One of the many reports from Egypt that caught my attention was the suspension of internet services for the entire country. Why were President Mubarak and his regime trying to cut off Egypt from the internet? The answer was Facebook. Egypt has over 5 million Facebook users, mostly younger Egyptians, who coincidently are in the same age group as the Egyptians protesting the Mubarak government and calling for Democracy. The protesters used Facebook, Twitter and their smart phones to coordinate demonstrations, and to spread their messages throughout Egypt and the World. With new protests in Yemen underway, and recent demonstrations in Tunisia, both fueled by the youth of their respective countries, it is interesting to see what will happen in those countries around the world that are under more authoritarian rule, will Facebook be banned in those places?
“I have talked to people inside Facebook in the last week, and they are debating this internally. Many countries where Facebook is popular have autocracies or dictatorships, and most of the countries have passively tolerated their popularity. But what’s happened in Egypt or Tunisia is likely to change other countries’ attitudes, and they’ll be more wary of Facebook operating there.” -David Kirkpatrick, author of “The Facebook Effect”
At the end of the 80′s the Berlin Wall fell, and everyone lavished praise on diplomacy and America’s great foreign policy, because we won the cold war. Now diplomacy and foreign policy may have contributed, but I think the bigger effect was the Americanization of the youth behind the Iron Curtain. MTV, McDonald’s, and Pepsi could claim just as much credit for the fall of Communism in Europe. When the under 35 year old population sees their peers in the West eating Big Mac’s, sipping ice cold Pepsi Free and singing along with Madonna as she prances around with a lion, they become angry at a system that forces them to live on less $2 a day while government officials and the elites are driving Mercedes and eating caviar. The Chinese didn’t miss the fall of communism in Europe and they censor their TV/media to disallow anything that might result in another Tiananmen square, and even in the recent past, the Chinese government has done their best to censor the internet to limit what Chinese citizens get to see on the web. Will Dictatorships, Theocracies, and other authoritarian governments ban Facebook in their countries?
As it was 25 years ago in Eastern Block Europe, it’s a similar story in the Middle East today, poor hardworking younger people want more for themselves and their children, and they have hit the breaking point and want it now. Will Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen become more democratic? Only time will tell. What I do know, is that one of America’s greatest exports has been and should always be Democracy, whether exported by education, television, movies, the internet or any other means. What do you think?
For more info on Facebook’s affects in Egypt, check out this article by Cecilia Kang and Ian Shapira, from the Washington Post.