Monday, January 31, 2011

What Makes for a Middle Eastern Revolution? Answer--Highly Educated Young People with Cell Phones and Few Opportunities

Why did Egypt and before that Tunisia suddenly explode? One theory is that the proliferation of cell phones--as Salman Shaikh, Director, Brookings Doha Center reports in the blog:

"To glimpse the nature of what can emerge, we should understand the rapidly changing social structure of Arab societies. Those societies are more educated, urban and connected than ever before. Due to the phenomenal growth of secondary and university-level education, literacy rates among the region's youths have skyrocketed in the past 40 years. The percentage of people living in Arab cities has risen by 50% in the same period.

The number of mobile phone users and internet users has proliferated to hundreds of thousands since the technology was introduced to the region 10 or 15 years ago. No wonder, then, that the people have finally snapped at the lack of opportunity and representation and the high levels of corruption and control that characterize their lives."

As Shaikh adds:

"Most tellingly, more has united the protesting people than divided them. Notable has been the absence of a clear, emerging leader of the protests, particularly from Islamist party leadership.

All of these changes have been fueled ironically enough by other US made inventions --namely the internet, Twitter and Facebook--that Shakih notes "has sustained the spread of the Arab revolution."

So we have a demand for a more pluralistic and open society that the old top down leaders used to one way broadcast technology (TV and radio) are finding increasingly harder to resist. The medium is in this case very much the message. Where it ends no one knows but other repressive regimes may now be seeing some writing not on their real and their Facebook walls.

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