It’s been over 12 months since the first protests of the Arab spring broke out in Tunisia in December 2010. Since then, headlines have almost been constant, most notably from Libya and Egypt, where the dictatorial regimes of Muammar Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak were successfully overthrown. Bahrain, Syria and Yemen are among other countries protesting against current regimes, and consequently the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix had to be abandoned in 2011 and the 2012 race looks to be in doubt again, despite the ruling royal insisting they will increase human rights and democratic representation.
The Arab spring certainly hasn’t been a peaceful or romantic affair, unlike some revolutions in history, notably the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, 1989. With the death toll close to 40,000, protestors in Syria and Yemen seem determined to follow in the footsteps of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, towards greater political freedom. Governments have been quick and ruthless in their attempts to put down the revolutions. Syrian authorities have cut off electricity as well as water supplies. The Free Syrian Army was formed in the summer of 2011 to work with protestors in bringing down the government. Yemen also has military and government personnel who have defected, resulting in much of the country being out of the control of president Saleh. However, Saleh has been willing to take into account protesters’ views from the start and hold democratic elections, draft a new constitution and introduce easier voter registration.
On review, it’s important to realise the important role that social media has played, and continues to play, in the Arab spring. It is believed that messages were sent via social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to promote and spread messages about freedom and democracy. For example, the number of Tweets originating from Egypt, in the week leading up to Hosni Mubarak’s resignation increased ten fold. Videos uploaded to YouTube went viral, receiving millions of views and resulted in Egypt’s dictatorship ultimately attempting to shut down the internet. People harnessed the power of social media, meaning those who opposed the regimes but had previously been fragmented, could now unite under one cause and protest for the changes they’d so eagerly longed for.
The news of uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt allowed other individuals in other countries pick up on the situation. Call it social media Chinese whispers, if you like. The social media revolution didn’t stop at the Arab spring. When Osama bin Laden was finally killed in May 2011, an IT consultant living in Abbottabad tweeted, unknowingly, of the American raid as it was happening. Social media is undoubtedly going to help historical research too. Whilst historians are unable to discover precisely what normal, everyday people experienced during medieval times or the early modern period, social media will leave its own digital trail in the history books of the 21st century.
One year on and the Arab people are still striving to achieve what western civilization has experienced for centuries. With assistance from the west and the continued use of social media, protesters can hope for the establishment of a more democratic regime.