Categories
Network World Politics

From People’s revolution to Citizens’ revolution: Uprising for a common goal


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.

Categories
Network World Politics

صوت الحريه…the voice of freedom

Categories
Network World Politics

A few notes on Egypt’s twit-face-wiki-jaz revolution

Having done some research work on Middle East politics (including a Masters in Middle Politics) and being academically, professionally and personally connected to what the Internet is doing to politics, it is amazing how I haven’t commented on what’s happening in Egypt yet. I want to write a longer article on young people, revolutions and communication. But for now, I’ll have to be satisfied with a bit of free time I have found to write a short note on Egypt twit-face-wiki-jaz revolution. A short note, because I just want to point towards a couple of interesting sources, on internet or non-internet related factors in relation to the Egyptian revolution.

First I should mention the unavoidable Evgeny Morozov (@evgenymorozov) and his article “The dark side of Internet for Egyptian and Tunisian protesters“. Not that he says much more than his usual (see his book The Net Delusion)): new communication technologies help democratic and non-democratic revolutions alike, dictators also use Internet to repress, there are more reasons behind a revolution than the Internet. But it is also interesting to have a powerful critical voice out there, pointing these (rather obvious?) facts.

Then there is one of my favourites, Patrick Meier (@patrickmeier). He has interesting articles on his blog iRevolution about the use of crisismapping – particularly Ushahidi – for mapping the Egyptian protests.

Two articles analysing the situation in Egypt. First about the first US reactions (on Foreign Policy), and, second, in the context of a possible Middle East awakening (on openDemocracy). And a collection of articles on Foreign Policy magazine about the options and consequences for US diplomacy.

UPDATE: How Facebook, YouTube & a 28-year-old Egyptian man killed by police fueled the #jan25 revolt. NYT article “Movement Began With Outrage and a Facebook Page That Gave It an Outlet“.

Categories
Europe Network World Politics

Just thoughts

Tomorrow I’m flying to Warsaw. Since June, I’ve been training Polish civil servants on EU negotiations for the Polish Presidency in the second semester in 2011. I won’t tell you about my impressions at this moment. I’ll do it when the training is finished at the end of January 2011. At this moment, it is mixed, though more positive than negative…

In the meantime, France is melting down, or so it looks like. Would the government concede or the demonstrators become tired of so much protesting? I’d bet for the second. Sooner or later people will have to go back to their jobs, to consume and ignore the neighbour…this is not 68 anymore. This has negative – e.g. no further debate about the appropriateness of the economic measures or a path to change of economic model – and positive – e.g. defeat of the most conservative forces in the left (which are, I reckon, quite powerful in France (and arrogant too!)) – effects. Europe is trapped in this false dilemma between neo-liberal recipes for our economic predicament and old, reactionary social policies, which are based on the actual exploitation of a big part of the human population and natural resources e.g. cheap oil price, low salaries, authoritarian governments…

A new narrative, discourse is necessary. A discourse that’s brewing, and it’s actually there, but that needs (1) leadership and (2) momentum i.e. the right generation to support it. This discourse is based on simple ideas: (1) Big truths do not exist = nobody is 100% and always right, (2) we only have one planet, (3) we are what we are = we should solve our own problems, each and everyone of us, (4) everything is connected.

Categories
Politics

A Polish Tragedy

By coincidence, I am in Poland this weekend. I went to the centre of Warsaw to see and feel the mourning Polish citizens are demonstrating for those killed in this morning’s plane accident, including the Polish President Lech Kaczynski. I have videos and pictures I will post tomorrow.

The emotions one can feel in front of the Presidential palace are overwhelming…

Categories
Facebook General Politics

You don’t need to follow anybody

Categories
Politics

Liberating women in our everyday lives

The liberation of women is still an ongoing process. In the last 50 years we have made great advances in the legal, economic and political rights of women. There is much to do in the world on this. But there is much more to do in the social and cultural dimensions. In our societies, we still hear how women are verbally misrepresented, attacked or discriminated. We still see how women are sexually attacked and violently beaten. We still treat women as inferior beings, which don’t think like us, and so don’t deserve the same responsibilities. Even if consciously we don’t realise it, in our everyday lives we often treat women as objects, trophies or servants. When I say “we”, I am not only referring to men, I am referring to society, men and women. It is our cultural values and social practices that put women in this position. Some benefit from it, many suffer from it.

The real liberation of women. The one in which they have the opportunity to be women without being attacked, discriminated against or dominated. It does touch me directly since I was born. Now, it touches me even more.

Categories
Information Politics

Greece, Wall St and the Seven Dwarfs

In a world where politicians and civil servants do nearly what they please with our money and resources, because we, the citizens, don’t have enough instruments to scrutinize what they are doing, the banks take advantage to reap the possible benefits. This is what happened in Greece and other European countries on the road to the Euro before 2001. And this is probably what continues to happen today.

The New York Times, still the best newspaper in the world IMHO, has a news article on how Goldman Sachs and other Wall St banks negotiated financial products with the Greek government, and possibly other European countries, which facilitated their hiding of high deficits to get onto the Euro. In return, they got the future proceeds of Greece’s airports and highways, among other things in a deal termed as a “garage sale”.

This is what happens when governments and public administrations do what their please without the proper scrutiny. In most of Europe, parliaments are not anymore, if they ever where, a place of accountability, but of consent and quarrelling. Today, it is up to the citizen to control that those who govern us and administer our resources and tax money do it properly. Every bit of control, even the minor one is useful by aggregation. For this we need new instruments and rules. Opening public data to all (e.g. data.gov and data.gov.uk) is a very good step in this direction.

Categories
Information OII Politics

We’ve got a new online sheriff: Facebook

At the request of the UK government, Facebook took down 30 pages linked to prison inmates who were, according to the authorities, behaving inappropriately on the site, including taunting victims’ family members. It took them 48 hours to do it.

In itself this fact is worrisome. At the request of a government Facebook decides, at its own judgment, to curtail the individual freedom of 30 people (for though they are in prison and they are crime offenders, they are still people), without the intervention of a judge to guarantee the respect of fundamental rights. It seems that victims, government and Facebook (!) are the new authorities with regards to online freedom.

But it gets worse, for these new authorities are taking their self-assigned responsibilities very seriously, according to their declarations reported on today’s International Herald Tribune (print-version).

Gary Trodwell of Families United, a group founded by relatives of young murder victims, said:

When someone is convicted of a crime he loses his civil liberty through sentencing…We say he should lose his cyberliberty as well.”

Will Mr. Trodwell run for Parliament to get that law passed?

Even worse, John Straw commenting on the excessive time that took Facebook to take off the pages (48 hours!), he said:

What we’ve got to do is set up a better system with Facebook so that if they get a notice from us that this site is improper the all tehy have to do is not make a judgment about it but press the delete button”

What about given the same powers to China or Iran, Mr. Straw?

Even, even worse, Facebook wants to become the online sheriff, or at least that’s what Sophie Silver, a Facebook spokeswoman, is implying when she affirms that:

Facebook is absolutely committed to keeping its sites safe and clean…[the web could] be a wild an unruly place. Facebook tries to put some rules and protocols on top of the unruly Web.”

Wow, good thing we have Facebook, don’t you think? Otherwise we’ll be all online raped and smuggled by the scary people populating the “wild and unruly” online world!

Categories
Politics

The best of party politics is in local politics


Yesterday I did some digital reporting. For nearly two weeks, I’ve been collaborating with TweetyHall & FutureGov in preparation for the UK elections in May. His founder, Dominic Campbell, asked me if I could attend the first conference of local councilors in the UK C’llr10 organized by the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) last Thursday. So armed with my iPhone and a Kodak digital camera I tweeted about it, took some pictures and recorded some interviews with councilors about their use of the web in their work.

I am very critical with the party system. I think it is based on bureaucratic and opaque principles that are not much adapted to the informational and social transformation of the last decades. When I arrived, I saw all these councilors, most of them in suit and tie, that looked, in my eyes, like political bureaucrats, just managers of mid-size organizations. This image was confirmed by the speeches in the plenary: Caroline Spelman, tory shadow secretary for local government, Julia Goldsworthy, lib-dems shadow secretary for local government and John Denham, the current secretary for local government. Nothing new under the sun, and lots of “ours is great, yours is awful” discourse.

Yet, during the day and through getting into small conversation with some of the councilors my perspective changed. There are good people in local politics doing very important stuff. Communities should thank these people for their work, for most of them feel it in their hearts, and do it for vocation. My last personal tweet after the conference was:

I am very critical with the party system, but today I’ve seen at #cllr10 how the best of it is in local politics #win