“A new bold stance to say no.”
Middle East and role of Social Media
With the dramatic top down violence of US drones in the Middle East it is easy to overlook that not just generals and presidents dictate events in the region, but people to people power has become a major force countering this.
Wellington’s Tahir Nawaz, President of the International Muslim Association of New Zealand recently met with the prominent Jordanian academic Mr Ra'ed Fawzi Ihmoud, Founder of Third World Institute for Research and studies, to discuss the mood in the Middle East. Raed confirmed that the region is still reeling under unprecedented challenges from the Arab spring. Tahir asked him of the recent protest events and the role of social media in them. (The region has some of the highest rates of social media uptake in the world.)
“In my own country, Jordan, we have only a limited protest here for economic reasons. Some other countries also have similar motives behind their protests; but the majority of Arab countries have called for political reforms, civil liberties, freedom of speech, their basic rights.
Unfortunately most of the protests in the Arab world have ended up involving violence, either against the regime or against the people themselves. Fortunately, in Jordan, the protest movement hasn’t yet got violent; they saw the dramatic consequences that hit most of the Arab countries which witnessed serious protests; the regimes in these countries had used violent measures in suppressing the protest movement which opened the doors for external players that collaborated in shifting peaceful protests to a violent one, damaging the country.
The Jordanian citizen will turn on the TV and see the catastrophic situation in Tunisia, Damascus, Aleppo and others, and they don’t want to see that here, so they became a bit wiser by addressing only their own needs as their protest agenda. There are many challenges such as political challenges, social challenges that can create or guide a country into an unfortunate end if one really decides to capitalise on such things as different origins of citizens.
Since we do not have a strong economy, no raw materials, we don’t have much in the way of energy products, this makes us dependant on foreign donor countries, so they know our weakness which they can use against us easily. In the Middle East, such as our neighbouring countries in Syria violence has been going for years. The 12 million refugees outside the country with some of them in Jordan, we have to deal with these situations, especially in the midst of the international community failing to conform to their commitments towards refugees.
The same thing is happening in Lebanon. The later is currently witnessing ongoing protests and there are people protesting to improve their living conditions in order to increase their salaries and wages, but the problem is that there are some parties, internally or externally, who are trying to shift the situation from being a protest to improve their conditions to give it a more political nature.
Over time as we have learnt in many cases, that if the protest goes on for a long period of time, we can expect that other countries will try to sabotage the situation. But, in such a situation, the leaders should be wise enough to realise that there are parties who want to shift such legal protests to different outcomes. Unfortunately, most of our Arab governments and leaders have failed, from the beginning, to overcome such negative ends, as their main concern is how to remain in power.
Unfortunately, hundreds of people have being killed. Still most of the protests are of the sectarian type, the protest of Shias in the middle of Iraq, the other parties protesting, the Sunnis, they are not much interested to participate at this particular time, because they know that means everyone will accuse them of collaborating with a foreign agenda like working with the Saudis or with the Emirates and this is something they don’t want to fall into again, because they have already been the victim of supporting ISIS and everyone is accusing them, attacking them because they were housing these Jihadis or these radicals that managed to seize one third of the country in 2016.
The people are marching into the streets calling to improve their living conditions, unemployment statistics show that it is at the highest percentage ever. Young generations constitute 70% of this country, there is a huge number of them that don’t know when they will be able to form a family, they are jobless for quite a long period of time without a positive horizon, so, what do you expect them to do? They march into the streets until their demands are met.
In regards to the countries in the Arabia peninsula and the other Arab countries, they have said they are also witnessing a repositioning towards a new future, it seems that the region itself and its people are moving towards a new position, a new life. I think, once the people start, nothing will stop them towards achieving their hopes and expectations. Yes, the situation in these countries are a little bit difficult but there has always been hope that things will change for the good. But, this depends on external powers or players to achieve your domestic goals, it will only end in putting your lot in with them, consequently, you would fall into their own interests at the expense of your own national interests.
I think that of course the super powers like United States, they want to use these protests to meet their own interests and, unfortunately, that can go for a different road away from your national interests, away from your country’s future, which would end in adopting violent tools against your own governments, consequently, without you noticing you will end in a bloody civil war. For the last decade, most Arab countries that witnessed the Arab spring have managed to topple their own regimes and form a new regime, but unfortunately the deep old institutions in these countries have returned back and now they are controlling these governments again. Unfortunately, these governments have learnt their lesson and are now using a more firm grip against any protest on the ground.
But the good thing is that the people have reached a level that they have had enough and regardless of the violence received, regardless of the punishment, long terms in prison, they want their future life and this is why they have gone to the streets. All governments will need to be aware of the fact that it is not the time of these tyrannical regimes any more. You didn’t help us into the future, you always put us behind.
Despite the bad implications that came from this era, the Arab spring, the good thing I believe is that the Arab spring has given us, i.e. the people, a new bold stance to say no; this is healthy. Why I am saying this is because this is the first time our governments, despite that many of them are still in power and some of them have returned back to violent measures but also they are thinking about the future of their decisions. Now I think ministers have stopped taking many actions or decisions, because they know that any unpopular decisions or suspicious acts of corruption will be faced bluntly from at least a part of the people.
Officials in high posts became aware of the possible prosecution against them if they adopt such unpopular decisions, so they have to be a little bit cautious and careful. The people are not the same as they were before, the people have changed and have more awareness and they are more organised, they can form into organisations using social media, the government cannot control them any more like before, the government would tell us something and we would believe it but now there is more than one source of information, social media has opened the horizon for us and I think this is why the people on the ground have became a lot wiser, have more awareness and they know what is at stake.
Now anyone can be a source of information, now there are conferences, there are many things that happen every few minutes which people became aware about in a very short of time, I can make a statement for the social media and instantly it represent my stand towards certain issues without necessarily waiting for the authorities’ approval. So, you become a source of news, it can provide you with pictures, videos to cement this news. Nobody can say things are fine and that we all should believe it?
Unfortunately, many of our acting governments in the Arab world still live in this mentally from the 50s or 60s, that anything the government says is true; when the President or the Monarch says something everyone should believe it, but now people have many channels, many sources that they can go and learn about what is happening around them. It will only need a few posts to persuade angry crowds to rush spontaneously into the streets.”