The following is a guest post from Lokesh Vishwakarma, an IT graduate from KC College, Mumbai, India. The topic is the role of social networking in the recent historical events occurring in some Arab countries.
From Morocco to Yemen the Arab world is burning, and fueling this fire of change is the 21st century panacea ‘The Social Networks’. These agents of change helped the Arab civilization achieve what they couldn’t, for decades, in just a few days or weeks. Be it Facebook, Twitter, Google or usual blogosphere, they have found themselves central to the action in an unprecedented way. Lets us take a look at how some of these new found tools have spurred the actions on the ground.
Facebook and Twitter – The cradle that rocked the despots
#Sidibouzid, this twitter hashtag gave rise to a movement which toppled not only the Ben Ali regime but also inspired a dozen other mutinies. The picture of Mohammed Bouazizi, the youth who set himself on fire in the Tunisian town ‘Sidi Bouzid’ in protest against the unemployment spread like wild fire on youtube and other social media. This was for the first time the internet spawned a feeling of enough is enough among the Tunisians.
Soon after Tunisia happened, Egypt was getting ready to herald in to the new dawn of democracy, the first salvo being “We are all Khaled Said” facebook page. Khaled Said was the young Egyptian man who was beaten to death by police in June 2010. The online activists began protest groups with Khaled as their ‘martyr’, some anonymous activist also came up with the Arabic version of the facebook page, who was later revealed as Google executive Wael Ghonim. #Jan25 made its presence felt on twitter, the day Wael called for young Egyptians to take to the streets. Twitter was abuzz with videos, pictures, data and links tagged with #jan25, which became an effective way to group together online information about the protest. The influence of social networking was such that, an Egyptian man named his newly born child as “facebook”. By now one thing was very clear, that the social networking websites have become a force to reckon with.
The events in Tunisia and Egypt inspired a whole lot of generation and Yemen was no different. The “Yemeni Anger Revolution” group has almost 20000 members on facebook, those who were not bitten by the social network bug were encouraged to pass on the word via traditional methods like SMS and cards. After the Yemeni government cracked down on internet, many nonresident Yemenis settled outside Yemen shared their contact numbers with their friends and relatives in Yemen in wake of internet shutdown, to help them share news about Yemen, many of NRYs tweeted and retweeted news and also links with the international media.
The hashtag #feb17 has categorized the Libyan movement and given a fresh identity to the Libyan protest amid unrest across the Arab world. Feb 17 is the date when the Libyan protest against the megalomaniac colonel began. Information – what little is accessible from the country – has been pouring in on Twitter and Youtube, where activists are uploading news the minute they are able to get online. A dedicated facebook page for the Libyan revolution has more than 82000 members and another key facebook page by the name of ‘RNN Libya’ has 22000 members. Libya being the most oppressed and closed nation of the region has caught the fever of Internet-driven dissent passed on from their friends in Tunisia and Egypt, as young Libyans are been exposed to the power of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter to voice opposition to the regime.
Just like the #feb17 Libyan protest, the Bahraini activists have #feb14 as their identity on twitter. Internet providers were shut down and facebook accounts were deleted across Algeria as thousands of Pro-democracy demonstrators were arrested in violent street demonstrations. President Abdelaziz Boutifleka’s government first cracked down on the internet to nip the protest in the bud.
In Morocco, the facebook group “Movement of freedom and democracy” has attracted more than 90000 members. The Iraqis had their own twitter tag as #iq4c but many of them tagged news of protest in Iraq with #feb25 so as to reach a larger audience of the internet by linking their cause with other popular revolts.
In Syria, the case is bit different; people are still learning about the arab revolution through facebook, media, twitter, newspapers and blogs. The facebook page “Syrian Revolution 2011” has received more than 25000 followers. People in Syria have slowly started to come out in open against the Syrian authorities.
As the crusade for democracy and basic human rights rages on, Today’s youth have a lot of tools at their disposal which the earlier crusaders didn’t posses. The Internet has become a conduit for disseminating the idea of democracy which was till now alien to the Arab civilization. For a change the Internet is applauded for its power to influence and change history for the better.