Sure, the first decade of the 21st century has seen anti-Western authoritarianism hold its ground, and there’s no question the people running repressive systems are quick studies who’ve learned to exploit, or suppress, a revolutionary technology that challenges them. Still, they’re swimming against the tide. The freedom to connect is a tool of liberation — and it’s powerful.
I am writing this on my return from Tunisia, where Facebook gave young protesters the connective muscle to oust an Arab dictator, and as I watch on YouTube images of brave young Egyptians confronting the clubs and water-cannons of President Hosni Mubarak’s goons.
“All they have, all they have,” says one bloodied protester of the brute force he’s encountered. Yes, when all you have is a big hammer — and that’s what’s left in the arsenal of decaying, nepotistic Arab regimes — everything looks like a nail.
The truth is these men — add the 23-year rule of the ousted Tunisian dictator Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali to the reigns of Mubarak and Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya and you have almost a century of despotism — are relics to whom a wired world has given the lie.
Organization, networking, exposure to suppressed ideas and information, the habits of debate and self-empowerment in a culture of humiliation and conspiracy: These are some of the gifts social media is bestowing on overwhelmingly young populations across the Arab world.
Above all, the Internet’s impact has been to expose the great delusion that has led Western governments to buttress Arab autocrats: that the only alternative to them was Islamic jihadists. No, the Tunisian revolution was middle-class, un-Islamic and pro-Western. The people in the streets of Cairo are young, connected, non-ideological and pragmatic: They want a promise that Mubarak won’t stand in the presidential election this year or hand power to his son, Gamal, who, by the way, has a nice pad on London’s chic Eaton Square.
As the Egyptian Nobel Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei told my colleagues David Kirkpatrick and Michael Slackman, “I am pretty sure that any freely and fairly elected government in Egypt will be a moderate one, but America is really pushing Egypt and pushing the whole Arab world into radicalization with this inept policy of supporting repression.”
Enough already! If Clinton was serious in announcing that a U.S. priority is now to “harness the power of connection technologies and apply them to our diplomatic goals,” and if she truly sees the Arab world’s foundations “sinking into the sand,” the moment is now to back change in Cairo.
Friday, January 28, 2011
Egyptian Protest: "Middle-Class, Non-ideological, And Pro-Western"
It's nice to see something hopeful happening somewhere in the world: Tunisia, Egypt, and other American allies where secular (not Islamist) young people are using the internet to throw off their autocratic and undemocratic rulers. Here's Roger Cohen from the NYT: