Final Essay: The Arab Spring: The First Revolution of its Kind

“In the 21st century, the revolution may not be televised-but it likely will be tweeted, blogged, texted and organized on Facebook, recent experience suggests”

The Arab Spring was the first revolution of its kind. Instead of just word of mouth communication and relying on news outlets to spread information, people used social media websites like Twitter and Facebook to inform the entire world of what was going on in their particular country. Because social media and the internet are both relatively new concepts, the world has never seen a revolution like this. Without the internet, it is hard to conceptualize how the rest of the world would have reacted to what was going on in that region. Normally, Western media is not known for reporting accurately on the Arab world. The content that was shared on Twitter and Facebook forced the world to watch the Arab world in distress. It sparked many political debates in and out of the region. During the Arab world, social media was a tool that was used to organize protests, share information, and aid in the destruction of entire government systems. (Brown, 2012)

The impact of social media differed in different countries. The influence of social media was strongest in Tunisia and Egypt, which even led to the government of each of these countries blocking several websites for multiple days. Nine out of ten Egyptians and Tunisians responded to a survey saying that Facebook was central in helping them organize protests and spread awareness. (Huang, 2011)  In countries like Syria and Bahrain, people also used social media to mobilize. In Syria, there was even a group called the Syrian Electronic Army that anonymously protested against President Bashar al-Assad and his regime. The group uploaded videos of anti-Assad demonstrations to Youtube. (Arthur, 2013) They also frequently posted videos of violence in Syria. The Syrian Electronic Army helped to expose Assad’s regime. Despite this, the uprisings in Syria were not successful in removing Assad from the presidency. Assad’s government hired counter-revolutionary hackers. These hackers aimed to contrast the messages being spread by SEA. They also frequently attacked Western media sources. (Arthur, 2013) Internet hackers did not exist in Tunisia and Egypt. In these countries, people used social media to organize and unite.

Online activists were crucial in the revolutions that occurred; “a small circle of fellow activists were once seen by many in Egypt as the best hope for an end to corruption and repression and the dawning of an era of free speech and respect for citizens by the state.” (Georgy, 2016) For example,  Esraa Abdel-Fattah was an Egyptian protestors and one of the most prominent activists in Egypt. She was responsible for organizing protests that united people. She recorded many demonstrations and posted them on Facebook. For 18 days, she sent live updates and tweeted about the protests on her phone. After Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia, the one action that launched the whole Arab Spring, Egyptians created a page called “We Are All Khaled Said”.  This page was created by Egypt’s largest and most significant online human rights activist group. Most of these protestors were young people. The youthfulness of the protestors is also another reason why the Arab Spring is also considered the revolution of the youth. This Facebook page is credited with igniting and launching the Egyptian Revolution. Khaled Said was a young Egyptian man beaten to death by the Egyptian police. Within three months, the page had accumulated 25,000 followers. The revolution was able to come alive because of pages like “We Are All Khaled Said”. Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms allowed a space for young citizens to voice their complaints about the government. It allowed for people to share their voice in a way that they had not been able to before. Beyond organizing demonstrations, social media was a tool to spread information. Many citizens needed to spread their version of the “truth” to the outside world because for years and even in some cases decades, people had no idea how corrupt regimes in these countries were. During the Arab Spring, “a large percentage of young men and women primarily used social media…to raise awareness within their own countries about societal grievances and the ongoing uprisings.” (Mourtada, 2012)

Social media also became a gender equalizer during this time. Both Arab men and women agreed on most of the issues being discussed on social media. Men and women used social media in the same ways. Social media even became a tool of empowerment for women. I think this can be seen best through evaluating activists like Esraa Abdel-Fattah. Social media gave Fattah a platform where she could be seen and listened to. Social media gave women opportunities for advancement by providing platforms that allowed women to speak up. Through platforms like Twitter and Facebook, women were actually able to create meaningful change.

During the Arab Spring, the Arab region saw an exponential increase in social media users. For example, “the total number of Facebook users in the Arab world stood at 37,865,442 as of December 2011, having almost doubled since the same time the year before.” (Mourtada, 2012) Between the months of January and December 2011, the number of Facebook users increased by 77 percent. People in the region were actively tuned into what was going on more so than before. I believe this has to do with the fact that most protests of the Arab Spring were organized on Facebook. People initially needed Facebook in order to participate in anti-government organizations. There was also a spike in Twitter users and Twitter use during the uprisings. When the internet was cut off in Egypt, there was a decrease in tweets because Egyptian citizens did not have access to the internet. A study by Catherine O’Donnell shows how the impact of social media.  O’Donnel analyzed over 3 million tweets and content posted on Youtube and blogs to discover that social media did play a central role in shaping politics in the Arab Spring. (O’Donnell, 2011) People used social media to promote messages of democracy. These messages were able to reach people from all corners of the world. In Tunisia, immediately after protests and demonstrations occurred, people would go online and start having discussions of what just transpired. These conversations were not exclusive to the country where the protests were going on. Research found that neighboring countries also discussed the protests happening in other countries; “In other words,” Howard said, “people throughout the region were drawn into an extended conversation about social uprising. The success of demands for political change in Egypt and Tunisia led individuals in other countries to pick up the conversation. It helped create discussion across the region.” As I have mentioned, these discussions spanned past the region. The whole world was talking about the things that were going on in the Arab region. Social media forced people to open their eyes to the violence happening in the region because pictures and videos of the protests were accessible everywhere.

I was fascinated by this topic because I am generally interested in politics. I also thought that this topic fit well into much of what we discussed in class. As I have mentioned multiple times, the Arab Spring was the first revolution of its kind. This is the first time that people were able to watch war and conflict unfold by tapping through their screens as it was occuring. Through Twitter and Facebook, people were able to gain immediate exposure to the events occuring in the Arab region. The Arab Spring stood out to me in particular because I was exposed to it by watching the news and by speaking to my father. I did not watch the Arab Spring unfold on Facebook or Twitter because I was not active on those websites at the time. However, according to the research that I found, I know many people who did watch the protests as they happened online. I believe that Twitter and Facebook was a call to action from activist to citizens and to the world. The content that people were posting online was a cry for help.

The Arab Spring was not necessarily victorious for countries.  For example, the conditions that led to the revolutions in the Arab region still exist. However, I think that the “social media revolution” was really necessary. It has paved the way for many future revolutions. One that comes to mind is the current Sudanese revolution. With the help of Twitter and Instagram, the entire world was informed of what was going on in Sudan. The world had been silent while the Sudanese people suffered under their government. Sudanese people went on social media and demanded that people pay attention to Sudan and it worked. Prior to demanding attention of social media, much of the world was clueless of the Sudanese conflict. However, when people on Sudan started posting images and videos of protests on different social media websites, the world was able to tune in. The uprisings that occurred during the Arab Spring paved the way for this.

The Arab Spring is only one example of how effective social media and the internet can be. The internet is most definitely a tool that can be used for the greater good. As we have learned throughout the semester, the internet has the power to change lives. Without the Arab Spring, most of the world would not have known about the issues that plagued that part of the world. They also would not have known the citizens side of the stories. I remember my father support Gaddhafi’s regime and I think it is because of the way the news reported the uprising in Libya. Upon further research, I have come to the conclusion that there was nothing to support about Gaddhafi’s regime. Without the “truth” of Libyan citizens posted on the internet during the Arab Spring, the world might have never known both sides of the Libyan conflict.

I thank the internet for allowing us to be able to receive information from all angles and digest knowledge as we choose.

Works Cited

Arthur, Charles, and Luke Harding. “Syrian Electronic Army: Assad’s Cyber Warriors.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 30 Apr. 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/apr/29/hacking-guardian-syria-background.

Elseewi, Tarik Ahmed. “The Arab Spring: A Revolution of the Imagination.” International Journal of Communication, ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/1237.

Georgy, Michael. “The ‘Facebook Girl’ Who Started Egypt’s Revolution Is Now Hated in Her Own Country.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 25 Jan. 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/esraa-abdel-fattah-how-the-facebook-girl-who-started-egypt-s-revolution-became-hated-in-her-own-a6832686.html.

Huang, Carol. “Facebook and Twitter Key to Arab Spring Uprisings: Report.” The National, The National, 6 June 2011, http://www.thenational.ae/uae/facebook-and-twitter-key-to-arab-spring-uprisings-report-1.428773.

Mourtada, Racha, and Fadi Salem. Https://Www.iemed.org/Observatori-En/Arees-Danalisi/Arxius-Adjunts/Anuari/Med.2012/Mourtada%20salem_en.Pdf, 2012.

“New Study Quantifies Use of Social Media in Arab Spring.” UW News, http://www.washington.edu/news/2011/09/12/new-study-quantifies-use-of-social-media-in-arab-spring/.

“‘The Arab Spring’-a Timeline.” The Dissident Blog, http://www.dissidentblog.org/en/articles/arab-spring-timeline.

Tudoroiu, Theodor. “Social Media and Revolutionary Waves: The Case of the Arab Spring.” New Political Science, vol. 36, no. 3, Sept. 2014, pp. 346–365. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/07393148.2014.913841.Source 2:

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