This post, which explores the social media landscape in the Middle East, is part of a series related to the upcoming 2015 Milton Wolf Seminar on Media and Diplomacy: Triumphs and Tragedies: Media and Global Events in 2014, which took place in Vienna, Austria from April 19-21, 2015.
The 2015 seminar was jointly organized by the Center for Global Communication Studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, the American Austrian Foundation, and the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna. For more information, visit the seminar webpage and Facebook page.
Even before the Arab Spring, activists took to social media to disseminate information in an atmosphere where the narrative was tightly controlled by the state.
In November 2007 YouTube shut down the account of Egyptian activist Wael Abbas after he posted a video showing police brutality for containing “inappropriate material.” The video was later re-instated following an outcry from human rights advocates and was then used to convict the two police officers of brutality.
During the 2006 Israeli air campaign on Lebanon, activist artist Zena El Khalil turned her blog “Beirut Update” into a source for news about the war and was featured in international media including CNN, BBC and The Guardian. In the summer of 2010 an anonymously administered Facebook page titled ‘We are all Khaled Saeed” after a young Egyptian who was beaten to death by police officers became a focal point for anti-regime protests leading up to the January 2011 uprising.
For the next few months social media was prominently used almost exclusively by activists across the Middle East and North Africa from the Maghreb to the Arabian Peninsula. By 2012 Arab governments had woken up to the “threat” of social media and started imposing harsh penalties on activists further pushing them underground. There was also a significant splintering amongst activists who in some cases following the ouster of the head of the regime turned against each other. The online honeymoon was over.
In terms of the World Bank’s twin goals of eliminating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity, the Middle East and North Africa Region was making steady progress. The percentage of people living on less than $1.25 a day was 2.4% and declining. And the incomes of the bottom 40% have been growing at higher rates than average incomes in almost all MENA countries for which we have information.
Yet, there were revolutions in several countries and widespread discontent. Why?
Our Top Ten Blog Posts by readership in 2013
This post was originally published on Jaunary 14, 2013
2011 was a year of turmoil. Internationally, economic meltdown deepened and continued, massive earthquakes struck New Zealand and a tsunami hit Japan. But 2011 will be also remembered for a different type of earthquake – the Arab Spring – an event that shook the Middle East, causing regimes across the region to totter and fall. Unlike other revolutions, this one used relatively new tools and technologies – networked or social media.
Much has already been written about the Arab Spring but what is already clear from the current body of work being produced is that it was the use of social media that acted as the catalyst for change in an already unpredictable environment. The use and availability of social media easily created connections between prominent thought leaders and activists to ordinary citizens, rapidly expanding the network of people willing to take action.
The recent massive streets protests against the brutal and deadly assault on a young woman in a private bus in India capital, New Delhi, have been likened to the Arab Spring of India, a definitive turning point in the country’s political evolution. Clearly, in both its composition and content, the protests resonate with, not only the revolutionary street demonstrations in early 2011 in many countries in the Middle East, but also with a number of other movements that have burgeoned in countries across the world over the last couple of years. In the wake of the Arab Spring, and supposedly drawing inspiration from it, demonstrators occupied the financial centers of the US and Europe, conjuring up images of the 1960s. Unrest over austerity measures in European capitals hit by the global financial crisis continued. In the UK and Chile, students took to the streets protesting against high university fees. And in India itself, the anti-rape protests came on the heels of an anticorruption movement, unparalleled in its mass participation, media attention, and longevity.
Think about it:
- Twitter limits all "conversations" to 140 words
- Twitter allows privacy whereas Facebook is based on discovery of relationships
- Twitter relationships can be one way, the way real relationships often are (we all “know” President Obama but he knows very few of us) whereas Facebook is always a two way street
Wherever democracy is absent or weak, for example in a dictatorship or a monarchy, there could be a high price to pay for any open expressed dissension. Twitter allows anonymity for those who push for transparency and democracy. Although one can exist without the other, studies show that the two are highly linked.
A 2011 study from the University of Washington entitled “Opening Closed Regimes: What Was the Role of Social Media During the Arab Spring?” showed that social media, via Twitter, played a vital role during the revolutionary movements in Tunisia and Egypt. The authors said “for the first time we have evidence confirming social media’s critical role in the Arab Spring”. The project created a database of information collected from Twitter, analyzing more than 3 million Tweets based on keywords used, and tracking which countries thousands of individuals tweeted from during the revolutions.
New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.
On October 8, President Mohamed Morsi issued a decree pardoning all ‘Arab Spring’ political prisoners. While the decree, if implemented, marks a milestone in Egypt’s hard-fought 21-month-long revolution, the quotient of inequality that contributed to setting it off still remains.
From the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street, inequality has risen to the top of social agenda. However, our measures of inequality are often limited to final outcomes, such as income, wealth, and educational achievement, which do not distinguish between the impact on inequality of personal responsibility and that stemming from factors beyond the scope of individual responsibility.
In December 2010, the Arab Spring began with a call for a change, which ended up becoming a reality in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The restoration of justice is now a priority focus in all these countries. In the minds of many citizens, justice means the return of funds looted by officials over decades of high-level government corruption. The tenor of recent news reports shows that throughout the region, the public’s patience for the process is wearing thin.
But the reality is that the asset recovery process is a long and often difficult road, one that must be traveled even long after the euphoria of regime change has dimmed. We know that from our engagements with client countries, and from many headline-making cases. For example, according to StAR’s Asset Recovery Watch, although former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos was deposed in 1986, the attempts to recover his allegedly stolen wealth continue to the present day. Meanwhile, a new case against Nigerian Dictator Sani Abacha, who died in 1998, was launched in Luxembourg just this year.
While democracy is developing and strengthening in more and more countries across the world, there may be some lessons to learn from older, established democracies. Democracy does not equal democracy – different forms and philosophical foundations shape different political cultures. Different political cultures favor different practices and outcomes. The political and civic leadership in evolving democracies may possibly have a chance to push things in one or another direction by looking at practices and outcomes in other countries.
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