Over the past few weeks, civil uprisings have been occurring across the Arab world. Beginning in Tunisia, where a horrific act of self-immolation sparked a wave of civil unrest nicknamed the “Jasmine Revolution,” protests have spread to Egypt. Impassioned by the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, Tunisian protesters took to the streets in anger over unemployment, food-inflation, corruption, and freedom of speech. Within a few days of near-revolution, the quasi-dictator Ben Ali was ousted from power and forced out of the country. In the wake of a dramatic shift in leadership, in what was one of the Arab regions more stable nations, the world examined the impact on Tunisia’s neighboring countries. Queries have been answered as Egypt has come under siege from a surge of riots and civil discontent. Dispersed and unorganized protests solidified on Friday, a day of unprecedented riots in the city center of Cairo. The day ended in the withdrawal of the President’s police force and a possible shift to a new government.
The spread of this anti-establishment revolution raises two important issues to consider. First, while the events of the last few weeks have yet materialized into any real changes in the governments of these nations, they reveal a growing desire for less restrictive governance amongst the Arab populus. The question now is whether the destabilized nations progress towards more pluralistic leadership or become victim to the more radical ideologies that have been kept at bay by strong governments. The U.S. is stuck between a rock and a hard place because it has backed authoritarian governments in the past in order to quell terrorism, but does not want to further hurt relations with the Arab population by continuing to do so. I believe supporting these revolutions will improve the U.S’s image in the region and that more progressive authority with the backing of the majority of the population is less likely to nurture radical groups.
Another interesting point to consider in the wake of the events in Tunisia and Egypt is the role of the internet. I agree with Evgeny Morozov’s point as expressed in Timothy Garton Ash’s column in the Guardian. When you boil it down, “it is politics that decides whether the dictator will be toppled,” but in the case of Tunisia, the internet helped spread the word about events and revolts around the country. The poor portrayal of Tunisia’s ruling family in recent Wikileaks may have even played a role in sparking the revolution. Regardless, the base for the protests in Tunisia and Egypt lies in the treatment of their citizens by their governments, not on the internet. Still, it’s increasin role in our society cannot be denied.
For more discussion on the role of the internet in political discourse check out the upcoming issue of Consider.
(Photo by monasosh under a Creative Commons license)