Populations and Regimes in MENA: Globalization and Dynamics
March 20, 2017
The unprecedented access to information in the Middle East and North Africa have had a great impact on the population and regimes. The population, largely thanks to the internet access, started having access to alternative versions of news, documentaries, reports and communication using social media. State owned media, for instance, changed from delivering one-sided official readings of events to a more justificatory approach that takes into consideration other materials made available in the world wide web.
Having access to devices that can broadcast video clips and images internationally, the population in MENA was empowered to influence regimes that always feared for their image within the community of nations. Such regimes gave up or reduced many practices, especially, when confronting protesters that would not be given up if there was no fear of being exposed.
A good example for the impact of the globalized communication and social media on the people in MENA is the Targuist Sniper, a Moroccan citizen who filmed many Moroccan traffic police officers taking bribes and published them on Youtube (Kevinmax120, 2007). He embarrassed authorities to the level where they were obliged to send their officers to trial.
Youth demographics have different values and ideas than their seniors, Dr. Bessma Momani suggests, thanks to globalized communications and social media made available for a growing numbers of educated youth (Watson Institute 2015). It is worth adding the fact that in the same way the population used social media, authorities in MENA also used it to advance their own agenda, ranging from propaganda to intelligence collection. In some countries like Iran, although Facebook cannot be accessed, the Islamic Republic uses it from Lebanon and other countries to create pages for the supreme leader and for the Republic's own Arabic and English speaking channels like Alalam and Press Tv.
It is hard to argue that social media alone played a critical role in the Arab Spring. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are classified second and fourth respectively among the top 15 countries with the highest percentage of the population using a smartphone (Fox 2016). This remains among the elements that support Khondker's idea that social media was a crucial mobilizing tool, yet it is not the only tool (Khondker 2011).
The Arab Spring only led to regime change in countries where protest movements are sustained by external forces. Globalization alone and the high smart phone penetration rate did not lead to a regime change in Saudi Arabia nor did it in Emirates. In fact, In Yemen, we saw how the protest movement in the poorest Arab country sent the president to exile and is continuously facing a brutal crackdown by Saudi Arabia and its alliance of hereditary Arab regimes.