Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Arab "French Revolution"?

When I lived in France back in the 90s, I remember discussing the Arab world with a Frenchman, who had a different take on spreading democracy then we Americans do: "They have to stand up and demand democracy themselves. They have to have their own French Revolution."

The situation in the Arab world is still dangerous, but it's also encouraging. Last year, back when I didn't have a subscription and could still read the New Yorker (now I have one and can't read it), there was an interesting article about the role that social media (Twitter and Facebook) can have in bringing about political change. The gist was that, when it comes right down to it, you have to put your feet on the pavement, and social media only play a role in organizing such get-togethers at the beginning.

Last night, a German media expert in an interview on television basically said the same: "All of these silly tweets we have made fun of along the lines of 'my cat has a cold' were really just a dress rehearsal. When the time comes, people put these social media to good use." But she also agreed that, now that the Internet has largely been shut down in Egypt, everything is organized by word-of-mouth as in the good ole days. Nonetheless, all that Internet gave young professionals a way of voicing their dissatisfaction – and seeing how widespread the dissatisfaction was.

So let's hope for the best – and remember that all of this came about irrespective of any input from Western governments, meaning that it's not because of a speech Obama gave or a policy Bush implemented. I'll let my colleague Hans Dembowski have the last word:

The Arab youth are demanding Western-style freedom – but they consider Western governments to be the allies of their dictators, rather than promoters of liberty. Europeans and North Americans have failed to build coalitions with those who want democratic change in the Arab world. They should have done so in public and early on. Instead, they relied on the Ben Alis and Murbaraks who promised to keep Islamists in check. 

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