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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 5: Media, Virtual Media and Real Revolutions


5.1   Media and Political Change

A quick review of Arab Spring writings will reveal a large number of headlines associating the virtual world of the Internet with the real world of street protests, political mobilization and Jihadi recruitment.

“Will the revolution be tweeted?” asks one article and another responded that it already is.1 The pictures from the protest squares do still include fiery speeches where people with megaphones horn “down with the dictator.” But they also include another group of scruffy young men and women staring down at their Twitter and Facebook applications, beaming the revolution away. “The main catalyst for the January 25 revolution was the Internet, so it may be accurate to describe this as an Internet-based revolution” writes Rasha Abdullah from the American University in Cairo.2 However, while the role of the Internet and social media as a trigger to this latest wave of events is significant, its overall effect and outcome is still contested and debated, especially in relation to the role this media played at the service of the liberal and pro-democratic camp. As noted by Jeffery Swindle:

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