On the 15th January 2011, President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia was forced to flee after protests called for a greater democracy. This began a chain of events within the Arabic world, which has now spread to the most populist country in the region, Egypt.
A very Arabic leader
Until now, President Hosni Mubarak has been seen as one of the most stable Arabic leaders. Coming from a very traditional background, he was a serving military officer who emerged from a military coup to become President of this strategically placed country, which he has ruled for over 30 years. Mubarak’s relatively moderate views have made him a firm favorite of the West (one of the now many criticisms of his leadership) and one of the few countries that a strategic vision of the Middle East could be centered around. This, of course, is now in the balance.
Changing face of regional leadership
Although the cries of a more democratic liberty are at the very forefront of many of the demonstrators’ minds on the streets of Cairo, the question of whether there is an Arabic tradition of democracy in the region arises, and whether it would in fact, be good for the country at all.
(Credit: Getty Images)
Non-elected Presidents control many of the countries in the Middle East and although this may appear strange to Westerners, the Middle East has a long tradition of supporting strong leadership that exercises highly centralised control. This form of Government has given the framework for the development of the Middle East political strategy for the past 60 years.
The demonstrations in Egypt have once again demonstrated the power of social media. The ability for groups of people, who have never met and have shared very little, to then be unified by a single political movement, has been unbelievable. Social media has been able to mobilise large numbers of demonstrators in order to move the political agenda.
Egypt is not alone
This is not the first time that social media has played a critical role in civil disobedience and social protest. The UK has witnessed similar organisational strategic disruptions during the student protests of late 2010/early 2011, whilst protesters in Tunisia too, have used Twitter and Facebook in order to organise and direct protest movements.
Shared aims but no shared ideology
Social media has provided the means of applying pressure, however, it has not as yet been fully utilised to galvanize frustration into a coherent political ideology. It’s OK to protest, but for what? This is a more difficult question to answer.
Action without end state
Social action galvanized through social networks (also termed as N Form organisational capabilities) has the danger of initiating change and producing a political and organisational vacuum that can see conflict and competition before newly acceptable organisational forms emerge. Who and what these shall be may not be lead by the democratic process, but by those who can overcome the mass frustrations of the fraction groups.