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The End of a Tyrant and the Continuation of Democratic Revolutions in the Middle East

This is Part 1 of a two part series.
Watch for Part 2 next Monday, March 28, 2011.

Alexander Dawoody

Finally, the lying terrorist dictator of Libya is about to be deposed. After terrorizing his country and the world for 42 years, Moammar Qaddafi’s days in power are about to end. He is either going to be killed by his own people, or captured and tried by the World Court for crimes against humanity. The world community is sending a clear message to tyrants in the Middle East who are the real source for the region’s poverty despite its massive wealth and the real reason for the emergence of extremism: No longer you can go on terrorizing your people, censoring information and expecting to go on with business as usual. The era of change, democratic movement, transparency, accountability and good governance has arrived and it is here to stay.

In the past, tyrannical governments in the Middle East were able to stay longer in power through fear, intimidation, demagogy, lies, censorship, and control of information systems. With the proliferation of information communication technology systems (ICT), such as Facebook, Twitter, the Internet, Youtube, and cell phones, tyrannical governments can no longer censor information and hide the truth. Citizens in the Middle East are breaking the chains of fear and connected to expose corruption and abuse of power to demand liberty and good governance. Despite attempts to limit people’s ICT access by irresponsible governmental authorities, people in the Middle East are able to find ways to remain connected, informed, and engaged.

ICT, however do not create revolutions or social changes. People do. Yet, ICT is becoming a catalyst for change in bringing people together surrounding common issues and forcing popular mandates. The success of the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia and the Tahrir Revolution in Egypt are examples of ICT-infused revolutions. Atrocities of the former Ben Ali regime in Tunisia and the Mubarak regime in Egypt could not censor the populous as before. Shared information through Facebook and other medium brought people together to denounce tyranny, abuse of power, corruption, and demand democratic reforms.

On December 17, 2010 a police officer in the small city of Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia confiscated the vegetable cart of a 26-years old street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi because he did not have a proper license to sell produce. The officer slapped Bouazizi to further humiliate him. Bouazizi went to the local police station to complain about the police officer, but he was ridiculed and sent back home. Rejecting what he perceived to be an injury to his dignity, and dissatisfied with the economic condition of his country, Bouazizi returned to the police station but soaked with gasoline and set himself on fire as a protest. He died due to his injuries on January 4, 2011. The incident sparked public outrage and massive protests with people interconnected through ICT, asking for social change and an end to the police state and unemployment. The month-long cyber movement, known as the Jasmine Revolution, was successful in toppling the Tunisian regime of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali despite massive crackdown by Tunisian security forces.

After only 11 days from the success of the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, another peaceful ICT-infused revolution was erupted in Egypt. In just 18 days it toppled three-long decades of the Mubarak regime. The triumph of these revolutions inspired uprisings elsewhere in the Middle East. Despite massive crackdown by governmental apparatus against these peaceful demonstrators, the uprising continued, demanding nothing more than basic rights. Western democracies, who ought to be champions of human rights, were reluctant in supporting the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt until these revolutions were nearing victory. Today, they are also reluctant in supporting democratic movements in the rest of the Middle East, or at best are cherry-picking where to show nominal support and where not, based on their own interests. Understandably, the United States showed the same reluctance because of its involvement in two ongoing wars in the region, a necessary war in Afghanistan that followed September 11 terrorist attacks and a war of choice in Iraq that was based on lies in order to benefit certain oil companies.

ASPA member Alexander Dawoody is assistant professor of public policy and administration at Marywood University. Email: [email protected]

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