World — February 2, 2011 at 1:55 PM

A new world order

Unless you live in a cave and severed from civilization, you are aware of recent happenings in Egypt. Protests started Tuesday, January 25, when (inspired by the successful revolution in Tunisia) thousands began taking to the streets to protest poverty, rampant unemployment, police brutality, government corruption and autocratic governance of President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for 30 year. With that, Egypt is the latest country where its citizens seem to say enough is enough to dictatorial leadership. Welcome to a new world order where social media is the new weapon of choice to fight repressive regimes.

Lately, there has been increase in revolts by citizens against their governments, using social media. You don’t need a degree in rocket science or lobotomy to see the connection between the spate of recent protests and social media. Which begs the question of why the world’s notorious despots don’t get it; they don’t see that there is a new sheriff in town (social media), and on whose wings these protests are riding. These unwanted leaders, like an out of control drunk, clearly are out of touch with reality. Consumed by extreme greed and narcissism they seem to deceive themselves into thinking that such protests cannot happen in their countries. These leaders live in a fool’s paradise because they act out of blinding power intoxication rather than reason. They have become prisoners of their egotistic selves and consequently reduced their beings to animals. But the wind of change is here and there is no stopping it. These lunatic despots must pack it in now and get out, or face a disgraceful forced exit.

Clearly the Egyptian protests are choking Mubarak and his government, depriving it of the essential tyrannical oxygen it needs for survival. Acting out of desperation Mubarak has shut down cell phone and Internet services in Egypt in an effort to stop protesters from continuing to harness the power of social media for their revolt. Also, in an effort to scuttle a one-million march scheduled for Tuesday February 1, authorities shut down all roads and public transportation to Cairo, venue of the match. Train services nationwide were suspended and all bus services between cities were halted. So far, as at time of publication of this article February 2, 2011 Mubarak’s tactics have not worked as the protesters have found other means to mobilize. Mubarak may have succeeded in shutting down cell phone and Internet services in Egypt but how about other countries where protesters are using it to mobilize themselves in support of the Egyptian cause? Earlier, before the one-million march, Mubarak acting out of desperation appeared on state television to announce that he has sacked his entire cabinet and appointed a vice president, but the protesters are not buying it. They maintain that the dictator must step down or go into exile.

I know that Mubarak acted out of despair, but what in the world was he thinking? That Egyptians are that naïve to take the cheap bait of a cabinet reshuffle and the appointment of a vice president? Maybe that would have worked thirty years ago when he took power October 14, 1981 following the assassination of President Anwar El-Sadat. The average Egyptian today is more sophisticated than Mubarak cares to give them credit for. Hence, they are demanding nothing short of his relinquishment of power.

The Egyptian uprising has a lot of ramifications, and one of them is in the Arab regions of the world. As the heart and soul of the Arab world Egypt is looked upon by other Arabs as a younger brother looks upon his older brother for direction. This obviously is a source of worry for other Arab leaders fearing what might happen next in their countries. They recognize the new social media power. No longer can these oppressive leaders viciously clamp down on their citizens during revolts and turn around to paint a different image to the rest of the world as if the revolts were not a big deal but the handiwork of a few disgruntled elements. Thanks to the internet, email, Facebook, Twitter, text message and cell phone which, as of today, constitute the core of social media.

Some observers have hinted that the Egyptian mutiny took cue from what recently happened in Tunisia were the government was toppled by protesters. The Tunisian unrest started in mid-December, when unemployed 26-year-old Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi reportedly tried to sell vegetables on the streets of his rural village without a license. After police confiscated his produce, Bouazizi reportedly immolated himself in protest. Soon, news of the suicide spread quickly via social media like a ferocious harmattan brush fire. With that, the stage was set for a showdown with the Tunisian government headed by President Zine El Abedine Ben Ali.

You see, Tunisians were already fed up with the situation in their country. The suicide tragedy of Bouazizi was a perfect excuse for insurgency against the corruption and economic and social maladies that marked President Ben Ali’s 23-year rule. As is the case with dictators, Ben Ali’s first reaction was to attempt to quash the uprising using high-handed crack down, arresting hundreds and killing dozens. When that did not slow the protesters Ben Ali like Mubarak dangled some carrots at them by lifting restrictions on the media, sacking his cabinet and promising reforms. He even promised a new election in six months. But it was too late. The protesters were no fools. They knew those were only desperate measures from a desperate man whose back was against the wall. The Tunisian protesters held their ground and when the heat got too much Ben Ali fled January 14, 2011 under the cover of darkness like a thief. He is now on exile in Saudi Arabia.

On January 17, 2001 during the trial of President Joseph Estrada of Philippine his supporters in the Philippine congress dubiously decided to vote to set aside crucial evidence necessary for Estrada’s prosecution. What the president’s loyalist in congress didn’t know was that the Filipino people were not having any of that. Less than two hours after news broke of the congress’ decision to leave out key evidence against Estrada, thousands of Filipinos angry and frustrated that their corrupt president is about to be let off the hook, thronged to Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, a major crossroads in Manila, the country’s capital. A forwarded text which read “Go 2 EDSA. Wear blk.”, was in part responsible for the quick mobilization of the masses. Within a few days the masses at Epifanio de los Santos Avenue swelled, choking and bringing traffic in downtown Manila to snail speed. Don’t you just love the power of social media?

According to reports about seven million texts were sent that week. The Filipino protesters’ ability to quickly coordinate such a huge gathering alarmed the country’s lawmakers to the point that they reversed course in their initial decision to suppress vital evidence in Estrada’s trial. The change of heart by the lawmakers put the final nail on Estrada’s presidential woes coffin. He was impeached and later resigned. That event marked the first reported case in which social media helped oust a country’s leader. Reports have it that even Estrada blamed his undoing to the text message used by organizers of the protest.

Since the dethronement of Estrada the Philippine model has been successfully adopted many times and proving that use of social media for mass mobilization was worthwhile. For example, in Spain in 2004, demonstrations largely organized via text messaging led to the sacking of Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar. Also, in 2009 the Communist Party lost power in Moldova when huge protests coordinated, in part , via social media broke out following what was deemed a fraudulent election in that country.

Though not all use of social media for protests have been successful, even when it fails to overthrow a government it succeeds in bringing the plight of a people under a repressive regime to light. An example is the Iranian Green Revolution Movement of 2009. Although that movement did not succeed in the overthrow of the Iranian government led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it succeeded in using social media to coordinate protests regarding miscount of votes for Mir Hossein Mousavi in that year’s Iranian presidential election. The movement was eventually subdued by overbearing crackdown by the Iranian regime, but it succeeded in painting the Ahmadinejad government as “illegitimate”.

In the past, draconian regimes made sure that their deeds remained within confines of their countries. The citizens lacked real power to let their voices be heard or effect a change. Not anymore.

Recognizing the power of the Internet and social media some governments have or are attempting to limit its use in their countries. My advice for such regimes: Wise up, the genie is already out of the bottle and you can’t do anything about that. The internet and social media are here to stay. Get with the program and start reforms in your countries or get out. This is a new world and rules of the game have changed. Not to play by the new rules has serious consequences. Ask Hosni Mubarak or Ben Ali.

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