Revolutions through the Web

When Time magazine was rumored to make the Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg its Person of the Year, Ye 5th’s Editor thought that another Media “Academy Award” was a little too much. But with the revolt in Tunisia and the outbreak of dissent and protests in Egypt, both largely organized and propelled by social media including Facebook on the Web, maybe Facebook, social media and the Web deserve more attention and respect for what they have and are accomplishing. Two repressive and corrupt Arab regimes, first Tunisia and now Egypt are foundering. In the case of Tunisia, not just the dictator at the top; but all his cohorts are being brought down.Certainly one can understand why China has banned Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter and other Western news and social media from its “Internet airwaves”.

The NYTimes, having transformed itself from the brink of print publishing oblivion with sophisticated use of Web technology, has been following the protests in Arab countries with up-to-the minute Web enabled reportage and debate. Here is a summary of the latest assessment from Egypt:

What Egypt is witnessing today is a pro-change revolt that drew diverse elements of society into the streets. Regardless of their ideological orientations, they all seek to achieve clear demands: freedom of expression and association, and an end to corruption, poverty, unemployment and Mubarak’s three decade’s long reign.

The country’s young people have been instrumental in the uprising. They have created their own opposition movement: the April 6th Youth Movement, which is independent of the formal political structures or existing political parties. With more than 80,000 members on the Internet brought together through the extensive use of social media Web sites, the movement has organized a series of successful general strikes and rallies over the past three years. Action-oriented, the youth movement is the country’s hope in keeping the momentum for change going.

Will the Tunisian model repeat itself in Egypt? The answer is uncertain. Revolutions are not exportable, particularly considering the huge military and security force behind Mr. Mubarak’s regime, the weak and fragmented opposition parties, the fear of an Islamist takeover, the willingness of the regime to mount brutal force against the demonstrators and Egypt’s strategic weight with its Western allies.

When you read the accounts here and at the BBC there is no denying the key enabling role of the Web and the powerful messaging beacon of Aljezeera. What is not obvious is how events will play out in Egypt. Will the Mubarak regime attempt a Tienamen Square like crackdown and be successful. There is already interruption of Internet and cellphone services. But does the regime have the wherewithal to enforce widespread Internet restrictions as in China? Literally revolutions unfold … and it is on the Web … for now.

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