizational network to coordinate common actions, as well as a source of inspiration, proof that the activist is not alone in his quest. In the Middle Eastern countries in which anti-government protests are now ongoing organization through Facebook is not such a common phenomenon: the only example is Syria, where the biggest protest group (in Arabic) has no less than 320. 000 members, and it is updated hourly with information, pictures and videos from the protests.
In Bahrain and Yemen the groups are negligibly small and not much visited; in these cases the fact must be kept in mind that the revolutions here are more isolated and involve much less people than those in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria, and the use of Facebook is not so widespread, so the need for an online public sphere is not so acute. Twitter Twitter is a completely different social network; where Facebook has complexity and many different ways to communicate and organize, Twitter has only one – simplified messages shared with the entire world, no preferences given.
While Facebook can hold an entire manifesto, Twitter is limited by its 140 characters for a single message (called “tweet”); it has no pictures or video service by its own but is forced to use third-party applications to achieve that functionality. For these reasons, even though it is the second biggest social network in the world, it has only a fraction of Facebook’s user count. The Arab countries make no exception: there are only 5 million Twitter users, and almost half of them are from the UAE that is the primary reason why it was never used as a primary tool for organizing protests or gathering supporters “in the field”.
Yet, Twitter played an equally important role in the uprisings. Due to its simplicity, this network is extremely well-suited to use through smart phones and mobile devices; usually the content of user profiles is updated on hourly, if not minutely basis. For that reason, while Facebook was used in the long-term planning and announcements, Twitter was the “in-the-field” tool, which allowed fine coordination between the protesters. Furthermore, an even more important role played by Twitter was bringing information on the protests outside the countries where the uprisings took place.
One of the first things the regimes did when the revolutions started was to suppress all possible media channels and prevent the proper covering of the events. For example, the reporters and crew of Al-Jazeera, which is deemed to be the biggest, and actually one of the few truly independent broadcasting media in the Arab World, were forbidden to enter the country the moment when the unrests started, and for that reason the television had to rely entirely on a network of “credible and reliable” people, who had previously assisted the media, tweeting and updating information from the scene of events on minutely basis.
Thus, these “twitters” turned out to be the key source of information for the covering of the protests and the development of the events; in Tunisia, for example, reporters of many media were allowed free passage only after president Bin Ali stepped down. Finally, Twitter was also the place where all the supporters of the Arab Spring uprisings throughout the world were exchanging news, opinions and analyses; #Egypt (with reached over a 1 ? million mentions only in the first three months of 2011) was the most used hash tag for 2011, which denotes the events in Egypt as the most discussed topic worldwide.
So, Twitter was also the place where the news was spread, and keeps being spread even today. It also served as platform of the liberation campaigns, which were previously carried mainly by blogs – a fresh example comes from October 2011 when Twitter was the main space where the campaign “Alaa took place”; it called for the liberation of an Egyptian blogger who was “held for questioning” by the temporary military rule for more than two weeks, but at the end was released under popular pressure. YouTube
There is a saying that a picture is worth a thousand words; if that is true, then a video is worth a thousand pictures. There is a reason why YouTube’s own search engine is second only to Google’s in terms of daily searches, and videos can sometimes reach over a few million views in a few days – the so-called “viral video” phenomenon. Video materials from the period before and during the Arab Spring period make no exception to this rule: they accumulated a lot of attention. Technically, we can separate the videos from the period into two different categories.
One is what I would call “propagandist” videos: usually very graphic videos, depicting actions of the regimes, like torture, murder of civilians, bribery etc. , which were distributed and uploaded by activists aiming to raise awareness of both the Arab public and the world audience about these issues ; an iconic example here is the story of Khalid Said himself ,who was dragged out by the authorities from an Internet cafe, while he was uploading a video showing a government official taking bribe.
Often, such videos were driving force powerful enough to organize mass protests, unite and focus the will of the crowds – a good example of that is Syria, where, in the end of May, a video was uploaded to YouTube showing “The corpse of a 13-year-old boy who appears to have been sexually and physically tortured by Syrian security officials”. On the very next day, mass protests of women and children broke out in the entire country, ultimately leading to a counterattack by the Syrian army, which took 15victims, and thus escalating the conflict.
A similar example comes from Tunisia: a video from the days following the beginning of the revolution, showing “Kasserine’s hospital in chaos, desperate attempts to treat the injured, and a horrifying image of a dead young man with his brains spilling out, filmed by a medical student working in the hospital. The footage was so graphic that according to a member of Takriz “That video made the second half of the revolution” Rallying large number of people shocked both by the state of the patients and care offered in the state hospital and the brutality of the government attempts to suppress the protests.
The popular videos from Egypt represent the other case, or what I call “journalistic “videos: footage from the protest itself, used as a channel of spreading information about the uprisings outside Egypt itself, which have gained relatively big popularity on YouTube; for example, a hobbyist video of the first day of protest has been watched over 600. 000 times, and even simple political analyses of the current situation made inside the country have reached over 300. 000 views.
Such videos were also the main source of footage for many media, since those were prohibited from entering the “hot zones” or the countries whatsoever and taking any recordings of the events. That also worked the other way around – YouTube was the only way protesters could access the news coverage and analyses made by various media, which were otherwise banned in their countries, for example Al-Jazeera or BBC Miscellaneous The three websites discussed above are the channels with the biggest significance for the Arab Spring; it is impossible to enumerate all the various sites and connections used during the revolutions.
Photographers, both media-employed and hobbyists, shared photos on sites like Flickr and 500px; discussions were carried out on boards like 4chan, and personal communication was carried out via peer-to-peer online services like Skype etc. Conclusion for Social Media While reviewing the role of social media in the Arab Spring, one fact is obvious – it is an over-exaggeration to state that “the media is the massage”. Regardless of the amplifying effect that social media gave to all that took place, the events were invariably based on a real-world fact which reverberated in the virtual space.
Still, there are at least three main functions which social media performed during the Arab revolutions 1. ) Public sphere – it was the place where ideas were discussed, information was spread and through which public awareness was raised in the first place 2. ) Organizational space – it was where the uprisings were planned and an invaluable organizational tool during the protests; 3. ) Information source – it was the only way information could “leave” the countries and reach the world publicity and conventional media.
The significance of social media consolidated by the fear with which they were treated by the pre-revolution regimes. Each of them, at some point, tried to sever the access to such sites, ultimately blocking the entire Internet access or even stopping cell phone service (in the case of Egypt). The regimes were afraid of a medium which they could not control, and, in the end, their fear turned out to be well-grounded: the dictators were ousted by the wrath of their peoples, “amplified through Facebook”.
My personal opinion is that the Arab Spring is not going to be the last “Social network revolution”. There is a good reason why the leading figure of the unrests now taking place in Russia after the parliamentary elections, Alexei Navalny, is a well-known oppositional blogger, and the organization of the protest took place in Facebook; so did that of the currently popular “Occupy… ” movements happening all over the world. Who knows where the opposition is brewing the next uprising in their twitter personal messages… The Ultimate Conclusion The Arab Spring was not a surprise.
The surprise was why it took so long to come. Many reasons came together to produce these drastic developments: the refusal of the regimes to accept the principle of the transition of power through elections and their insistence on a monopoly on power, as well as corruption, poverty, unemployment and the marginalization of youth and ethnic groups. The young generation, which represents 70% of the population, was the common element in leading the revolutions in these countries, whereas the aged ruling leaders of these countries belonged to only 7% of the population.
And finally, the collective awareness, as witnessed in Tunisia when a young man protested by setting himself on fire and when a youngster died in a police station in Egypt brought masses to the streets. Arab dictatorships ruled with an iron fist and disgraced their own people to the extent that their arrogance went far enough for them to believe that they could pass their reign by inheritance to their sons. Their countries’ resources were exploited as their own and were shared between their family members, relatives and friends, while their people were left in poverty and underdevelopment.
The U. S. and Europe knew the reality of these regimes, but for their own interests cooperated with them and turned their eyes from their severe violations of human rights and democratic values. The Arab Spring cannot be compared with the European Spring in Eastern European countries after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Eastern Europe’s culture, mentality and proximity to Western European countries enabled a smooth change and transition there, while these elements do not exist in the rebelling Arab countries.
We all know the results: Arab dictators in Yemen, Libya and Syria declared, “It’s either me or to hell with them” and launched a war against their own people. The war in Syria is still on; no one can predict its results, but one thing we can be sure of: The people broke the barrier of fear and came out in a massive protest that will not be turned back. Masses went out to the streets and public squares in a peaceful protest and civil disobedience. But the rulers confronted it with excessive power and violence, which led to a violent reaction from protestors, pushing some of them to seek foreign intervention.
No one can predict where these revolutions are heading. They all are speaking about democracy, free elections, dignity, justice, human values, etc. But translating this into reality is another issue. So far, Libya, Yemen and Egypt have proven that this will not be an easy task. The U. S. and Western European countries fear a real change in the rebelling Arab countries which may threaten their interests and concerns, and are trying to contain these revolutions.
The fact that these Arab countries control the world’s largest oil reserve, located in a central strategic junction between the three continents of Europe, Asia and Africa, and that any change may threaten the future existence of Israel can explain this. Many fears are expressed now by Arab intellectual circles about the fate of these revolutions which raised so many hopes in the beginning but soon faded as result of bloodshed, destruction and failure to make the transition to democracy smoothly and within a reasonable amount of time. The Arab Spring may not blossom soon.
Good governance, transparency, democracy and rule of law have not been realized yet. Hatred and suspicion of the intentions of Western countries is growing. Conspiracy theories have become a fashion. Past experiences with the West and its relations with the former regimes are not forgotten but instead strengthens the fears that what’s going on is a new return of colonialism with new faces and new regimes. The Arab people have tried Western methods and values, and their bitter memories about their past cooperation with the former regimes are still fresh. The U.
S. , the supposed leader of democracy, is losing its credibility due its double standard policy— calling for democracy and human rights for one people and denying it to another, by supporting the Israeli occupation and denying the Palestinians’ right to statehood. The recent position in the Security Council against Palestine’s membership in the UN is used as strong evidence of the U. S. ’ biased position against the Palestinians. The Arab revolutions are inspiring revolutions worldwide — even against the corruption and failure of the Western economic system.
The double standard policy of the West, together with the failure of the Western system, discourages Arabs from adopting Western values, and has made them focus on the necessity of change. This change, for many people, could be achieved only by adopting the modern pragmatic Islamic approach. The Islamists seem to be the future. Whatever the U. S. or Europe may try to do to hinder this development, it will not succeed. Replacing the dictators of the past with new ones with the blessings of the West will not survive for long. The masses have learned their lesson and will not give up until they achieve their rights. S