There is a change in the Middle Eastern air. It is getting “purified” of its autocrats.
Tunisia (with its subsequent toppling of regime) and now Egypt is on fire, with further political ripples spreading all over the region. Given that Middle East features a number of dictatorial/autocratic/monarchic regimes, it is not surprising that some of those rulers – six out of top ten autocrats being from the MENA region – stay in power for decades or for life.
What is interesting to witness however is not that semi-oppressed/disgruntled nations are not prosperous/happy – a rather expected outcome – but that they are able to express themselves and use (with increasing efficiency) Internet as a tool to get concessions from or even changes of regime (as with Tunisia kicking off and Egypt and other countries following in step).
Tunisia, a country of 10 million, with more than 30% of it on Internet and 18% on Facebook, succeeded in using Twitter and Facebook to self-organize and centralize protests and manifestations. The regime’s clamp-down came a little too late – the incumbent president got ousted.
Egypt, on the other hand, is a country of 80 million, with about 25% of it on Internet and an estimated 6.25% (5 million) on Facebook. Egyptian unrest really started on January 25, 2011, by peaceful marches and manifestations organized in the center of Cairo accompanied/coordinated by Facebook groups such as April 6 movement and #jan25 Twitter activism. There was, as in Tunisia, no real/serious political power behind it, initially (Muslim Brotherhood, El Baradei and other opposition groups joining in later). But Egyptian government was more “proactive” in its response, with gradual slowdown of Facebook/Twitter, followed by a complete closure of Internet and mobile services from January 28 and until February 2.
While Tunisian regime change was spurred by and centred around the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi (an unemployed college graduate), Egyptian voices escalated after the arrest (by Egyptian authorities) of Wael Ghonim, Google MENA’s marketing boss, on January 28 and release on February 7. During this time, he has emerged as an inspiration/idol, especially for Egyptian Internet-savvy youth who were a significant force behind two weeks worth of manifestations and protests in downtown Cairo. One telling sign and a measure is Ghonim’s astronomic growth in popularity online (and subsequent “offline”): his Twitter following grew from about 4,400 on January 29 to more than 23,000 currently (more than 12,000 of them on the day of his release) and a Facebook fan page in his honor grew, in only 4 hours, to 84,000 fans and counting.
Which direction do these two cases point in? To me at least, that given a right cause, an accumulated discontent and an inspirational/visionary persona with whom to identify, a little spark can ignite not only a fireworks but a complete purge/revamp of a regime in however big a country. And while the outcome is not clear yet for Egypt – according to likes of Fisk, the regime is “on its final cusp of departure” – the people’s path (so far, ministers sacked, promise from Mubarak and his son not to run for office in few month, Mubarak’s resignation as a head of NDP and counting) is being paved.
Let’s wait and see.
Update (February 11, 2011)
Ghonim’s Facebook fan page reached a staggering 285,000 and counting in addition to his Twitter followers of almost 54,000. From the moment of his release, his stance changed from a humble “I am not a hero” to a rather self-righteous claim of “Revolution 2.0. Mission Accomplished.”
However, in yesterday’s much anticipated televised appearance of Mubarak, he conceded to relish only some of his powers to the VP Soleiman, without an immediate abdication as was demanded and expected by demontrators in Tahrir square. This latest move on part of Mubarak left a bitter taste and a sense of deception – even the US president Obama “seemed to be euphoric, preparing for Mr Mubarak to step down”. Many predict that Friday (today, February 11) the masses would explode and Mubarak might try once again to sow dissent among protesters and bring in the army to contain the “chaos.”
It seems that everyone, including foreign powers, underestimated tenacity, stubbornness and will of the incumbent Egyptian president. Besides the fact that few organizations initiated strikes (thousands of Egyptian railway workers went for strikes yesterday) and that a group of protestors slept, for the first time, in front of the parliament on February 9, not much has been accomplished.
Update (February 12, 2011)
Around 7pm on February 11, Mubarak’s abdication was announced by the VP Soleiman. The power passed to the Defense Minister Tantawy (Egyptian Army), absolving the rest of existing structures of the government.
Since that moment on the crowds went crazy celebrating on streets till little hours of the next day. Music, songs, poems, dancing – a nation-wide party where all differences, problems and obstacles are forgottten, at least for the time being, in their unity of celebration and moment of euphoria.
Congratulations Egypt! Revolution 2.0 – as it became known online – was just the preface in the book of Egypt 2.0. It is time for the new Egypt to start writing its first chapter.