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February 01, 2011

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thank you, Luke and Noel for this. I'm insanely busy these days, but this has been excellent in helping understand what's going on.

Another blog I browse popped up something thoughtful about this but from another POV, the USNI blog's post "Google Declares War on the Egyptian Government" puts things in a different perspective. It's buying a bit too much into the internet is key to the egyptian protests, but its main thrust of argument isn't that.

http://blog.usni.org/2011/02/01/google-declares-war-on-the-egyptian-government/

Sure thing, Will. I read the USNI blog, though I don't comment there. The idea is appealing, like the end of the movie "Serenity" but the work that goes up over at "The Monkey Cage" is much more impressive in explaining the social underpinnings of the revolution, and Marc Lynch has a stronger grip overall of how Al-Jazeera and the Internet have changed the Arab world.

He's smarter than I am, btw.

Hi Noel and Luke,

Thank you for your interesting blogposts to give some much needed context to a confusing situation. I was wondering whether you could elaborate a little bit on the possible effect these protests have on Syria.

You state that Syria is likely to come through without any real trouble. How so? Is the Baathist regime stronger than the more personalist regimes in countries such as Egypt? Or is president Assad a more savvy leader, more flexible perhaps?

Love to hear your thoughts!

Kind regards

Jan,

Sure thing.

Syria is one of the "better" dictatorships. Not in a moral sense, but in an operative one. Hafiz Al-Assad (father of the current President) flattened the city of Hama rather than negotiate with the Muslim Brotherhood in 1982.

The current President, Bashar Al-Assad, gained credibility early for his "Damascus Spring" in which he increased liberties (from none to "a couple") though internet access remains limited and slow (DSL arrived in country in 2008), public assemblies remain small, and the secret police operate at Stasi levels of penetration. The Assads and their allies have strangled civil society. As Bashar has consolidated the palace behind him, it would be difficult to take him out, as there are no competing institutions.

Though Syria's taken on Iraqi refugees and lost face following the 2005 withdrawal from Lebanon, the worst of Syria's rabblerousers are dead in Iraq's Anbar province.

This contrasts with Mubarak's Egypt that kept a vibrant, literate, and diverse civil society (Egypt has the world's third largest film industry, frex), but had a "normless" dictatorship as MPs were immune from prosecution for any crime they committed.

Hope that answers your question.

In addition, Syria does not rely on massive military aid from the United States. The Obama Administration can order Egypt to refrain from using guns on the demonstrators; nobody has such easy leverage against the Syrians.

There is a great Russian expression for a certain type of dictatorship: "vegetarian." Egypt is much more vegetarian than Syria.

Yup. The Egyptian Officer Corp, General Staff, and Minister of Defense have gotten a lot of calls from their US counterparts over the past week.

Push comes to shove in Syria, I don't doubt that Assad would machine gun, or run over his populace with tanks. And I'm sure his populace knows it.

Thanks for clarifying! I agree by the way with Noel's point of view that internet triumphalism is not the way to go with Egypt and Tunesia. Seems to like people that have nothing to do with the whole thing are trying te become part of something that isn't theirs to claim. It is, in the end, and Egyptian domestic issue...

Wow, awful spelling there :-S

Glad to help.

As for Internet triumphalism--yes, it's bad, and it makes for a great headline, which makes it appealing. But I'd hasten to separate Egypt and Tunisia. The former, as I said in a post below, has about 8-10% of the population online and only a bit more using mobile phones. Tunisia is much richer and better educated than Egypt, and tends to have wider internet access.

It's also a "not only" issue. Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya may not be unbiased, but they are highly problematic in the states where they break the government media monopoly. I'd suggest Lynch's "Voices of the New Arab Public"

Whenever events cool down, I'll have two theory posts; one about mobilizing crowds against authoritarian regimes and one about digital media in the Arab world and its impact on politics.

Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya aren't digital media, though. It seems weird to conflate satellite TV and the smaller-scale stuff.

I'm looking forward to the theory post --- the problem I have with most of the existing stuff is that it ignores the fact that crowds have been mobilized against authoritarian regimes for centuries now.

I'm working on it. I also have midterms.

I'm trying to work out a catch all for "satellite TV plus internet access plus social media" that I don't glue together as "new media" because Jesus, that sounds terrible.

These seem like three very different things.

Moreover, separating them forces you to try to separate the necessary from the sufficient. Frex:

(1) "Social networking is sufficient but not necessary." E.g., it increases resistance to authoritarianism, but so do the other two things.

(2) "Social networking is necessary but not sufficient." Blogs and satellite TV do the work of weakening authoritarian regimes, but they require social networking to get the effect.

(3) "Social networking is necessary and sufficient." The Twitter Revolution is real.

(4) "Social networking neither necessary nor sufficient." Social networking is an epiphenomenon. At best, it speeded up changes that would have happened fairly quickly without them.

Repeat with "blogs" and "satellite TV." That gives you 12 possible permutations, of which one is the one you believe the evidence supports.

These are three very different conclusions. If you lump the three things together, you can't separate them, and you've got to choose between only four possible conclusions.

In short, lumping together the three things may lead to analytic sloppiness and insupportable conclusions. I would avoid any catch-all term. You're looking at the effect of new communication technology. Since those technologies are quite different, you then examine them separately.

Trying to measure or prove the effect of media is a difficult thing anyway. Like Noel posted earlier on: mass uprisings and demonstrations have occured basically since organised society has come into existence. It seems like much more a perception than a cause/effect issue.

But then again, I only follow the news, I haven't critically investigated it.

Maybe you could try to make some sort of comparison between the events in Iran in 1979 and Egypt or Tunisia now?

Do you see any chance of unrest spreading to Saudi Arabia? THAT would really get the rest of the world's collective panties in a collective twist!

Well, I'm not really sure any of your 4 possibilities apply. I mean, I'd say it's something like:

For any given level of dissatisfaction, there is a required level of communications bandwidth that may be manipulated, directly or indirectly, by the people of a country to allow the people to effect change in their government. Social networking, internet access, cellphones, the printing press, photocopiers, mimeograph machines, radio, television, conversations in coffee shops, whispered meetings in dark alleys, big-letter posters, and yelling in the street all contribute some amount of communication bandwidth.

(For "required level of communications bandwidth" substitute "necessary and sufficient level"...)

Peter,

No. Between the poorly equipped Army, the well equipped secret police, the oil remittances, and the fact that the monarchy survived the 1970's and Al-Qaeda's more recent attempts, so it's probably not going to have a serious challenge to authority in the near future.

I'd be much more worried about the pseudo-constitutional monarchies like Kuwait, Morocco, and Jordan. The place I keep expecting to blow up, Bahrain, doesn't. This may be because they've had such nasty fights over elections recently, and the government has finally captured and tortured enough dissidents.

The violence in Egypt today is going to force the rest of the region to write a very different script than if there'd be a "soft landing" not unlike when Iraq turned sour.

Eric: I'm pretty sure that's hypothesis 4, unless I'm misunderstanding you.

What it looks like today (Thursday) is like the Army is the big winner. Mubarak is stepping down, Gamal is off the table, Suleiman is a safe pair of hands should it come to that. The Army is now positioned as the keeper of the national essence, ready to step in between the pros and antis.

48 hours ago I'd have said it's anyone's game. But barring something remarkable happening tomorrow, I think we're going to see a managed removal of Mubarak, followed by a new regime that's firmly under the control of the military if not actively run by it.

Or so ISTM this snowy Thursday afternoon in Bavaria.


Doug M.


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