Monday, December 19, 2011

This is just the start of the struggle

World View: The past year has shaken the Middle East from top to bottom, but the final results of the Arab Spring are far from clear

By Patrick Cockburn

"....Twelve months later, the forward march of the Arab Spring movements remains unpredictable. Three autocratic regimes in North Africa have fallen – Tunisia, Egypt and Libya – but it is unclear what will replace them. Three regimes east of Egypt remain embattled – Syria, Yemen and Bahrain – and are likely to be unstable for a long time to come....

....Authoritarian governments in the Middle East relied on fear to hold power. But they were caught unaware when the beatings and killings they used to create this terror were made public on the internet and YouTube and provoked, rather than deterred, dissent. Thus, when the Syrian army crushed the Sunni uprising in Hama in 1982, killing an estimated 20,000 people, I saw no pictures of a single body or execution. Contrast this with Syria today, when almost every act of state violence is placed on YouTube within hours of it happening.

What changed in 2011 was not that beatings, torture and killings no longer instilled fear, but that governments now have to pay a much higher political price for using such methods. The internet was important in this, but what really transformed the rules of the game were the Arabic satellite channels, notably al-Jazeera. Only 7 per cent of the Libyan population had access to the internet, but availability of satellite TV was general. It was this breaking of the state monopoly of information that has been so crucial in weakening despotism in the Middle East. It is permanently shifting the balance of power from the palaces of the rulers to the people in the streets...."

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