The Communication Revolution
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By Daniel Ward
As dictators topple across North
Africa into the Middle East, and new uprisings
coalesce on almost a daily basis, one of the
most striking aspects of this new revolutionary
wave is the ability of its participants to communicate
not only with their compatriots or comrades
but across borders with news organizations
and like-minded activists via social networks,
blogs, and other forums.
The defining image of the international
Arab democracy movement is that of a rebel
wielding not an AK47 but a Blackberry. From
Tunisians blogging to Egyptians tweeting and
Libyans texting, multilingual techno-literacy is
the mass’s weapon of deconstruction.
Impassioned pleas for support in English,
French and Arabic accompanied by amateur
video were heard around a world that had no
idea of the fomenting discontent until it was
communicated internationally via web-enabled
devices predominantly in English --
the language of international communication.
The English-language Saudi daily
Arabnews captured the feeling when it published
the catchy headline: "It's cool to be
Arab again" during the Egyptian revolt.
Another icon was the handwritten sign in
English held aloft in the streets of Cairo which
read: “Today, my real birthday, I am free.”
Some commentators have called the
uprisings “Twitter or Facebook revolutions,"
giving credit to the media that enabled them.
While others have stubbornly denied that
such grassroots media have played any
The reality is that educated, literate, multilingual
activists were sufficiently empowered
by these new communication tools to break
free from their shackles. Years of interconnectivity
had exposed the shortfalls of these
oppressive regimes to their citizens and constant,
cross-cultural communication acclimatized
youth to inevitable change.
The instantaneous nature of internet selfpublication
explains the viral spread of these
revolutions and their lack of hierarchy. But
only the articulate, web-savvy players were
truly able to participate.
"They (the West) are seeing something
new," said Sari Hanafi, a sociology professor
at the American University of Beirut, to the daily
Al-Ahram. "They are looking at
civilized, peaceful people, not the
stereotypical image of the bearded Arab."
Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based news service
vilified by many during the first stages of the
Iraq War, is now in discussions with Comcast,
America’s largest cable operator, about bringing
the network’s English-language channel to
millions of U.S. homes. But we need to know
more about the partners in revolution. In the
last 60 years, the population of Egypt has
quadrupled from less than 20 million to 84
million people of which the vast majority are
under 30 years old. Youth equals change as
long as youth is educated and has access to
Protesters were only able to secure international
media coverage so quickly thanks to
their multilingualism and the ability to broadcast
their own news using smartphones. With
the world already watching, repressive
regimes were less likely to forcibly quell rebellion
so these democracy movements had the
chance to grow. Then, they were able to garner
the domestic and international support
they needed to succeed. Communication
breeds democracy so it is in all of our interests
to do all we can to encourage global literacy
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