TWQ: The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted - Fall 2011
October 1, 2011
Judging by the popular press, in January 2011 Twitter and Facebook went from being simply engaging social diversions to become engines of political change that upended decades of Arab authoritarianism. It is tempting to be swept away by this narrative, which suggests that social media prompted hundreds of thousands, and then millions, of Tunisians and Egyptians to pour into the streets and peacefully demand change. Brittle authoritarian regimes had little choice but to comply, and in this way, social media irrevocably changed the future of the Middle East. Following the logic to its conclusion, it would suggest that the Middle East is on the brink of a period of democratic consolidation, as the ideals and tools of revolutionaries lead the region forward into a period of anti-sectarianism, liberalism, and hope.
Such a narrative glosses over much of what is important about what has happened in the Middle East in early 2011. As we look ahead into the post-protest period, the limitations of social media are becoming more apparent. Social media are not evidently helpful in facilitating political bargaining in constitution-writing processes, and social media have only played a limited role in helping form new political parties. In both cases, old-fashioned political horse trading and solid field operations seem to be decisive. Getting the analysis right on what has happened will help observers and participants think more clearly about what might yet happen.