Hivos International

Social Media in the Arab World

Leading up to the Uprising of 2011

On February 3rd 2011 Jeffrey Ghannam published the report: ‘Social Media in the Arab World; Leading up to the Uprising of 2011’. Ghannam decided to accelerate the production of the report on social media and free expression as it can provide a useful backdrop to the recent popular uprising in Tunisia and Egypt. It aims to give an insight into the rise of an independent and vibrant social media, its impact on the politics of the Arab world and the challenges and limitation imposed by the authoritarian governments.

Ghannam touches on many topics and therefore the report misses some in-depth analyses. In addition it does not give the answer to questions of the role of social media in the recent political protests, but it gives the reader a good general overview of the world of digital activism in the Middle East. The report looks at what is happing online in the Arab World, how Facebook and other social media are now beginning to define how people discover, share and communicate knowledge and information. Then he looks at the possible correlation between Social Media and social unrest and the role of external forces in these processes.

In his concluding remark Ghannam quotes George Washington University Associate Professor, Marc Lynch: “The real impact of political blogging is still likely to lie in the longer term impact on the individuals themselves, as they develop new political competencies and expectation and relationships. The impact of new media technologies will likely be best measured in terms of the emergence of such new kinds of citizen and networked over the next decades, not in terms of institutional political changes over months and years. The question on everybody’s lip now is, what role did social media play in the recent uprising of Tunisia and Egypt? Have new technologies accelerated this new kind of citizenship or has the taste of freedom of expression enabled the people communicate, networking and mobilize? Nobody has the answer to this, but it is apparent that social media has changed to nature of freedom of expression in the region and has given the citizens the opportunity to voice their opinion and mobilize in a way that was unthought-of of before.

In addition this research debates the US support of social media and cyber dissidence in the Middle East. For a more in-depth analyses on the consequences of government interference in the digital activism field it is recommended to read the blog by Sami Ben Gharbia: ‘The Internet Freedom Fallacy and the Arab Digital activism”.

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