Protest, democracy and the internet in the Middle East


The internet is being widely cited as a catalyst for the current wave of pro-democracy movements sweeping the Middle East. But to what extent is this true, and how might it be supported by British policymakers?

The PITCOM report briefs MPs on the role of the internet in Middle East post-democracy struggle. It is downloadable under this link. The report is written by Dan Jellinek of Headstar on behalf of the Parliamentary IT Committee (PITCOM).

From the ‘Green revolution’ in Iran in 2009, through events in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and beyond, the dominant view is that social networking sites (SNS) re playing a key role in organising movements in effective ways. But to what extent do they actually motivate protest or make it more likely to happen? How can undemocratic regimes use them to track or even shut down protest?

Despite all criticism on too technooptimistic viewpoints, most researchers argue that there is something new happening in the Middle East with view to how people co-ordinate their activities. Another crucial role of new media is to create more international awareness of what is taking place inside a country. And telecommunications companies are caught in a tough position between accessing markets, protecting employees and protecting the human rights of citizens.

The report suggest that some policy areas should be given careful consideration in the near future (e.g. net neutrality issues, internet governance), as “the struggle for democracy across the Middle East and the wider world is only likely to intensify in the years to come.”

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