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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

New Media, New Game

(K. McCaffrey) -- As a partner in a firm that deals mostly with web promotion on social media, the Egyptian affair has been fascinating to watch. As Mohamed Haykal, a Nasser confidante, said in a British interview, "The effect of mobiles, computers, satellites—there is a generation coming that is outside the traditional controls. Normally, generations recreate themselves. But something else is happening."

Something else is happening and those with power now know what communication can do thanks to platforms like social media, that allow anyone to broadcast their experiences. The concern of some foreign leaders is warranted and they're acting fast against a beating tide. For instance, the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, has recently spoken to the Wall Street Journal, promising legislative reforms aimed at initiating municipal elections, granting more power to nongovernmental organizations and establishing a new media law.

"Syria is stable. Why?" Mr. Assad said. "Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people. This is the core issue. When there is divergence…you will have this vacuum that creates disturbances."
Yet as Syria finds more ways to become
connected to the web, I suspect we'll see a call for change there as well. Also, China, a country that has seen most of its inhabitants fed state-run jargon, has had to clamp down on its web censorship to include the word “Egypt.” Try as they will, I suspect the more accessible the internet and different sources of news and information become, the more free the world will work to become. ("Coersion, after all, merely captures man. Freedom captivates him." - Reagan)

To see the difference between traditional controls and the modernized versions of unrest, one has to look no further than Yemen, which has a faction of unrest brewing. Yet Yemen has not been able to raid the capital and earn similar attention as Tunisia likely because “Nine out of ten Tunisians have cell phones, but only one out of three Yemenis do. A third of Tunisians have access to the Internet, but only one out of ten Yemenis do, and their service is much less stable.”

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  1. Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther, and the Muslim Brotherhood

    “you don’t get to arrive at Thomas Jefferson unless you first pass through Martin Luther.”

    The Corner, NRO

  2. It's almost as if the establishment of a democracy in the Middle East has somehow caused a demand for democracy in other countries. Who could have predicted such a thing?

  3. You must read this. a young student from Egypt, Sam Tadros wrote this extraordinary account.

  4. Cell phone, satellite telecom, Internet, PC, Facebook, Twitter, etc. All invented you know where, mostly with money taken from the pockets of American taxpayers.
    Those liberated by this American hardware and software will express their gratitude to the U.S. taxpayers and companies.
    Of course they will. Won't they?

  5. "mostly with money taken from the pockets of American taxpayers."

    Bill Gates has been a government employee all along? Right....

  6. Of the systems listed above only the Internet started as a government project and that has been commercialized since 1994. So everything in that list is as a result of capitalist, entrepreneurial risk taking. I'm sure Bill Gates, Mark Z. and the rest would all say it was worth the risk.

  7. One inescapable feature of the Obama White House reaction to the sudden social upheaval in Egypt, has been their curious insistence on trying to get out front of the "social media" feeding flurry by putting the radical ideological cart before the process horse.

    The Muslim Brotherhood must be included in the governing process, the WH intoned in a 1/31 evening story in the Los Angeles Times.

    The Obama administration said for the first time that it supports a role for groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned Islamist organization, in a reformed Egyptian government.

    "The organization must reject violence and recognize democratic goals if the U.S. is to be comfortable with it taking part in the government, the White House said.
    . . . .

    But before that message even had an opportunity to circulate a bit, one of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood was calling for the immediate closing of the Suez Canal, and war with Israel!

    Ooooops! So much for "renouncing" violence!

    Notice that the Obama WH did not say how the MB and presumably other radicals should be elevated to governing status; just that they must be included. Via the process of elections? That is, after all, the putatively favored process by western liberal democracies such as ours, is it not? Or by a recognized process of appointment, no?

    No . . . the White House didn't say that at all! The President just demands it be done immediately. He seems to have gotten stuck on his political version of the old Nike motto.

    "Just do it!" he seems to be saying.

  8. The State Department, on the other hand, seemed a bit more restrained. In fact, on Tuesday The Hill reported the comments of Sec. State Hillary Clinton in which she sent this oddly cryptic signal during an interview on CNN:

    But when asked on CNN's "State of the Union" whether the U.S. was taking the side of government or the protesters, Clinton stressed that the U.S. had been "on the side of the people" as it had been for more than 30 years of cooperation with Cairo while advocating greater democratic and civil rights.

    "We're not advocating any specific outcome," she said.

    She said that the U.S. is trying to "keep on the message we've been on, convey it publicly and privately, and stand ready to help."

    "We do not want to send any message about backing forward or backing back," Clinton said.

    But Clinton, as quoted in an AP piece posted at Huffingtron Post, at least emphasized the primary importance of an election process, rather than just mouthing general platitudes about democratic ideals, as the President did.

    "We want to see free and fair elections and we expect that this will be one of the outcomes of what is going on," Clinton said, adding that the U.S. is committed to working with the Egyptians who are interested in true democracy.

    Meanwhile, when President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt subsequently took the enormous step of publicly withdrawing from consideration for the election in the fall, President Obama eschewed the opportunity to at least conditionally acknowledge the positive nature of the move, however limited it may have been. Obama instead immediately rejected the move, and countered by saying that the "inclusion" of the radicals in governing must take place now.

    Well, one wonders, exactly who in Egypt should decide who comes into the government right now, Mr. Obama? Who gives the imprimatur of approval to the incoming radicals?

    In what key positions should these hitherto disenfranchised radicals immediately serve?

    Should, for example, someone from the Muslim Brotherhood be appointed as a political commissar of the armed services? Would that be in line with the President's personal inclination to install tsars in charge of ill-defined jurisdictional areas, thereby arguably circumventing the constitutional requirement for "advise and consent" of key executive positions? Should there be any sort of process to examine incoming radical appointees?

    And, who would oversee the immediate transition process to ensure that it is done in a passably stable manner – without taking inordinate risks that might lead to a coup taking place?

    This business of personally seeking distance from the current autocratic Mubarak regime through press channels without suggesting any way forward, is little more than irresponsible demagoguery on his part.

    Hopefully, someone will capture some attention, perhaps through the social media, and suggest the formation of a national unity commission to oversee current appointments and new elections, or, even issue a call for a constitutional convention of some sort.

  9. Interesting to watch one aspect of this unfold in America. People under 35 or so can't imagine how limited media and communication were in the 1950s or 1960s. They clearly use the advantages of diverse, non-centralized media and communication all the time. Yet they seem to disproportionately favor centralized, statist government philosophy. Presumably, because it has been hammered into them their entire lives in school, in the universities, in the popular culture. Interesting so many of them have not noticed that particular contradiction between what they think---or reflexively, uncritically believe---and how they act every day.