The fall of the Berlin Wall was the watershed moment that signified the collapse of Eastern European dictatorships. It is still the most strongly associated image with the 1989 decline of European dictatorships. Now, 11 years later, the images of thousands in the streets of Egypt quickly invokes images from Berlin. However, those in Berlin did not have access to the one weapon that the people in Egypt have today. That weapon is Google.
The Globe and Mail compares the collapse of Eastern European dictatorships to unrest in Arab states today. The Globe and Mail finds striking comparisons to the grassroots movement of Egyptians demanding democracy today just as Europeans did 11 years ago. Alma Kadragic, an Abu-Dhabi-based journalist, found, “I covered those [1989 protests] and see so many parallels except that it’s much faster now due to Twitter and Facebook.” The internet has allowed many poor to middle-class citizens who do not have much upwards mobility under the current governments to organise and assemble in rapid fashion. It has empowered them to stand up for their rights and put the fear into their governments. Egypt’s response was to completely shut down the internet to stymie mass protests. Their efforts were far too late as demonstrators swarmed Cairo.
The role of Twitter, Facebook, and Google has been absolutely vital to the entire process. Other Arab states have been closely monitoring the situation and are no doubt rethinking their internet policies after watching the effectiveness of social networking sites in spreading information and organising protests. Twitter was instrumental in quickly spreading information in the 2009 Iranian election protests. Presently, a high degree of literacy and almost complete prevalence of the internet and cell phones in Arab states provides all the necessary tools for a revolution. The only missing ingredient is a just cause. It will be interesting to see how Arab governments respond to Google, Twitter, and Facebook just as it would interesting to see how those companies respond to their prominence in Arab politics.
— Gary Cassady
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