The Arab Spring was a revolutionary wave of demonstrations, violent and non-violent protests that changed the face of the North Africa and Middle East from 2010 onwards. The first spark was lit in Tunisia, and in the next few years it spread throughout the region, bringing downfall to regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and affecting a number of others, including Jordan, Syria, Morocco etc.

According to several analysts, youth activism on social networks played a major role in these events that altered the face of the region and led to international interventions and even have global consequences such as the Syrian civil war and refugee crisis. (1)

ROOTS

Civilians wanted to start a movement against regime. Despite apparent differences in size, economic and social situation in particular countries, some common roots of the revolution can be identified, or appear to be: dissatisfaction with the way of ruling in the local government, high unemployment and lack of career opportunities that effect especially young people. Some other roots that have been identified are probably connected with high inflation, corruption and lack of freedom of speech (and other forms of political freedom). It was obvious that their conditions of living were very poor, so they couldn’t accept the status quo any more.

In that period demonstrations, marches, and rallies were widespread. Many people got injured and hurt, more than 2.900 have been arrested and also more than 80 people lost their lives since the uprising started.

Many of those who were included were young, urban people, relatively well educated that have Internet literacy and are active users of social networks. In the video below you can see some young bloggers speaking about their way of seeing their role in demonstrations and the importance of social media, as Sondos Asem said: “Social media played the key role. They were an alternative public sphere for the youth who were unable to express their opinion freely because the environment was controled”.

THE POWER OF SOCIAL MEDIA

The fact that public media were constantly censoring very important information and blocking every attempt of organizing protests, youth needed to join this movement by using other different approaches. In some countries, such as Tunisia and Egypt, the way in which they were organizing was quite specific. They used social media for organizing demonstrations and spreading awareness. Also, they were sharing information, promoting strikes and other rebellions. You Tube, Facebook and Twitter had the main role. Thousands of people were informing each other about the protest by Facebook pages and Twitter posts. This approach attracted tens of thousands followers that participated in the platform for sustained political action. (2)

There were also situations in which government blocked access to websites and/or Internet in the whole country. In Tunisia government blocked some websites through which protests were coordinated. In Egypt, government at first blocked only Facebook and Twitter, but then the whole Internet suffered a blackout in an attempt to stop the protests. This lasted for 5 days. Eventually, this encouraged the protests even more. (3)

”Activism through the social media proved to be arguably one of the best new ways for gaining freedom of speech, democracy, human rights etc. But on the other hand, there are potentially very important questions about the usage of the social media as a long term solution. Will clicks, shares and likes be enough for changing the world or there is need for more involvement with our political reality. In addition, this kind of approach is very sensitive and we got familiar with that in cases in Egypt and Tunisia. Time will give the answers, but for now, we can’t neglect its power.”


References:

1. Howard P. N., Duffy A., Hussain M., Mari W. & Mazaid M. (2011). Opening Closed Regimes: What Was the Role of Social Media During the Arab Spring? Project on Information Techology & Politial Islam.

2. Mourtada R. & Salem F. (2011). Civil movements: The impact of Facebook and Twitter. Arab social media report, 1 (2), 1-30.

3. Cohen N. (2011). Egyptians Were Unplugged, and Uncowed.


Author: Jelena Spremo, Serbia