On 23-24 November, colleagues from our parent organization, the Center for Security Studies (CSS), hosted a two-day conference entitled International Peacekeeping in Africa: Actors and Missions. The event brought together an assortment of academics and practitioners to discuss a broader range of issues than the conference’s title suggests. And since the majority of the sessions were by-invitation only, today we would like to present a series of brief podcasts that summarize some of the research topics raised and discussed at the conference.
As new “days of rage” are announced across the Middle East and as the ‘Jasmine revolution’ spreads across the Maghreb and some of the most entrenched autocracies in the Middle East and Arabian peninsula, the word ‘revolution’ seems to be on everyone’s lips. Although the rest of the world, Europe included, has seen such people power-driven revolutions in the last years, this latest wave really caught the world by surprise.
How is it that decades of authoritarian oppression finally resulted in largely peaceful uprisings that are spreading like wildfire across the region? Did it come as a result of the Bush era’s democracy promotion ‘campaign’, as some right wing American politicians have argued (with just a little congratulatory tap on their own back)? Or should social media tools like Twitter and Facebook be seen as the true champions of this new media-driven process? Perhaps Julian Assange and WikiLeaks should get credit as revelations of the extravagant lifestyle of Tunisia’s first couple drove angry protesters to the streets in the very early stages of this collective Arab revolt against oppression?
Clearly the latter two both played into the complex equation that toppled the regimes of Ben Ali and Mubarak and has put many more regional despots under significant pressure to reform. Ultimately though the credit, and indeed responsibility as these revolutions turn into democracy-building exercises, lies with the people and the leaders of the opposition movements who were brave, daring and ingenious in the timing of the protests and in the way social media platforms and other tools from the handbook of peaceful revolutions were used to an impressive effect. The largely peaceful nature of these infectious uprisings has garnered a lot of praise from around the world, and rightly so. The jubilation on the streets of Tunis and Cairo was an inspiring sight when streamed on iPhones and computer screens around the world.
This is a new age of revolutions against oppression and a new age for global solidarity. The outcome of these revolutions may not yet be known, but there is no doubt that these past weeks have changed Arab and indeed world history for good.
Here are a few select publications from our Digital Library that provide context to these momentous events:
- From Dictatorship to Democracy, a seminal handbook by Gene Sharp on how to conduct nonviolent resistance against autocracies and a manual that many Egyptian protest leaders cited as an inspiration.
In the wake of the major upheavals in Tunisia, commentators are pointing to the next flash points in the Middle East, identifying countries where repression, social inequality and food crises have contributed to a simmering, and now increasingly explosive situation.
Demonstrations, strikes and street battles have already started in Cairo and other cities in Egypt (follow them on the Guardian blog), and Lebanon is in the throes of its own political crisis, with the younger Hariri stepping down in favor of what will most likely be a Shiite (and some say Hezbollah) dominated government. Sunnis all over the country have reacted in fury and mass protests are ongoing.
How did it come to this, and can people power triumph elsewhere in the region in the way it did in Tunisia?
Since the beginning of renewed unrest and protests in Tunisia, the ‘hacktivist’ group Anonymous has joined in support of the actions of Tunisians hacktivists by blocking some Tunisian websites.
As they say on one of their websites, Anonymous has entered the fight in Tunisia because “The arrests of several free speech activists and bloggers in recent days was deplorable. The punishing of people for simply expressing themselves politically was vile.” They also claim to be a “legion” that “cannot be stopped with the arrests of a few.” Or as one of the member of the group put it: “Tunisians can fight on the streets and Anonymous can’t. Anonymous can fight online but Tunisians can’t.”
This global “cyber-solidarity” with Tunisia is not surprising. The internet is a global good that is being used the world over. Moreover, it is not dangerous or particularly risky for people outside Tunisia to block government’s website there via Denial of Services (DDoS) attacks. It also makes sense for the “legion” of Anonymous hackers to be active in Tunisia as a way to promote free speech, free information and citizen-journalism. It is a globally visible, potentially effective and cheap way for this new breed of cyberactivists to make their mark on an issue that matters.
Some say that DDoS attacks like these are simply the cyber-version of doing a sit-in in front of a bank or a governmental building to make sure no one enters it. Although I disagree with this metaphor because doing a sit-in requires more political and organizational will than just clicking on a button on your computer, the mass of foreign hacktivist involved in Tunisia through groups such as Anonymous do believe they are showing solidarity with the Tunisian people and acting in accordance.
I had the chance to quickly chat with some of the Anonymous hacktivists on their channel, and many said that they believed that they have won a victory by forcing the Tunisian government to restrict the access to their website to Tunisians only. Anonymous are now moving to disrupt the e-mail accounts of government employee in an attempt to reduce their internal communication.