The Alchemy of Revolution: The Role of Social Networks and New Media in the Arab Spring

 Geneva Centre for Security Policy
GCSP Policy Paper 2012/7

The Alchemy of Revolution:
The Role of Social Networks and New Media
in the Arab Spring

by Reda Benkirane (PDF)

« if 2011 was a year of Arab collective therapy whereby ICTs’ role facilitated the liberation process, then 2012 is the year of psychological depression and political regression/repression due to the control made possible by the same ICTs”

“Technology is a pharmakon; a remedy that can heal and a poison that can kill”

Key Points

  • The rise of Arab bloggers and cyber activists is not the product of a spontaneous generation. The Arab Spring is rather the social outcome of decades of struggles for civil and political rights, which matured within the virtual space-time generated by an Arab media system wherein press, radio, satellite television, web and mobile telephony constitute different layers of complexity.
  • Social networks and new media played a catalytic role in the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. They accelerated local social reactions, synchronized different levels and intensities of uprisings and permitted the coverage of events through real-time footage directed to global public opinion.
  • The Arab Spring might herald the first social revolution of the 21st century. It epitomizes the revolt of a new individual and a new collective voice against various forms of fear, control, manipulation and disinformation. Just as economic crises do, social uprisings are transversal and can propagate worldwide wherever “freedom, justice, dignity” are restricted or scorned.
  • The role of technology will remain intrinsically ambivalent and is never neutral. It depends on political, economic, social and cultural milieu. The emerging “Intelligence” Technology can represent liberation as well s be used as spying technology. Social networks may contribute to empowering citizens, but the same technology may also be used against them for control and repression. A flourishing multibillion-dollar Western industry of digital weaponry for state surveillance and repression now represents a major threat to democratization in the MENA region and beyond.


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