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Expat-ing Democracy

Dissidents, Technology, and Democratic Discourse in the Middle East


Nir T. Boms

Taking Syria and Iran as case studies, this book explores how expatriate groups have used tools such as technology and new media to influence political discourse and to irrevocably alter the political dynamics both in their home countries and in the Middle East at large. Based on over 60 in-depth interviews with dissidents, expat leaders, journalists and researchers from Syria and Iran that were conducted both before and after the Arab Spring, the author examines the tripartite relationship between technology, dissent and democratization. This approach offers a unique perspective on contemporary geopolitics in the Middle East and considers possible scenarios for the future of the region.
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Chapter 1: Media & Technology’s Function in the Quest for Democracy


1.1   Communicating Democracy in the Middle East

The concept of democracy promotion or “democratization” has troubled researchers since the dawn of political science research and has been a subject of much debate since 1830, a time when even Great Britain—in some ways the most democratic European nation of that era—allowed barely 2% of its population to vote for one of its Houses of Parliament. As will be further discussed, “democrats” – or those who believe that liberal values and basic human freedoms should serve as a basis for political governance – hold that the values of democracy should be promoted, and that an effort should be made to influence political systems to move in this direction or at least to become more protective of human rights and individual freedoms. The founders of democracy envisioned it as a just and universal system that offers inalienable rights to all. They also saw it as a paradigm of governance that challenges the traditional authoritarian system and hence one that should be promoted.

Promoting the “democratic paradigm,” as will be further discussed in Chapter 2, was historically an intellectual pursuit, a task for local democracy forces. Following WWII, this began to change and democracy promotion gradually expanded to other domains. The Cold War, solidifying a bi-polar international system, served as a convenient platform to translate the “democracy promotion” agenda to action. Democracy promotion was no longer an abstract idea but rather a “soft power” tool and a means...

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