Research on media and contentious politics in the Arab world point to the vital role that social media played in the Arab Spring. For the purposes of this article, the Arab Spring is defined as a series of demonstrations and democratic uprisings—and in the cases of Libya, Syria, and Yemen armed rebel movements—that arose independently and spread across the Arab world from Tunisia and Egypt to Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and Syria in 2010-2011 and beyond. This article advances the theoretical assumption that while not causing the Arab uprisings, New Media (defined here as all forms of digital communication technology including satellite television, cell phones, social networking, video-blogging, and citizen journalism platforms that allow broader dissemination and participation than traditional print or broadcast media) provided the technical infrastructure for these uprisings to develop, sustain, and intensify over relatively short periods. With this assumption at its focus, this paper digs out the political, economic, social, and cultural roots of the Arab Spring. It explores how Arabs’ hunger for decentralized news and information paved the road for the organic growth of a new breed of Arab “citizen journalists.” It describes how New Media technologies, which Larry Diamond (2012) of Stanford University calls “Liberation Technologies” have combined words and images on iPhones, Blackberries, laptops, and social media platforms and managed to turn previously underground oppositions in several Arab countries into Virtual Public Spheres. It explains how the so-called “Generation-in-Waiting” who could no longer wait and took to the streets in waves of demonstrations against police brutality, economic deprivation, corruption and dictatorship. It then examines how these Liberation Technologies helped to convert Arab subjects into engaged citizens. It assesses how these revolutionaries broke the government monopoly on traditional media and used New Media to mobilize, organize, and take to the streets. Furthermore, it explains how this enabled the Arab revolutionaries to “occupy” in a matter of days, not just the virtual cyber-space, but also the physical space including Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis, Tahrir Square in Cairo, Pearl Square in Manama, and the University Quarter in Sanaa, which ultimately brought the fall of entrenched dictators Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. Finally, the paper addresses the challenges academics have, and will likely continue to face, as we seek to measure, analyze, and assess the role of social media in political dissent and revolution.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.