In Demystifying the Arab Spring by Lisa Anderson, she immediately makes the claim that the internet was not to receive credit in the events surrounding the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. She provides evidence for this by comparing the spring of 2011 to 1919 when “Egyptians rose in revolt as strikes across the country brought daily life to a halt and toppled the government. In Libya, provincial leaders worked feverishly to strengthen their newly independent republic” (Anderson 1). She also makes the claim that President Wilson’s speech on Fourteen Points generated the energy needed to start the uprisings of 1919 and it reached corners of the world by telegraph. I would argue, along with author Howard Hussain, that technology and social media did indeed play a large roll in sparking the events of the Arab Spring. 

Just as the technology of the telegraph helped bring rise to revolution in 1919, the internet and other modern technology helped facilitate actions taken in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya in 2011. In Tunisia, Bouazizi set himself on fire and the state-run media did not report it, yet millions heard about it: through blogs and text messages. YouTube was used to express discontent with the government and text messages were used as a unregulated way to talk behind the government’s back. Without these technologies, collective action would have been much harder to achieve because common goals would not have been discussed. Contrary to Anderson’s claims, this new media allowed people to come together. “Communicating in ways the state could not control, people also used digital media to arrive at strategies for action and a collective goal” (Hussain 36). Hussain goes on to make claims in his article that despite Egypt’ and Tunisia’s attempts to shut down the internet and ban social media sites, rebels continued to organize through mobile technology. It seems that Anderson would make the claim that citizens were probably also meeting in person and face to face interaction would prove more affective, the ability to reach incredible numbers through mobile technology should not be ignored in the case of the Arab Spring. “In Egypt, almost everyone has access to a mobile phone” (Hussain 38). If you conduct business in person, you are limited to who you can make physical contact with. The use of technology (internet and text messaging) in the events leading up to the revolutions allowed citizens to make contact with individuals across the entire country, catalyzing the events to come.

While Anderson makes an interesting point, comparing the revolutions of 1919 to the Arab Spring of 2011, I argue against her claim that technology should not receive credit for the most recent uprisings. Just as the telegraph played a role in 1919, the internet and text messaging allowed people to come together and revolt, as Hussain claims, in 2011. Would the revolutions have occurred if technology hadn’t been so readily available? Probably, but we might still be waiting on them to happen.

Aside | This entry was posted in Winter 2012. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to

  1. alexlcraig says:

    I agree with the argument you pose here. I think that goals of the people were present, but through technology they were able to collectively make a difference.

  2. klyapp says:

    I also agree with your argument. The Internet and social media provide a coordination tool in an ongoing collective action problem. However as seen in Egyptian government’s failure on January 27th when the government attempted to hault the uprisings by shutting down the Internet, people continued to participate in the revolt despite the obstacle it created in organizing. Nevertheless communication technology doesn’t provide the will to participate in political movements, it facilitates in the process.

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