Discovery Guides Areas


The Emerging Role of Social Media in Political and Regime Change
(Released March 2012)

  by Rita Safranek  


Key Citations



Resources News Articles
Historical Newspapers

News Articles


    Samantha M. Shapiro, New York Times Magazine, 01-25-2009

    Only a few hours after Israel's first air strike against Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip late last month, more than 2,000 protesters marched through the streets of downtown Cairo, carrying Palestinian flags. This began what would become weeks of protests, in which thousands of Egyptians of all different political leanings gathered in Egypt's main cities, in public squares and at mosques and universities. Hundreds were arrested. In every city, the biggest presence at the protests was the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist political organization, active in many countries throughout the Middle East, that seeks to govern according to Islamic law. Other, smaller demonstrations were put together, sometimes spontaneously, by leftist groups and student organizations.

    Anti-Israel demonstrations in Arab capitals are nothing new. From Amman to Riyadh, governments have long viewed protests against Israel as a useful safety valve to allow citizens to let off steam without addressing grievances closer to home. But in Egypt, this time, the protests were different: some of the anger was aimed directly at the government of President Hosni Mubarak. In defiance of threats from the police, and in contravention of a national taboo, some demonstrators chanted slogans against Mubarak, condemning his government for maintaining diplomatic relations with Israel, for exporting natural gas to the country and for restricting movement through Egypt's border with Gaza.

    As the street protests went on, young Egyptians also were mobilizing and venting their anger over Gaza on what would, until recently, have seemed an unlikely venue: Facebook, the social-networking site. In most countries in the Arab world, Facebook is now one of the 10 most-visited Web sites, and in Egypt it ranks third, after Google and Yahoo. About one in nine Egyptians has Internet access, and around 9 percent of that group are on Facebook - a total of almost 800,000 members. This month, hundreds of Egyptian Facebook members, in private homes and at Internet cafes, have set up Gaza-related "groups." Most expressed hatred for Israel and the United States, but each one had its own focus. Some sought to coordinate humanitarian aid to Gaza, some criticized the Egyptian government, some criticized other Arab countries for blaming Egypt for the conflict and still others railed against Hamas. When I sat down in the middle of January with an Arabic-language translator to look through Facebook, we found one new group with almost 2,000 members called "I'm sure I can find 1,000,000 members who hate Israel!!!" and another called "With all due respect, Gaza, I don't support you," which blamed Palestinian suffering on Hamas and lamented the recent shooting of two Egyptian border guards, which had been attributed to Hamas fire. Another group implored God to "destroy and burn the hearts of the Zionists." Some Egyptian Facebook users had joined all three groups. ...

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's eLibrary

  2. A blogger at Arab Spring's genesis

    KRISTEN MCTIGHE, International Herald Tribune, 10-13-2011

    Lina Ben Mhenni was one of the thousands of Tunisian protesters who helped break a regime's stranglehold on the media and accelerate a revolution that brought down a 23-year dictatorship.

    She felt the stinging fumes of tear gas billowing through the streets here nine months ago and saw police officers firing live ammunition at protesters. She watched families weeping in grief over the bloodied bodies of their loved ones left lying on the ground. The violence could have silenced Lina Ben Mhenni with fear, but it drove her to speak louder and clearer.

    "It was very dangerous to be a blogger under Ben Ali," Ms. Ben Mhenni, a 27-year-old activist and blogger, said in a cafe here on the capital's Avenue Habib Bourguiba. Tunisians had taken to this street and many others to rebel against the regime of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali just nine months ago. "Of course I had fear, but when I saw people killed by the police I forgot it and it gave me the strength to do my work," she said.

    Ms. Ben Mhenni is an example of how protesters helped break a regime's stranglehold on the media and accelerate a revolution that brought down the 23-year dictatorship of Mr. Ben Ali and that went on to ignite much of the Arab world. It was a revolution that, in the case of Ms. Ben Mhenni, began even before the Arab Spring. ...

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's eLibrary

  3. Where the Arab Spring Faltered

    Dreazen, Yochi J, National Journal, 01-26-2012

    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates—Stop me if this story sounds familiar: Tech-savvy activists living in an Arab autocracy decide that the time has come to press for democratic reform. They use Facebook and Twitter to rally support, gathering signatures for a petition—the first of its kind—that demands free elections. The regime cracks down, arresting the leaders and handing down lengthy prison sentences. The incarcerated activists, confident in their cause, await the despot-toppling protests that their counterparts inspired in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya.

    It would be a typical story of the Arab Spring, except for one problem: In the United Arab Emirates, the protests never came. The five leading pro-democracy activists here—known as the UAE 5—instead languished in prison until the president pardoned them. Although they've gathered hundreds of new followers online, nothing suggests their message will bring average Emiratis to the streets. "There's no critical mass," said Nasser bin Ghaith, a Western-educated lawyer and one of the leaders of the loosely organized reform movement. He spent nearly eight months in prison for his efforts. "Rational thinking leads people to believe, 'We have a nice life, a nice job. So, who really cares about the type of government that gives us all of that?' And it's very hard to change their minds."

    The UAE 5 point to a lingering mystery about the Arab Spring: Why did it catch on in some countries but not others? Protesters across the region braved state-sponsored violence, even gunfire, to unseat the long-standing rulers of Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. At great human cost, opposition forces now seem poised to oust Syria's Bashar al-Assad, too. But the momentum of the Arab Spring stopped in the Persian Gulf region, where wealthy, unelected rulers seem as entrenched as ever. There are three reasons for the Gulf states' staying power: Governments here don't derive their power from fear and brutality; the nations have little history of political activism; and oil wealth allows the regimes to effectively buy popular support. (Even in Bahrain, occasional protests are driven as much by sectarian as by democratic complaints.) Emiratis, Qataris, Saudis, and Omanis may not love their rulers, but few seem to want them gone. ...

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's eLibrary

Historical Newspapers
  1. Tape Recording the Modern Medium of Dissent

    Jim Mann, Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File). Los Angeles, Calif.: Jan 11, 1987. pg. E2, 1 pgs

    Abstract (Summary) Over the past two months, a round of student demonstrations on behalf of democracy in China and an election in Taiwan have challenged governments. Both events involved creative, effective use of technology to spread messages in ways that would have been impossible only a decade ago.

    Original Newspaper Image (PDF)

  2. It's a Wired, Wired World; Global Changes, Measured in MiTTs

    LEON V. SIGAL, New York Times (1923-Current file). New York, N.Y.: Jun 13, 1990. pg. A30, 1 pgs

    Abstract (Summary) Expatriate Iranians exported revolutionary ideas from Paris by videocassette. East Germans imported ideas from West Germany by television. Last year Chinese students used telephones, fax machines and laptop computers to organize their protest in Tiananmen Square and tell a watching world about it.

    Original Newspaper Image (PDF)

  3. News from the Mideast via the P.C.

    JOHN MARKOFF, New York Times (1923-Current file). New York, N.Y.: Jan 16, 1991. pg. D7, 1 pgs

    Abstract (Summary) The nation's technology-minded citizens — from antiwar groups to arms makers to veterans and relatives of members of the military — are turning in large numbers to their personal computers for news bulletins from the Persian Gulf.

    Original Newspaper Image (PDF)

Taken from ProQuest's Historical Newspapers.


  1. Social Media and the Changing Face of Rationalist Dissent in Iran: Lessons From the 2009 Presidential Election

    by Chappelle, Charles Andrew, M.A., Webster University, 2010, 48 pages; AAT 1487343

    Abstract (Summary)
    This paper seeks to analyze the ways in which new media is becoming the preferred vehicle for rationalist dissent to religious authoritarianism in Iran, and how that evolution has taken place from the introduction of the printing press up to the so-called "Twitter Revolution". Broadly accessible and independently reproducible media has greatly impacted the development of Islamic constitutionalism in the Middle East and the face of dissent within these countries. For the most part, these platforms have contributed to the debate on human rights and liberties, particularly inside of Iran, however there are several indications that these mediums—including Twitter, YouTube and Facebook—exacerbate vulnerabilities in these movements. As if the potential exploitation by government intelligence services of these sites wasn't enough, these mediums also feed a trend of "slacktivism", allowing the empathetic masses that may support these objectors to lazily feign interest in the cause rather than contribute through action. Furthermore, with such a democratic, grassroots network accessible to the masses, it is difficult to determine who, if anyone, to follow. By looking at how the vehicles of rationalist challenge have metamorphosed and how influence is measured in this new technological landscape, these objectors are better able to make an impact.

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's Dissertations & Theses Database

  2. The Evolutionaries: Transforming the political system and culture in Lebanon

    by Hardig, Anders C., Ph.D., The American University, 2011, 384 pages; AAT 3487046

    Abstract (Summary)
    The Evolutionaries poses the question: How can grassroots activists broaden the space for political participation in a factionalized and elite-centric, as opposed to citizen-centric, polity? This question is explored through a case study of a new 'civic' segment of civil society in Lebanon, which after the end of the 1975-1990 civil war managed to carve a space in which to operate and established itself as a factor in Lebanese politics. This 'civic movement' employs an incremental change approach in order to transform their patron-dominated 'republic' into a republic , which recognizes the rights and responsibilities associated with citizenship. To this end, civic activists link with political elites in time- and scope-limited campaigns. The temporary character of these coalitions reduces the risk of cooptation, and the limited scope reduces the number of stakeholders threatened by the campaign.

    However, while the Lebanese state demonstrates relatively low levels of constraints to civic activists, constraints emanating from society are at times severe. The historical development of the Lebanese state, especially the construction of a confessional political system, has reinforced a political culture centered on kinship and sectarian collective identities. Consequently, in times of high tension and political polarization, the civic movement struggles to construct movement frames that resonate among the broader populace. Opportunities and constraints are traditionally sought on the level of the state, while culture and collective identities are examined as strategic tools, or invoked to explain the outcome of a movement after it has formed. However, a long-term perspective that captures the low-intensity dynamics that precede and succeed high-intensity popular mobilizations suggests that the social environment should also be understood as permissive or restrictive to movement formation. For instance, a 'social opportunity' can arise when the hegemonic political culture becomes contested in broad layers of the populace, as was the case when broad popular discontent with the traditional leadership during the civil war provided Lebanon's civic movement with a constituency. Thus, the findings of this study suggest that shifts in the way individuals understand and interpret their environment can provide opportunities for Lebanon's 'Evolutionaries' to initiate a slow process of political and societal transformation.

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's Dissertations & Theses Database

  3. Opportunity and oppression: Social movements in Burma and the ICT catalyst

    by Conrad, Brittany M., M.A., California State University, Long Beach, 2011, 136 pages; AAT 1504441

    Abstract (Summary)
    Contentious politics shape governance through policy responses and regime changes; information and communication technologies (ICTs) may be reshaping the politics of contention by decreasing the costs of movement organization. This study seeks to discern the degree to which the Internet and ICTs impact contentious politics in Burma. The case study focuses on movement mobilization and outcomes from independence in 1948 to the pro-democracy movement of 1988 and the Saffron Revolution of 2007.

    The pre-Web movements of 1948 and 1988 are juxtaposed with the 2007 Saffron Revolution, where the Internet and ICTs were used to mobilize and sustain the social movement. The use of ICTs in movement mobilization, along with their use in censorship and surveillance, is analyzed via the political opportunity framework. The study finds that ICTs support movement organization, though the use of ICTs for regime surveillance also can limit political opportunity and the overall success of social movements.

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's Dissertations & Theses Database