ArabWorld 2.0: welcome to FaceBookLand


No ! Not another article about the influence of social networks on the revolutions in Arab countries! There are so many we can’t keep count anymore.

Still, while reading dozens of those analyses crowding the pages of daily newspapers and Internet, I noticed that an essential element is missing and that all the analyses were based on a rather simplistic idea, namely that Internet and, more especially, the social networks played the role of catalyst in facilitating communication among the internauts.

That is not untrue, but such a reductive vision transforms those immense gatherings in Tahrir Square into a caricature more like a flash mob than a revolution. I noticed also the confusion in these articles which puts all the social networks on the same level: when one mentions them they generally cite, always and in the same order, facebook, Twitter and every other time You Tube.

In my judgment, the principal contribution that the social networks made to the revolution of the Arabs comes from the preponderant, and maybe unconscious, influence that facebook has had on Arab youth.

Moubarak - Ben Ali: Friend request on facebook - Tahrir square - Cairo - Egypt

Moubarak - Ben Ali: Friend request on facebook - Tahrir square - Cairo - Egypt

Actually, since the creation of this social network, Arab youth, largely inactive, has been able to live in a virtual country populated by millions of inhabitants where democracy (certainly relative but very real in comparison with the authoritarian regimes based on intelligence services), equality and respect for the opinion of the other are the rule.

Here we have a situation these youth never knew in their real country. Moreover, that experience of democracy touches all strata of the society.

It is probably there, in FaceBookLand, that Arab youth discovered that they could give their opinion on any subject, that they could refuse to look at any publicity that did not interest them. They were even asked to explain why they weren’t interested. The last straw!

They could request the removal of a page or an image that seemed insulting and, most important, they could speak freely, discuss and come together (although only through virtual groups initially), which probably gave them the desire to apply this virtual experience of democracy to real life. This experience was all the more painful in that it put into vivid contrast the country freely chosen (virtual emigration to FaceBookLand) with the country imposed by accident of birth (a country stagnating in a dictatorial, police and repressive regime where young people are not at home).

Political consciousness was born.

Even though there is a privileged social class in all Arab countries that has access to higher education as well as trips abroad that allows them to taste democracy, suddenly even a young unemployed Tunisian, by paying a pittance in an Internet café in Tunis, can have his own facebook page and enjoy that same experience with democracy, freedom and public speech.

A posteriori, one can certainly point out that the bloggers, twitterers, and web leaders of these revolutions came from the privileged, educated class, but it is certain that if the other young people were not ready, had they not had the same experiences and aspirations, they probably would not have followed and the adventure would have resulted in a paragraph in a newspaper indignant at the arrest of some anonymous blogger. Besides, in several interviews the young Egyptian bloggers expressed surprise at the unexpected success of their calls online for the manifestation on January 25.

We can therefore say that contrary to what is happening (or might happen) in some sub-Saharan countries, the Arab revolutions are not hunger riots. These are real political revolutions that would not be possible in countries that have not reached a certain social level and a certain political consciousness; it was not hungry stomachs that demanded a share of power. This became evident when the leaders, in desperation, attempted to buy social peace by doubling the salaries of officials but failed to contain the revolt. Besides the slogan chanted whether in Tunis, Cairo, Bahrain or elsewhere was: « The people demand the downfall of the regime ».

At the end of 2010, the world’s youth, young Arabs included, were able to « meet » the « president » of this virtual democracy, Mark Zuckerberg through the film The Social Network. They met a young fellow, barely out of adolescence, and they identified with him. This young man, with all his frailties and weaknesses – widely portrayed in the film – was effectively administering the largest country in the virtual world (over 500 million today) while these tyrants, in power in their respective countries for decades, disregarding any age limit, and no longer representing their people(if ever they did) were incapable of governing.

Everyone can give his opinion in the society aborning –  ArabWorld 2.0 – where the dictatorship of « Like » replaces “the dictatorship of the crowds” dear to an older Gaddafi, the Libyan Supreme Leader, who is now watching his worn out regime fashioned from outdated European ideologies, crumble around him. He is so incapable of understanding what is happening that on the first day of unrest in Libya, he exclaimed publicly in the media: « But here, there will be no popular uprising since it is the people who govern! »

The Arab world is dead, long live ArabWorld 2.0!

Nagi GHORRA teaches e-learning at Saint Joseph University – Beirut, Lebanon
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