The Tunisian Revolution, Wikileaks, and Social Media

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Context

Protests in TunisiaAccording to media reports, the Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has fled the country under mounting public unrest. He reportedly has arrived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, after being denied entrance to France. As the events unfold in Tunisia, the country is just beginning to fill the vacuum left by Zine El Abidine, who ruled the country for 23 long years. The northern African nation could very well be claimed as the first causality linked to the phenomenon of Wikileaks. The social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter also seem to have played a role in galvanizing the unrest. Events in Tunisia represent a wake up call for the rest of the Arab and Islamic world, where the gulf between the rulers and the people is ever widening.

Analysis

What started as a small number of people protesting a few days ago, has lead to the fleeing of the President. History is replete with such events; however it has happened for the first time in an Arab country. The alarming part is that the circumstances that have led to the above outcome are ripe in many other Arab and Islamic countries.

Most of the oil rich Gulf States are monarchies, a type of governing system that is not prescribed by Islam. The flow of oil revenues has prevented mass discontent to develop, although this could change quickly if the economies of these countries were to suffer. Additionally, many of these Arab monarchies and authoritarian governments need the support of US to survive.

A letter sent by an American ambassador, which was leaked by Wikileaks and detailed the corruption of Tunisian ruling family, is believed to have especially inflamed the Tunisians. People have equated the corruption of the extended ruling family to be the cause of their diminishing economic prospects. In this respect, Wikileaks has acted as a catalyst igniting the resentments and discontent that existed with in the society. In many countries, the documents leaked by Wikileaks have reinforced the perceptions widely held by the public about their rulers and elite.

As was seen in the case of post election riots in Iran recently, Twitter and Facebook social media sites were also effectively used in Tunisia to galvanize the protests. In the coming days, we can expect to see social media sites to come under increased scrutiny in many of these authoritarian countries. This would be most likely done using the garb of religion.

What happened in Tunisia has direct implications for Pakistan as well. The country’s economy has suffered from terrorism and the devastation brought by the floods has further worsened the situation. In addition, the shortage of gas and electricity is profoundly impacting the manufacturing sector. The deteriorating economy has also not only complicated Pakistan’s politics but has also escalated ethnic tensions. However, the nations elite and politicians have remained oblivious to the plight of the general public, which is causing the extremist to gain ground. On top of this, Pakistani leaders are widely believed to be corrupt and inept, and needs the support of United States to survive. When US clings to such unpopular leaders around the world to secure its interests, anti-Americanism grows and the dogmatic message of extremists gains traction.

PoliTact believes that the reset in international relations triggered by Wikileaks is likely to spread. As each country is different, it is difficult to predict how much time it would take for other repressive regimes of the region to follow the path of Tunisia. In bringing about this transformation, the role of modern electronic communication technologies and social media sites cannot be underestimated.
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