Blog Archives

Creating A Road To Democracy

Happy 4th  of July to all! As we celebrate the independence of our country on this day and the freedoms we are thankful for, we would like to take a closer look at the road towards independence for other countries around the world.  News headlines the past few months have been dominated by the strive for democracy in the Middle East and North Africa.  Here’s our second blog post from our newest blog seriesGet Educated, One Topic At A Time featured every Monday, whose focus today is on this year’s “Arab Spring” from start to present!  And speaking of emerging democracies, stay tuned for a blog post later on this week in honor of Southern Sudan’s official independence on July 9th!

While the term, “Arab Spring” is one of some contention, there can be no denying that there is a major change happening in the Middle East and North Africa.  Said by some to be as important, if not moreso to world history than the fall of the Berlin Wall, the “Arab Spring” has significantly changed the political atmosphere both within the region and around the world.  Beginning when Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian college graduate who was selling vegetables from a cart because of the high rates of unemployment there, set himself on fire on the steps of parliament after corrupt police confiscated his wares, the resulting protests soon spread from Morocco to Iran.  On January 14, 2011, President Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali fled Tunisia, becoming the first dictator to be ousted as a result of the “Arab Spring.”

Protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square

Protests soon spread to Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak was the next to step down after three decades in power.  The demonstrations were centered in Tahrir (Liberation) Square in Cairo, Egypt’s capital city.  Thousands of people stayed in the square for eighteen days amid attempts by the government to placate the crowd with small concessions and violent attacks by forces loyal to Mubarak.  The Egyptian people persevered, however, and are now, hopefully, on their way to free and fair democracy.

Today, movements have sprung up in almost every country in the Middle East and North Africa, from small scale peaceful demonstrations for social and political reforms like in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to outright bloody conflict and civil war like in Syria and Libya.

Protesters in Sana'a, Yemen

The United Nations has not become directly involved in any country yet, though it has issued several statements expressing deep concern over the human rights abuses that are taking place.  The UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that “resort[ing] to lethal or excessive force against peaceful demonstrators not only violates fundamental rights, including the right to life, but serves to exacerbate tensions and tends to breed a culture of violence.”  The UN Security Council has also given its support to the NATO mission in Libya, and we will likely see further discussion in other UN bodies as the “Arab Spring” continues.

As the rest of the world scrambles to adjust to the rapidly changing political climate, the people of the Middle East and North Africa continue to stand up for their rights in a region that previously represented the only part of the world virtually devoid of democratic governments.  There is still a lot of hard work ahead for the reformers and nation builders of the “Arab Spring,” but they have taken a revolutionary first step on the road to democracy and freedom.

To keep up with the journey as it continues, follow the Guardian’s “Path of Protest”.

-Chris

Egypt’s Unrest and the Impact of Social Media

Photo: Alex Teague 2009

On January 25th, protests in Egypt began after a call for a “Day of Rage” was generated on Facebook to coincide with the national holiday of Police Day throughout Egypt.  The ousting of  Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and following unrest in Tunisia is credited to have helped spark the protests in Egypt.  Egypt has been under the authoritarian rule of President Hosni Mubarak for the past thirty years.  Since the day that Mubarak became President, Egypt has been under a constant state of emergency that suspended the civil liberties of Egyptian citizens.

The Egyptian Emergency Law is a significant law that the state uses to control and manage opposition demonstrations and protests.  The law suspends the constitutional rights of citizens and grants wider powers of arrest, allowing protesters to be imprisoned for any period of time without reason.  Human rights groups have been after the Egyptian government to repeal this law for years, most recently in May 2010.  Political parties exist within the Egyptian parliament, however their freedoms of expression have historically been very limited under the Mubarak regime.  Although demonstrations and protests have continued to occur in spite of the emergency law, it has still contributed to widespread fear of police brutality and public apathy.  On January 28th, the UN Human Rights Chief Commisioner Navi Pillary again called for the end of the emergency law.

Social media is not new to the protesting game in Egypt.  It was used for the first time in a major way in the April 6th Youth Movement in 2008 when they organized activities using Facebook that supported a general strike north of Cairo, in Mahalla, that shutdown daily activity in Cairo and other parts of Egypt.  In 2009, the group attempted to plan a follow-up strike, however the state cracked down on demonstrators and organizers in such a fierce way that the follow-up attempt failed.  Only a small percentage of people own their own computers, and the government tightened regulations of internet cafes.  Despite the failure of the follow-up strike, the attempt was significant because it demonstrated a new and substantial tool that could be used to disrupt the regime.

Egypt protests: the country's internet has been offline since last night. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP

Initially, the regime made a move to shutdown access to Facebook and Twitter.  Although it was successful at first, Google and Twitter joined together to enable Egyptians to tweet using the phone.   Now, the internet has been shut down in its entirety.  You can view Bill Gates’ remarks to Katie Couric about the move here.

Stay tuned for more protest updates!

-Alex.