Movements for Change
How Individuals, Social Media and Al Jazeera Are Changing Pakistan, Egypt and Tunisia
This book can appeal to a wide range of audiences, both inside and outside the academic world. Within academia, courses covering topics such as social media, social movements, comparative politics, Middle Eastern studies and global communication could use this book as a learning tool. In non-academic settings, journalism practitioners could benefit from this book to examine how social media can be an alternate media in the absence of traditional media, and how traditional news media outlets can collaborate with and utilize social media to perform their journalistic duty in oppressive regimes.
Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- Advance Praise
- This eBook can be cited
- Part I Introduction
- 1 Understanding Social Movements in the Context of Communication
- What Are Social Movements?
- The Role of Communication in Social Movements
- Hirschman’s Perspective of Voice
- Tarrow’s Perspective of Contentious Social Movements
- Lohmann’s Perspective of “Informational Cascades”
- Informational Cascades and Icons of Outrage
- 2 Creative Protests
- “Kholo BC”: A Movement Against Online Censorship
- Ramy Essam: The Singer of the Egyptian Revolution
- Hamada Ben Amor: Rais Lebled—the Anthem of the Mideast revolution
- 3 The Pivotal Role of Al Jazeera
- Al Jazeera and Pakistan
- Al Jazeera and the Middle East
- Al Jazeera as Politico-Cultural Catalyst
- Unification of Arab Citizens
- Controversial News from the Arab Regions
- Al Jazeera and the “Other” Opinion
- Al Jazeera, a Counter-hegemonic Channel
- Arab Governments and the Arab League
- The “Arab Street”
- Al Jazeera’s Role as Informational Cascade
- Part II Pakistan
- 4 Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry
- Judiciary & Military Coups of Pakistan
- Iftikhar Chaudhry: Pakistan’s Icon of Outrage
- Icons of Outrage
- 5 Social Movements in Pakistan
- Rebellion of 1857 (Indian Subcontinent’s First War of Independence)
- Second Wave of Resistance Movements in British Controlled Subcontinent
- Social Movements after the Inception of Pakistan
- The Lawyers’ Movement
- Azadi March (Freedom March)
- The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), A Militant Movement in Balochistan
- Women’s Action Forum (WAF), A Social Movement for Pakistani Women
- 6 Politico-Cultural Context of Pakistan
- Constitutional Framework of Free Speech in Pakistan
- Anti-blasphemy Laws in Pakistan
- Political & Cultural Landscape of Pakistani Media
- Privatization of Electronic Media in the Wake of 9/11
- Mobile Communication as Another Avenue of Freedom of Speech
- PEMRA Ordinance
- The Emergence of Social Media in Pakistan
- Laws That Regulate the Internet in Pakistan
- Part III Egypt
- 7 “We Are All Khaled Said”
- Khaled Said Sets the Stage for Citizen Journalism in Egypt
- Wael Ghonim: “We are all Khaled Said”
- Torture-Disfigure Face of Khaled Said Egypt’s Icon of Outrage
- 8 Social Movements in Egypt
- History of Social Movements in Egypt
- The 1952 Revolution
- The Muslim Brotherhood Movement
- Kifaya & the April 6 Youth Movements
- The National Association for Change
- Revolutionary Youth Coalition (February 2011–July 2012)
- The Tamarud-Rebel Movement (2013)
- The Egyptian Popular Current (EPC)
- 9 Politico-Cultural Context of Egypt
- Constitutional Framework of Free Speech in Egypt
- A Brief History of the Media Situation in Egypt
- Nature of Pre-revolutionary Regime
- Part IV Tunisia
- 10 Catching Fire
- Bouazizi: Tunisia’s Icon of Outrage
- Frequency & Transposability
- Fame of Subjects
- Importance of Events
- Primordiality and/or Cultural Resonance
- 11 Social Movements in Tunisia
- Labor Activism in Tunisia
- Tunisian Bread Riots of 1984
- Unemployed Demonstrators in Redeyef 2008
- Anti-censorship Protests of 2010
- The Kamour Movement and Civic Protests of April 2017
- Manich Msemah Anti-corruption Campaign
- 12 Politico-Cultural Context of Tunisia
- Ben Ali’s Business Empire & WikiLeaks Contribution to the Jasmine Revolution
- Ben Ali’s Control over the Judiciary
- Controlled Privatization of Media under Ben Ali
- Tunisians Distrust over the Country’s Traditional Media
- Constitutional Framework of Free Speech in Tunisia
- Tunisian Media before & after the Revolution
- Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI)
- Part V What Happens Now?
- 13 Collective Memory: The Rise of Global Memories
- Revisiting the Concept of Collective Memory in Global Context
- V Masks as Global Memory Icons
- Collective Memory on Digital Platforms
- The Formation of Collective “We”
- The Formation of “Connective” Memory
- Recent Political Uprisings as the Part of a Global Movement
- 14 Aftermath of Online Activism in Pakistan, Egypt & Tunisia
- Part One: Comparative Analysis of Social Movement Themes in the Three Countries
- Similarities of Themes among Three Countries
- English Language, Violence and Emotions as Political Opportunities
- Cultural and Ideological Frames of the Three Social Movements
- Presence of Religious Slogans
- Presence of Strong Nationalistic Symbols
- Part Two: Uprisings of 2019
- Sudanese Political Uprisings & Women as the Leading Face of Protests
- Aurat [Women’s] March of Pakistan
- The Algerian Spring
- Morocco, an Active Volcano for Political Uprisings
- Moving Forward: Flash Social Movements
- Contribution to the Scholarship
Many people contributed to the creating of this book. I am forever indebted to my mentors, family, and friends for their guidance, support, and love that led me to this path of success. I find writing acknowledgements to be the most difficult task because sometimes words are not enough to express my gratitude to all the amazing people who contributed to make my life more meaningful in one way or another. My expression of this brief gratitude is just a formal way to thank you all even though it means a lot more than the words printed on this piece of paper.
To my family: First and foremost, I am in dearth of words to thank my parents who were, indeed, helpful with their ideas and assistance throughout my life. They are the ones who put me on the path of learning and respecting all humans equally. I will never forget those countless moments when they preferred to pay for my school and college fees over their own food. Dear mom and dad, for everything you both have done for me, I am eternally indebted. Thank you! Most importantly, I want to thank my wife, Lamia, who has been a great support and motivation in all the stressful moments involved in the creation of this book. It is because of her true friendship, love and understanding that I was able to finish this task successfully. I owe all my successes to you, my dear soul mate!
To my mentors: My true gratitude and thanks goes to my mentors for their limitless support, guidance and advice throughout the process of writing this ←xv | xvi→manuscript. This project, which in fact started as a doctoral research initiative in 2012, was only possible because of the genuine guidance and intellectual support of my professors. First of all, I would like to thank Dr. Leo Eko for all of his contributions in setting the stage for the creation of this book. Both as a chair (during my doctoral program) and an expert on the Middle East, he was always there for me to help and lead me whenever I lost hope or direction. In 2018, when I shared my plans to build upon my doctoral research work to write this book, Dr. Eko immediately endorsed my plans with such a positive energy and started helping me with the structure and publishing guidelines right away. Dear Professor, Eko, I cannot thank you enough for all of your help at each and every stage of this book writing process! Finally, if I must pick one person who has literally changed the tracks of my professional life from being a journalist to becoming an academic, I have no other name, but of Dr. David D. Perlmutter, Dean of College of Media & Communication at Texas Tech University. My sincere gratitude and thanks go to Dr. Perlmutter, who has been my mentor and a real source of inspiration for me since 2007 when I first entered the United States as a grad student to start my Master’s degree program at the University of Kansas. Without his support and guidance, I would not be here. Therefore, my gratitude for Dr. Perlmutter is not only to thank him for this book project, but to acknowledge his contributions as my professor during my doctoral years, and then as my mentor, guide and inspiration when I joined academia as an assistant professor in the field. In my culture, it is a famous saying that your parents bring you to the planet earth, but it’s your teacher who makes you shine like a star on the skies. And Dr. Perlmutter is the true representation of that teacher! I am indebted to Dr. Bob Boynton for all his help and hard work in making sure that I understand the concepts correctly, during my days at the University of Iowa. My weekly meetings with Dr. Boynton were the best part of my learning process. I remember having long conversations with him on the Arab Spring, Social Movements, and the miracles happening around us in the age of social media.
To my friends: I would like to also thank my friend, Jesse Starkey, who read and edited several drafts of this manuscript. Her invaluable suggestions helped me to improve and clarify my writing. As a Ph.D. student when Jesse herself had a crazy busy schedule, she never refrained from taking on new challenges in the successful completion of this book. I will never forget that Jesse kept on helping me on this project even when her official RA assignment was over by the end of Spring 2019. I will forever remain indebted to Jesse for all the hard work and dedication that she put in this project, not to mention the strict deadlines that Jesse had created and enforced for me to stay on track. I am so fortunate to say that it ←xvi | xvii→was because of this book project, Lamia and I found two amazing friends, Jesse and her husband, Ian Lertora. I wish Jesse all the success in her Ph.D. program and beyond! My sincere gratitude also goes to Ali Gul Pir and Adil Omar for letting me use the lyrics of their song, Kholo BC in one of my chapters. I owe special thanks to my friends, Sana Ali, Michael Kugelman, Kevin Dilley, and Christie Perlmutter for their endless support and genuine friendship that goes beyond this book project. I am so fortunate to have you all in my life.
The 2011 uprisings in the Middle East, commonly referred to as the Arab Spring, were widely seen and celebrated as a turning point in the history of the Muslim world (Bayat, 2017; Falk, 2016; Ghannam, 2011; Harb, 2011; Khosrokhavar, 2016; Mendel, 2011; Mir, 2011; Ryan, 2011; Salamey, 2015; Volpi, 2017). These political uprisings, which shook up several countries in the Muslim world, started in Tunisia in 2010, when a Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, doused himself with gasoline and self-immolated in an attempted suicide to protest poor economic conditions and police brutality in his country (Harb, 2011; Mir, 2011; Zayani, 2015). This incident paved the way for online and real-world political protests in 18 Arab countries in North Africa and the Middle East (Ghannam, 2011), and points toward a new era of social movements and protests in the digital age (Gerbaudo, 2018; Hänska Ahy, 2016; Volpi & Clark, 2018).
This book argues that the term Arab Spring is unnecessarily limiting in scope because of its tendency to interpret the political insurrections that have taken place in many Muslim-majority countries only in the context of the Arabic-speaking ←1 | 2→Middle East. In fact, the ongoing political struggles in Muslim-majority countries are part of a much bigger phenomenon than the Arab Spring.
For purposes of simplicity, this book will use the term Muslim world instead of Arab world. By Muslim world, the author means all the countries that are members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Currently, there are 57 OIC member states, including the 22 states and territories of the Arab League (OIC, 2018). The total population of Muslims around the world in 2017 was approximately 1.7 billion, with the highest percentages (47%) in the Asia-Pacific region (World Atlas, 2017). According to Pew Research Center statistics and the World Atlas, more Muslims live in India and Pakistan (350 million combined) than in the entire Middle East-North Africa region (317 million) (DeSilver & Masci, 2017; World Atlas, 2017).
Numerous academic and non-academic writers praise social media as the sole driver of the Arab awakening (Lewontin, 2016; Dencik & Leistert, 2015; Mitchell, Brown & Guskin, 2012; Robertson, 2015; Shirky, 2009; Shirky, 2011). In other words, the Arab Spring is considered to be the direct outcome of the popularity of the Internet and digital media in the region. However, little scholarly research is available that helps us understand what factors and types of content on these alternative media platforms led to the political uprisings of the region. Therefore, understanding the circumstances and the nature of content in the case of political uprisings in non-Western settings will help us recognize the fundamental question of how social media are contributing to the new era of global social movements.
Moreover, it is important to revisit how social media in developing countries such as Pakistan, Egypt and Tunisia became an agent of change when conventional news sources failed to play their role in society because of strict governmental control. Different pressure groups such as extremist religious groups and others with vested interests have a history of creating hurdles against the smooth and free-functioning news media in Pakistan, Egypt and Tunisia. These factors may contribute to the popularity of social media as an alternative to traditional media (Peer & Ksiazek, 2011). Well before the political uprisings in Pakistan, Egypt and Tunisia, an increasing percentage of the public in these three countries had started to rely on the Internet for information about current events and to give feedback on critical issues (Farooq, 2018; Freedom House, 2018; Ghannam, 2011; Mendel, 2011). This continues to be a common practice. For example, by December 2017, Pakistan witnessed a 22.2% penetration rate of the Internet with 44,608,065 Internet users in the country (IWS, 2018b). For Egypt, the Internet penetration rate for the same period was much higher (49.5% of the population, ←2 | 3→or 49,231,493 users) (IWS, 2018a). Among the three countries, however, Tunisia wins the race in terms of its Internet penetration rate, as 67.7% of the population (7,898,534 users) had already joined the online world by late 2017 (IWS, 2018a).
Since this book is about political protests in authoritarian regimes—where speaking up against dictators and monarchs involves risk—anonymity and long-distance participation are important tools to examine, because they allowed online protesters to engage in political dialogue without fearing for their lives (Rohlinger & Brown, 2009). Bennett and Segerberg (2011) argue that the anonymity factor makes online activism more popular in authoritarian regimes than in open societies:
It is easy to grasp why personalized networking is so appealing in authoritarian regimes such as Tunisia, or Egypt, where conventional political organization—particularly of the democratic reform variety—is often policed and punished. Joining online protest networks offers at least a measure of anonymity and safety in the numbers of people with mobile phones, access to Internet cafes, or friends with tech skills, often resulting in dense recombinant networks. (p. 41)
Furthermore, it is difficult to find literature that acknowledges the fact that political uprisings similar to the Arab Spring had actually taken place or were ongoing well before the Tunisian revolution. Pakistan, the second-largest Muslim country in terms of population (over 200 million), is an example of a country where such political activism took place as early as 2007 (Arif, 2018; DeSilver & Masci, 2017; Hashim, 2012; Ricchiardi, 2012). In his book, The Dispensable Nation, Middle East scholar and a former foreign policy advisor to the White House, Vali Nasr, states that those who believe that the ongoing political and economic crisis in Pakistan could produce a Pakistan Spring are actually mistaken. In fact, argues Nasr, “Pakistan had its spring in 2008 when its lawyers, media, students, and civil society joined hands to send General Musharraf packing” (Nasr, 2013, p. 92). Likewise, Egypt witnessed its social movement, “We are All Khalid Said,” in June 2010, which was also before the Tunisian Jasmine Revolution started. Yet the academic world continues to look at Tunisia as the starting point of mass political uprisings in the Muslim world. This order of understanding needs to be changed to truly comprehend the chronology of events that unfolded to become mass political uprisings in these Muslim-majority countries, commonly referred to as the Arab Spring. This book argues that Pakistan, not Tunisia, was the epicenter of social movements in the Muslim world, which then witnessed similar activism in Egypt and finally in Tunisia in the form of the Jasmine Revolution. The Tunisian revolution of 2010, however, should be seen as a catalyst for all of ←3 | 4→the political uprisings that followed. Therefore, in order to get a clearer picture of political activism in the Muslim world outside of the Middle East, we will investigate the scope of political activism in Muslim-majority countries prior to the Arab Spring of 2011.
Also, it is important to determine whether social media platforms were the sole factors that served as alternative channels of communication during the political uprisings in the Muslim world or whether there might be other factors that need to be explored and acknowledged to make sense of the social movements of the digital age. For example, the Qatar-based, pan-Arab television network Al Jazeera was seen as a channel of revolutions during the political uprisings in countries with Muslim majorities (Galander, 2013; Harb, 2011). A number of media scholars believe that social media, especially YouTube, not only served as a platform for the protesters but also benefited Al Jazeera, since the Arab TV network could upload and disseminate videos of political uprisings online (Eko, 2012; Ghannam, 2011; Harb, 2011). This was particularly beneficial when the channel was banned from airing its transmissions in Tunisia and Egypt during the political unrests.
Moreover, this book argues that because English dominates as a language of communication on social media platforms, this may be a contributing factor to consider when looking at social media and social movements in the global context. Also, this book highlights an important aspect of the rising youth population in Muslim-majority countries—as most of them not only are educated and technologically savvy but also share a common backdrop of poor economic conditions and dismal employment outlooks. Hence, they are a group participating in levels before unseen of collective action, hoping for a better tomorrow.
This examination into the content and place of social media as an alternative form of communication during political protests will contribute to our understanding of social uprisings in Muslim-majority countries, commonly known as the Muslim world. This book explores how this political activism is related to the broader concept of social movements. The term “social movements” refers to group actions in which individuals or organizations join a collective action to achieve a common goal (Hirschman, 1970; Jenkins, 1983; Olson, 1965; Skocpol, 1979; Tarrow, 1998; Tilly, 1992). For this investigation, however, the term social movements should also be interpreted as contentious (Tarrow, 1998) political uprisings and mass protests in the three countries. Furthermore, the term networked social media refers to Internet-based human communication that involves audiences as the active producers, consumers and disseminators of content online (Burgess & Green 2018; Green & Jenkins, 2011). Two scholars, Kaplan and ←4 | 5→Haenlein (2010), define social media as “a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content” (p. 61). Scholars like Bennett and Segerberg (2011) believe that these “emergent social media networks often achieve impressive results, from toppling corrupt regimes to putting pressure on governments to consider popular feelings” (p. 5). This book makes no such claims. However, this study may contribute to our understanding of social media platforms as part of the “cascade of information” against authoritarian regimes, as well as an alternative source of information and communication during these crises (Eko, 2012; Lohmann, 1994; Mitchell, Brown & Guskin, 2012).
Why Pakistan, Egypt and Tunisia?
This book is a comparative analysis of social media in political uprisings in three countries (Pakistan, Egypt and Tunisia). The three countries are comparable as related to several variables ranging from culture, religion and politics to their geographic and economic similarities (Eko, 2012). For example, the three countries under discussion are members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and are Muslim-majority countries. In Tunisia, the population is 99% Muslim, while 97% of the population of Pakistan is Muslim, and 90% of Egyptians are Muslim (CIA, 2018 a, b, c).
The three countries also have a history of dictatorial regimes. Egypt and Tunisia were “led by long-serving authoritarian military leaders turned civilian presidents (Gen. Ben Ali of Tunisia was president for twenty-four years, Air Chief Marshal Hosni Mubarak was president [of Egypt] for almost thirty years” (Eko, 2012, p. 133), and Pakistan witnessed more than thirty-two years of interrupted dictatorial regimes starting from General Ayub Khan (1958–1971), followed by General Zia-ul-Haq (1977–1988) and President Musharraf, from 1999 to 2008 (Lieven, 2011; Hashim, 2012).
Furthermore, Pakistan, Egypt and Tunisia all have a history of government-controlled mass media. As it is common knowledge that the biggest casualty of war is truth, likewise the biggest casualty of authoritarian regimes and dictatorships is the free functioning of mass media. Historically, the mass media in these three countries were subject to strict governmental control, particularly whenever they tried to report on the plight of common people. We have seen in the cases of the political crises in the three countries under examination that at the time of the uprisings the traditional media were being blocked by the government and ←5 | 6→citizens were being punished for expressing views against the regimes. For example, in Egypt bloggers were punished, beaten and jailed for criticizing the military and the Mubarak regime (Mendel, 2011; Stack & Bronner, 2011). During the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, President Ben Ali banned Al Jazeera and other independent news sources in the country to curb the political uprisings against his regime (Mir, 2011). Similarly, Pakistan has a long history of banning media that does not support the leadership, with YouTube and other social media sites being banned for varying periods of time in 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012 (Nabi, 2013), before a local version of YouTube was launched in 2016, which the government can censor at its will (CPJ, 2018; Ricchiardi, 2012; Wilkes, 2016). Additionally, scores of journalists have been killed in each of the countries over the past decade, many murdered for reporting against the regimes (CPJ, 2018).
In addition to these similarities in terms of dictatorial rule and questionable media and individual freedoms of speech and expression, Pakistan, Egypt and Tunisia have identical economic conditions, with burgeoning populations and rising unemployment among educated youth. Also, unlike many other oil-rich Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, these three countries lack such natural resources to appease their frustrated and unemployed educated youth.
Thinking in terms of Perlmutter’s (1998) conceptualization of icons of outrage, which suggests that some images in photojournalism have the iconic power to get public and elite attention simultaneously and thus can create upheavals if turned into action, this book argues that during the political uprisings in Pakistan, Egypt and Tunisia, certain images of political protests became icons of outrage among citizens. These helped the formation and sustainability of social movements in the three countries. One example of such images can be those of the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi. The image travelled with the speed of light to the rest of the world, resulting in online and offline (real-world) political activism inside and outside of Tunisia.
This book reminds its readers that political protests have not been uncommon in the three countries. In fact, all three countries have a long history of resistance, which goes all the way back to their struggles against their respective colonizers. Likewise, even after these three countries won their freedoms from foreign invaders/rulers, political activists continued struggling for their rights and kept marching toward the federal capitals of Pakistan, Tunisia and Egypt in ongoing attempts to achieve equality for all citizens. One possible reason for choosing capital cities—and particularly sites in front of presidential palaces—is that protesters wanted to get noticed. Also, in all three countries, the traditional ←6 | 7→media cluster in their federal capitals because they are supposed to serve and report on the activities of rulers, not the plight of people (Arif, 2010; Ciftci, 2018; Ghannam, 2011; Harb, 2011; Lieven, 2011; Mendel, 2011; Stack & Bronner, 2011; Zayani, 2015). Thus, if people manage to protest in front of a parliament building or a presidential palace, they are sure to get media attention. This means their dissenting voices have a better chance of being heard on a bigger scale. In the three countries under discussion, the dictatorial regimes were well aware of this fact. Thus, when these dictators could not control the political protests, they blocked the traditional media coverage of the protests to suppress the voices of the protesters.
However, in 2007 and 2010–11 circumstances were different. For the very first time in the history of the world, people had an alternative to traditional media in the form of social media including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and blogs. Protesters used their cellphones to record the ongoing protests against their dictators and uploaded them on social media platforms. From audiences perspective, such a phenomenon of witnessing political protests as live, resembled with the traditional practices of reality television or live broadcasts. Thus, the informational cascade regarding people’s unhappiness and disapproval of the regime kept flowing on social media platforms, even though the mass media had vanished from the scene.
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- 2020 (March)
- New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. XX, 258 pp., 1 b/w ill.