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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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Introduction: Expat-ing or Exporting Democracy


This book is the culmination of more than a decade of work and engagement with activists seeking to bring democratic discourse and democratic change to the Middle East. That work began on September 11, 2001 in Washington DC where, as a young researcher, I encountered voices of Middle East expatriate who argued about the feasibility of democratic change in their native countries, a process that appeared only too appealing in the months and years that followed. Soon after, under the leadership of President George W. Bush, the US began to pursue a more assertive democracy promotion agenda, providing additional platforms and resources for those who argued that such a change could realistically be achieved.

Technology became a clear factor in these events in light of its rapid dissemination in the region and at large. Egypt had a million cell phones in 2000, 60 million a decade later and more cell phones than people in 2015. The ASDA’A Burston-Marsteller 2015 Arab Youth Survey showed a generation of connected people, 82% of whom use the Internet daily and 77% who use a smart mobile phone. Clearly, people are communicating and somebody is listening – but to what?

As a son of the region, an Israeli who thus far has had limited opportunities for constructive engagement with my own neighbors, I have become fascinated and intrigued by these voices of change. It was not difficult to enlist in a journey aimed at creating a freer, safer and more...

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