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Social media and the second wave of the Arab Spring

Apr 15,2019 - Last updated at Apr 15,2019

Anyone following the unfolding events in Sudan and north Africa will realise that the autocratic status quo is untenable. No amount of financial resources invested in the counter-revolutions can convince the disgruntled masses that the status quo is the least evil, much less in their best interests. The post first wave of Arab Spring gave the illusion that people will put stability above any other values. It seems that people’s patience is not without limit.

Casting aside the deep socioeconomic factors that have kept people simmering, the second wave of the Arab Spring, in both Sudan and Algeria, was triggered by the role played by social media. Due to a lack of public spaces where people can meet, the ineffectiveness of political parties to play a constructive national role and the failure of the state to control the internet, both Algerians and the Sudanese resort to social media to achieve two objectives. First, to discuss with no fear any issue, thus crossing what the entrenched and corrupted ruling elite consider as red lines. Second, to mobilise people to take to the street.

Social media keeps people better informed, especially when the state is lacking transparency and corrupted. Fortunately, the Internet is open as well as accessible to people in a given society. In most cases, the discussions on social media are messy. Of course, you cannot blame the users of social media for the mayhem that plagued much of the discussion. If there is anybody to take the blame, it is the autocratic state that seeks to dominate and control the society. Dictators search in vain a method to tame people.

The Arab-European summit held in Egypt missed the point. The “investing in stability” slogan raised by Arab autocrats in the summit was contradictory in nature. While stability in north Africa has been an official policy of the international community, in order to address the issue of migration and terror, Arab autocrats have used this slogan to conceal their real intention of narrowing the public space. Unfortunately, the international community supported the efforts of these regimes to buttress stability, thus turning a blind eye on the deteriorating record of human rights. I believe that the international community’s approaches to the issue of stability suffer from a misunderstanding of what stability means in our region. Their efforts only risk undermining the sought-after stability.

The insistence of Arab autocrats on the contradiction between stability and human rights is appalling. While this approach gives the façade of stability, it underestimates the power of people and their ability to resort to social media to express their grievances and then to mobilise protest movements against regimes.

This takes me to Jordan. I am not saying that the country has the same problem like other north African countries. And yet, the reality is grim. People, on the whole, are dissatisfied with this current government and many among them are resorting to social media to organise big events that would enable them to put huge pressure on the regime. Rumours circulated on social media only add fuel to the flames. That being said, countering rumours can only be successful if the state understands the imperative to be transparent. When the government fails to be transparent then we have to expect that social media will make the difference in months, or even weeks, to come.

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