The Cairo Facebook Revolution: Is it Berlin 1989 or Tashkent 1991?
Wednesday, February 16th 2011
I am not an expert on the Middle East but I could not help wondering why so many commentators have likened the events in Cairo 2011 to those in Berlin 1989. The notion that somehow the revolution that is sweeping parts of the Middle East is similar to the events of the late 1980s and early 1990s in Central and Eastern Europe has gained some traction in much of the media.
This is a serious mistake based on superficial knowledge of both the Mideast and Eastern and Central Europe. Any serious study of history will point out the shortcomings in this theory. The underpinnings of democracy in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary for example were far more robust than those in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen. The former three nations had previous experience with democracy, elections that actually meant something, and rule of law before communism was imposed on them by a foreign power--the USSR.
The countries of North Africa and the Middle East have had no such experience. A much better analogy might be to the new independent states of the former USSR since they too have a history absent any significant prior democratic experience. And with only one or two exceptions, these countries today have largely non-democratic governments, led mainly by their former communist rulers but under another political label--whether Russia, Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan--the communist authoritarian government has merely given way to rule by the same corrupt oligarchy but without the Communist Party ideology.
This pattern does not auger well for the future of the new "social revolutionary" states of the Middle East. I hope I am wrong in this analysis and that the social revolutions in places like Cairo will eventually lead to more democratic, representative government. Only time will tell.
P.S. And while we are exploding myths, let's take on the "it could not have happened without Facebook and Twitter." Utterly absurd--what about all the upheavals of mankind before social networking--all done with face to face communication. And could someone explain while the Internet was down--even more people came out to demonstrate than when Facebook and Twitter were operating? I grant you the initial response was encouraged by Tweets and Facebook postings but a lot of face to face interaction really brought out the numbers.