The Arab world is awakening to a new political era. Times of real democracy and respect for human rights seem to have arrived to a region which seemed condemned to live in the permanent dilemma between secular autocracy or radical Islamic rule. It is too soon to say, but from what I’ve seen from trips, conversations and research about the region, this seems to me a radical change from past experiences. This is neither an Islamic revolution (the deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Rashad al-Bayoumi, said in an interview to the Spiegel “We don’t want this revolution to be portrayed as a revolution of the Muslim Brothers, as an Islamic revolution. This is a popular uprising by all Egyptians”), nor a traditional liberal one. Islamist groups have played a marginal role in the uprising, and no secular political groups or leaders are capitalizing the change. Instead young people from different affiliations, religions and political beliefs coordinated their action under the conviction that their country was in a bad state, it needed to change, and change had arrived.
There is no single cause or factor that explains these sudden political changes. There are, however, elements that facilitate it happening. And today this is how people are using new tools of information, communication and organisation to challenge the power of the state against those who appropriated it for their own personal benefit. In autocracies, this means bringing the authorities to kneel by the force and conviction of the many, coordinated to achieve a well-defined common goal e.g. in Tunis and Egypt for the toppling of the dictators (Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak).
This is people’s revolution. Those who don’t enjoy the rights and obligations of democratic citizenship, revolt against the powerful to get them. This will extend to many other autocracies in the world. Many countries are ready for a real people’s revolution.
In well-established democracies these technological changes may facilitate revolt against the privileges of the political class – from the pettty corruption of letting the taxpayer pay a hotel room in a private trip to the big commissions attached to public procurement contracts -, and the manipulation of state structures for the benefit of the few, those with money and position to influence, sometimes even determine, how we are governed – above all the financiers, who with arrogance move money, take money as they please.
This is the citizens’ revolution. Those who enjoy democratic citizenship use it to stop the crooks, the corrupt, the greedy profiting from the loopholes that an imperfect system – as it always will be – offers them for their private gain.
Citizens have the right to get all data their governments produce. Citizens have the right to get all information about the activities of their representatives when in public office. Citizens have the right to know how their money is being spent, up & down to the tiniest detail. Citizens have the right to know.
In the knowing and in connection with each other on the Internet, we then can claim and use our rights as citizens. We can coordinate our protest to achieve a common goal: get rid of those who corrupt our democracies.
“In the knowing”. Our new connection technologies allow us to mobilize quickly against a variety of issues. It’s then easier to “destroy” than to construct, at least in the first place. Manipulation can be very powerful if done right e.g the Tea Party movement, based on the ignorance of many. How we use the abundant information we now have access to, how we act upon it in connection to each other depends on many factors. An important one is the quality of the information we get. Just opening information is not enough, we need to convert it into knowledge, that is, give to it credibility and meaning and share it in the new public spaces the Internet is offering us. But we cannot rely anymore on the traditional gatekeepers of this knowledge – traditional media, governments, private companies -, for their structures are part of the problem. Thus we have to rely on ourselves. Some say this is not possible, the Internet is bringing real knowledge down (e.g. Andrew Keen among others). I don’t believe so. I believe given the right structures we can produce knowledge that helps us towards constructing for our common goal, not only destroying. Not only toppling down, but also building up.