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Egypt: Is the social network taking up arms?

Oliver Duggan

Mark Zuckerberg claims on his Facebook page thategypt Egypt: Is the social network taking up arms? he is motivated by the desire to “make the world a more open place”. Likewise, Twitter boasts the best way to immediately get “what’s new in your world.” I doubt either of them would have suspected this though. It seems they are getting their wish, but with surprisingly powerful and violent consequences; we have moved into the era of the socially networked revolution, and we are all the better for it.

This week the young, educated, connected and disenfranchised masses of Egypt joined those of Tunisia, Iran, France, Germany and Britain in making a stand against received wisdom and status quo politics. Thousands have piled onto the streets in capitals around the world in a show of force that is rarely seen with such relentless optimism.  They are just the latest example of a growing number of ground-swell movements that will force a change to the face of the political world. Their causes might all be different, the numbers might vary and the methods might fluctuate in extremity, but every single one of these movements have been facilitated by one thing; The Social Network.

The consequences for new political and social institutional interactions are exciting. Thomas Jefferson once said, “People should not fear their governments; governments should fear their people”. But it was rarely any more than a cheap mantra used by the political elite to ease the revolutionary tendencies of an otherwise ignored ‘huddled masses’. But now, in lieu of regular and meaningful consultation, those tendencies are proving motivating once again.

People can get in touch instantly, and organise meetings in moments. Whereas only a few years ago strikes and protests took months of planning, invitations to the next NUS rally or Free Palestine march now ping onto our Smartphone daily. The convictions of otherwise marginalised minorities can no longer be dispersed so easily, not when virtual ‘Groups’ and ‘Lists’ allow people to congregate and find comfort in their opinions.

Facebook has given a shamefully dwindling class of contrarians the confidence to disseminate their cause and the ability to act upon it. Twitter created the march on Tehran’s Freedom Square, it allowed for the snap movements of NUS students around Westminster and now it is supporting the seventh day of protests in Cairo. The power to protest no longer lies dishevelled at the foot of a smashed-up soap box, it is alive and well in the culture of ‘re-tweets’ and ‘likes’.

Political institutions of the world have to respond. The desire for constant inclusion and consideration in the governing of our societies will only grow as the technology to facilitate it evolves. The ‘direct’ democracy that once reigned supreme in the conclaves of Athens will move from the pipe dreams of academics to the policies of future leaders.  The politics of the first decade of the 21st century must either embrace widespread technical and political literacy or seriously strengthen its ranks of riot police.

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  • cherrypickers

    Is the Independent dishing out blog spots indiscriminately to any old joker with a keyboard these days? This would be just about acceptable if it was published in a student newspaper but it is a real shame to see it up here. Wheres the quality control? Juvenile speculation after having read a few wikipedia pages and a handful of news articles does not warrant the writing of an article.

    I say ‘a few news articles’, but its clearly even fewer than that seeing as you’ve overlooked the small detail that the Egyptian people have been without internet connectivity. Besides that, don’t think for a second that Arabs sit around chatting to each other on facebook chat all day like you may do. These are real people, with real objections to the conditions under which they are forced to live. Fair enough, the internet does facilitate the organizing of protests, such as we have seen in the recent NCAFC demonstrations in the UK, but you are hopelessly ignorant in believing that it is literally the driving force behind what we have observed in Tunisia and Egypt. Real people do not care for the trivialities of social networks. Real people are do’ers. These people had chains to break, and oppression to transcend.

    God. I bet you even posted this on your facebook page to show all your ‘friends’.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Oliver-Duggan/507509037 Oliver Duggan

    Cherrypickers, I appreciate your input but am worried you have perhaps misunderstood the point of my piece. I in no way trivialised the plight of Egyptians, Tunisians or any other group now protesting with admirable ferocity and seemigly potential success. I hope that most readers in fact recognise a geniune empathy with the oppressed and hope that the desired changes will come to fruition. The point being made was that the social network has created a circumstance wherein such desires can be voiced much louder and much more consistently than ever before. The green revolution in Iran WAS organised on Twitter, the NUS rallies WERE facilitated by Facebook events and the million man march in Tahrir square IS being realised by text messages and dictated tweets. People are more connected than ever and it has a serious impact on top-down political regimes. I hope I have clarified things for you.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IE226SEACEDRTZ6ANGG7QHSVFI Etiennette

    Surely there are several factors which have triggered the Tunisian uprising. There is no doubt that the social network has facilitated it. This network is mainly made up of many unemployed young people. They are the ones who use internet, who have discovered how the other half lives so well (us) on the back of the poor. At the same time poverty, hunger, humiliation and corruption play a huge role. The French revolution in the 18th century and the Russian revolution in the 19th century had no need of internet. There inevitably comes a time when enough is enough. The First World governments are hugely to blame for paying lip service to these corrupt regimes because it suits them to do so. Who are WE to dictate to other people… AND what is real democracy? Where does it exist really?

  • cherrypickers

    Oliver, I understand that you have to find an angle for writing your piece, but I can’t help but feel that you’re blowing things way out of proportion. Revolutions have occured for centuries (without the aid of facebook believe it or not), and opressed peoples will continue to revolt despite globalization, neoliberlaization, westernization etc etc. Sure twitter and facebook plays role in global society, but to impute the successes of resistance largely to social networking sites is a naive folly. Undoubtedly social media can accelerate social movements as an effect of time-space compression, but if people are opressed beyond a threshold in certain conditions of time and space then they will ALWAYS resist. Its human nature.

    Your argument is the same as suggesting that if you were to find yourself without a diary, then absolutely nothing would get done. Ask your mother if she tweeted during Poll Tax.

    Listen to what this Egyptian protester has to say (at 2:20), about just how important the internet really is to the movement:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RtLJpzUp2Z8&feature=player_embedded

    Sorry, I can see how you want to make your point, but its petty journalism.

  • cherrypickers

    listen to what is said about the relevance of interent (2:20)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RtLJpzUp2Z8

  • trotters1957

    The telephone was invented some time ago, I think.

    How did the Peasant Revolt start in 1381, did Watt Tyler open a twitter account?

  • Groundtrack

    THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICAN LANDSCAPE

    The Gulf States served as the primary source of oil for the US and Europe during the post WWII economic expansion.
    The economic and political configuration has been that:
    • The US and Europe backed an arch of not so benevolent dictatorships of gulf oil states: Iran, Iraq, Saud Arabia, The UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Lybia
    • In the other politically significant but non-oil states, similar regimes were
    supported in order to arrest Pan-Arabism: Egypt, the lead state, Jordon, Algeria, Tunisia, Yemen, Morocco, Syria and Lebanon, a fragmented and divided country with a resemblance to N.Ireland.
    • After Israel’s overpowering victory in the 1967 war it became for the US a proxy, an agent supreme in the region, lavished with American aid: $27bn in last decade, $110bn from 1949 (ref.Washington Post, Pape).

    Israel thus became a bulwark against Pan-Arabism, communism (both Stalin’s and genuine socialist parties) and recently, presumably Chinese influence. Its strategy stretched
    • From direct involvement with French colonialism in Algeria against the FLN, which, with Nasser’s support was a beacon of the pan-Arab socialist movement. Its reach extended to Angola & Mozambique, with direct confrontation against Lumumba
    • And to the defeat of Nasser’s Egypt in 1967, and the defeat of the military alliance of Sadat’s Egypt with Syria in the1973 war with Israel. If it had not been for US military support, Israel would have lost this war.(Kissinger, in MERIP.1981)

    The subsequent overall strategy has been that of carrot and the stick:
    Carrot:
    • US military and social subsidization, especially of Egypt and Jordon
    • Military and trade relations between Israel, Turkey, Iran and Ethiopia
    Stick:
    • Sabotaging socialist or radical opposition, such as direct attacks on Hamas by incursions and by assassinations by drones, and co-ordination with the PA in military action against Hamas (leaked Palestinian papers 2011), and by attacks on Lebanon and the PLO in 1982, and Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006.

    It was France which supplied Israel with its nuclear technology.

    The oil revenues feed back into:
    • The western banking and monetary system
    • Provides the funds for the major customers of US, UK & French armaments industry

    And of course there are major US, UK, Dutch and Japanese investments in gulf companies.

    THE CURRENT CLLIMATE

    OIL: The USA now obtains only 10% of its oil needs from Gulf States
    • There has been strategic diversification, with its current sources being: USA, Alaska, Russia, South America and Nigeria
    • There is significant growing investment into alternatives to fossil fuels
    • There has been an increase in substitution by US & Canadian natural gas, especially shale gas
    OIL: The EU is still a main ME oil consumer: obtaining 38% of its needs

    The oil revenues continue to be major financier of USA & UK & EU arms industries.

    • The ME therefore continues to be a central plank of developed Western economies. The major US, UK, Dutch and Japanese investments in gulf oil companies’ continues to be very significant to the western political economies.
    • Israel is tightly integrated into the EU economy (Cronin, 2011)
    Israel has equally strong economic ties with the US economy

    • Israel continues to serve as the proxy governor of the region for the USA

    The United States ME wars have cost it $1.1 trillion to date, with each soldier costing $½ m. annually.

    • Armaments and war during economic expansion offset deflationary pressures, where investment outstrips demand, and boosts high profits in specific sectors of the economy and society.

    • During recession arms expenditure, through deficit funding – increasing in the national debt – can boost the economy, in Keynsian fashion.,
    BUT:
    • Armaments divert resources from productive investment and needed social schemes
    • During the current recession where national debt in the UK and the US has reached crisis proportions and maximum limits, states cannot borrow huge sums for armament expenditure as a way to drive economies out of recession,
    • There is in fact a need for the huge debts to be reigned back. One benefit of this will be to produce a ‘peace dividend’
    • Wars (short of national war) exacerbate internal social division & conflict

    THE CURRENT ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL CRISIS

    The recent international economic crisis had as its epicentre the EU and the USA, but it
    hit the peripheral countries hardest.

    Also hit hard have been the 2nd. tier developed countries – Greece, Ireland, Portugal
    Whilst these 2nd tier countries have sufficiently flexible political structures to contain the
    social reactions, the peripheral countries – the not so benevolent dictatorships -
    experienced higher levels of price driven poverty and anger (a Tunisian slogan at
    the demonstrations was, “Bread is our red line, beware our hunger and our fury”). This
    combined with rigid political structures resulted in the social uprisings.

    SO WHAT ARE THE FOREIGN POLICY OPTIONS FOR THE USA?

    Either: One step back – two steps forward:
    • Temporary concessions and apparent political change, followed by slow reversion to status quo
    • The above accompanied by a significant increase in ‘aid’ and investment;
    Egypt, Tunisia and Jordon have high levels of educated populations. They also have, as do the other ME and North African countries, a large unskilled workforce.

    • THUS there is a rich, cheap pool of labour, a potential for economic exploitation and investment by private capital, offering the possibility of a private capital driven ‘Marshal Plan’, with significant profits repatriated through multinationals.

    However, the Middle East has steadily become increasingly unstable:
    • Social deprivation combined with inflexible undemocratic regimes has driven the growth of radical Islamic groups, creating an open door for Ahmadinejad in Iran – with its nuclear potential.
    • Israel/Palestine has been at the core of this instability: Israel’s role as proxy ruler for the US requires it to control and to oppress the Palestinians
    • The effects of this were pithily relayed to The White House by by General Petraeus and colleagues who informed Obama that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians put ‘his men at risk’ in Iraq

    Or: There is a gaping opportunity for the development of liberal social democracy.
    In the current crisis:
    • There is no bid for leadership being made by Islamic fundamentalist groups (the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is commonly agreed to be moderate), and there has been no such obvious religious party in Tunisia
    • In Egypt, ElBaradei, social democrat and peace price winner, is a clear focus, together with other moderate groups and the trade unions – which have organized significant industrial action, but which has not been reported in the English press.
    • In Tunisia the General Trade Union branches spread accross different towns, together with social democratic movements, have been leading the action.

    The establishment of genuine social democracy in Egypt would be enthusiastically embraced by all the population and the resultant social and economic development could be exponential. BUT:
    • It would threaten to destabilize the oil states
    • It would have a major impact on the Palestinians, especially on the PA, Fatah and Hamas and the Israeli Palestinians
    • It would therefore present both an internal and an external threat to Israel
    • It would have a significant impact on Iran
    • It would therefore be a high risk policy

    In order to pre-empt the development of a regional conflict with Israel there would have to be a genuine process for a just settlement of the Palestinian question. To be credible to the Egyptian electorate the new Egyptian government would have to be fully involved.

    A just settlement of the Palestinian question, combined with the development of social democracies in the ME and North Africa, would weaken the rationale for the current regime in Iran by removing a reason for its nationalist sabre rattling. The forces of social democracy might then gain the ascendancy – they won the last elections but were kept out of office. America would forcefully assert its commitment to Israel’s security.

    Such calming of the Middle East political environment would assist the drawing down of the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan, already in process, and the release of war expenditure would assist support for the new democracies as well as USA and EU growth.

    This then could be on Obama’s agenda (an interesting development following his snub by Netanyahu over settlements) utilizing his $3.2bn military aid as leverage over Egypt’s army generals,
    BUT:
    • Could it be put in place before elections for his second term.
    • If he loses, would the next administration revert to historical policies?
    • It is interesting that there seems to have been no Republican dissension re. Obama’s dealings with Cairo. And the US Jewish lobby? A quick perusal of the Journals seems to reveal they do not have a position, all they have managed to state so far is to observe that Israel would prefer a new version of the old regime, under Omar Suleimen.
    • Unable to criticise the movement for democracy, they give a every impression of having been finessed by Obama’s denunciation of Mubarak.
    • Critically, does Obama have the will and the courage to take the “Tide of affairs on the flood”?

    References:

    Oil: Economist 9.12.2010
    Oil revenues: Economist 7.6.2007
    Aid: Washington Post:
    http://www.wrmea.com/html/us_aid_to_israel.htm
    http://www.adc,org/index.php?id=1240
    Iran: Economist 13/1/2011
    Israel/PA: Wikileaks
    Europe’s Alliances with Israel. Cronin.PPress.2011
    US & Gulf Oil: Economist 29.12.2010
    Israel & US foreign policy:J.Bonds,Our Roots Are Still Alive.SanFrancisco
    PPress 1977,
    N.Aruri, Dishonest Broker,US Role In Israel & Palestine. Cambridge.
    Sth.End Press.2003
    JTA.Dilemma of pro-Israel groups: To talk Egypt or not. 1.2. 2011 & Middle East Monitor, 3.2.2011)
    Illan Pape.Hamish Hamilton.2010
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/01/29/us-egypt-usa-aid-idUSTRE70S0IN20110129
    http://www.naturalgas.org/business/demand.asp
    http://www.futuresmag.com/News/2010/12/Pages/Gas-provides-.aspx


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