The new generation of Arab citizens (and before them the Iranians) has the right to boast that it has given social networking and the internet functions that were probably never in the minds of those who designed or invented them.
The revolutions of Tunis and Egypt and the ongoing revolutions in Yemen, Libya and Syria, the repressed uprising in Bahrain, the protest movements demanding reform in Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Oman, and the earlier demonstrations in Iran against rigged elections – all these were managed via computers, internet links, and phones with cameras. These technologies allowed individuals and small groups to communicate with and involve millions of people with free accounts on blog services, Facebook pages, Twitter, YouTube, and other social networking spaces. These information technologies are available thanks to globalization.
The Iranians gave Twitter a noble political function, preventing the regime in Tehran from “blacking out” the demonstrations against its rigged elections and its agencies’ crimes against protesters.
The Tunisians and Egyptians gave Facebook a new identity, shifting it from the sphere of relationships and personal expression (legitimate and important functions) to the sphere of revolution and rejection of injustices.
The Syrians gave another identity to YouTube, using it to compensate for the absence of independent press in the Syrian Republic of Silence and Fear. The site provided a forum for films taken by revolutionaries’ phones, showing everything that the authorities wanted to hide: the protesters’ courage, their breaking of chains and statues, and the crimes of the security forces and secret police. The media, which had evaded responsibility under the pretext that there were no pictures, was forced to download from YouTube and abide by the lowest level of profession ethics due to the people’s faces, voices, and blood shown in the films.
We must note that Twitter, Facebook and Youtube, along with blogs and other websites, have allowed a fundamental transformation in human relations and permitted a high level of freedom for class, sex, and political intermingling in societies whose regimes choke off most of the collective and individual freedoms. We are observing a new, revolutionary dimension of such networking services.
We need only imagine the horror that strikes regimes that used to merely mention the word “secret police” and terrify their citizens. Now they are asking their new prisoners and detainees about the passwords for their web accounts. We need only hear one of the “young” Arab presidents saying that “the situation is difficult because of the spread of the Internet” to understand how the tables have been turned against dictatorship through the new Arab (and Persian) generation’s use of these products to reclaim their rights and change their conditions.
This, then, is serious reconciliation with one of the branches of “modernity.” It is the beginning of the end of the closure, repression, and injustice that has long afflicted this region of the world. Thanks are due to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, which allowed minds and dreams in Tunisia, Cairo, Damascus and elsewhere to breathe virtually in small rooms, then coordinate in large public spaces – and to redefine, on the way from the room to the square, the meaning of technology and its functions.