What’s going on in Egypt could never have happened ten years ago, or even five. Suddenly, with worldwide access to the Internet, people have a tool at their disposal that is so unlike any we have ever known, so “game-changing,” to use a tired but apt cliché, that the political history of mankind from now on now may well be upended.
I’m not ready to give Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook or Jack Dorsey of Twitter the Nobel Peace Prize just yet, but those are some potent weapons they inadvertently created. For thirty years, Hosni Mubarak has been able to rule Egypt, as strong men and caudillos have ruled other countries before him (and still do), by sheer force of arms.
He, and others, have accrued wealth, comforts and power for themselves, their families and cronies, by creating a corrupt system that robs the wealth of their own people. Anyone who complains or foments discord is taught a quick lesson, or worse, disappears.
Now, the masses can organize with an efficiency no one ever envisioned. Even without established leaders, the downtrodden and disaffected of Egypt were able, through “people power,” to forge themselves into a tsunami that has appeared, so far, to seriously threaten (if not topple) the entrenched forces of repression.
Westerners used to think of the Arab world as forever cursed to live under the yoke of despots. Without a history of enlightened democracy in their culture, its people had no models to follow, and lay open to victimization.
Thanks to the developments of the last week in Egypt and Tunisia, we have found that human beings don’t need models to change their condition. All they need, in addition to their anger and frustration, are hope and desire. Social media have given them the means.
Their rulers know it, too, and there are a lot of sleepless nights right now in Middle Eastern palaces of power.