The revolutions in the Middle East may have shocked the world but the reality is these uprisings were inevitable. Basic liberties are not afforded by the people of these autocracy’s and, through global media, the people can see what they are being denied – a democracy.
In the Arab world social media has successfully undermined government attempts to suppress freedom of expression and it was only a matter of time before a spark lit the fuse. The symbolic beginning of these revolutions was a Tunisian man, Mohammed Bouazizi. His family’s sole source of income, a vegetable stall, was taken away from him and destroyed by Government officials so Bouazizi set himself alight in protest and unwittingly inspired revolutions across the region.
From there the fuse burned bright and fast, organised through social media at first before it was eventually broadcast across the world. No-one, including Bouazizi, could have imagined the ensuing domino effect with Egypt and Tunisia in disarray days later. First Tunisia’s President Ben Ali was deposed and then Egypt’s Mobarak, with more expected to follow in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain.
The imagination of the people has been captured as they experience a self-education in democracy. A cultural renaissance is now inevitable in the Middle East and autocratic regimes across the continent will be wise to sit up and take notice, although history could have told them that already.
Democracy has been flexing its muscle for centuries and curiously the similarities between historical revolutions are striking. During the American Revolution against British colonial rule in 1783 the founding fathers of America would have been avid Facebook users.
The rebellious journalism of American founding fathers that inspired the uprising is reminiscent of the role social media played in recent revolutions. Benjamin Franklin was the editor of the Pennsylvania Chronicle and frequently published articles promoting the revolution and the overthrow of British rule. At the beginning of the revolt Thomas Paine published a pamphlet which was often read out loud in public to spread republican ideals.
In 2011, countries in the Middle East and North Africa have revolted because of the lack of political options. If they have a grievance, Libyan’s can’t complain to their local MP – they just have to take it on the chin.
What social media provides is a mouthpiece to air these complaints. Not necessarily to the Government, but between people. If an ideology garners enough support they will act. Facebook and Twitter have given the people a tool to gauge the mood of the masses, then all that’s needed is Bouazizi to (literally) light the fuse.
“Everything I hear is from Facebook and Twitter,” a protester in the capital tells a reporter on a smuggled satellite phone, regardless of Gaddafi‘s threat to hunt down and execute anti-government protesters on social media.
A futile attempt to block the internet (as seen in Egypt’s Tahrir Square demonstration) is too little too late when rallies are already being organised. A BBC report reads;
“The act of censorship was spectacularly unsuccessful … everywhere you look there are mobile phones, hand-written placards, messages picked out in stone and plastic tea cups, graffiti, newspapers and leaflets, not to mention al-Jazzera’s TV cameras. When one channel of communication is blocked, people try another.”
To have the support of the masses is what is needed for a revolution. The tools are there for everyone but there still must be a unified ambition.
It seems ending years of repression, corruption and civilian murder is unified ambition enough.