As Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia and other nations in the Muslim world erupt in riots and political revolution we raise the question… Have we seen the beginnings of seeds we ourselves have sown? Where will it lead the world, and our own nation?
Social media online, mobile telephones, 24 hour news broadcasting, blogs and the Internet, all American inventions have provided the means for those revolutionaries in far off lands to communicate, freely with their followers, or influence those who would normally never revolt. Each, and collectively all, empower revolutionaries.
Following the Twitter Revolution in Iran in 2009, 2011 is seeing a widespread, organized revolutionary movement in many nations. Even in isolated Syria, where Internet connectivity is limited, there is an underground movement spread via the social networks. These political turmoils may be directly connected to those social media outlet, just as Thomas Paine’s pamphlets resulted from the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg spread the word of the American cause.
Politically, we too may be culpable for political unrest, having invaded Iraq, and sowing the seeds of democratic thought in a region where democracy is both rare and outside the norm. People here in the United States believe firmly in democracy, but the rest of the world is not of like mind. We tend to blame kings and dictators, and accuse them but in some nations, the public wants a certain type of leadership. When leaders come along who intentionally change systems, protocols and behavior, invariably, they are despised by the public.
On that note, let us look at a few examples. Going back in ancient history, the Pharoah Ahkenaten who ruled Egypt for 17 years and was likely killed by his own ministers of state for trying to change the nation’s religious faith to monotheism, in the worship of Aten, a singular god, from the worship of the pantheon of Egyptian gods. After his death, traditional religious practice was gradually restored, and when some dozen years later rulers without clear rights of succession from the Eighteenth Dynasty founded a new dynasty, they discredited Akhenaten and his immediate successors, referring to Akhenaten himself as “the enemy” in archival records.
Let’s move up to the 18th Century, when Louis XVI funded the American Revolution, raising the national debt of France, and causing political dissent, but spreading the ideal of democracy. Louis’ efforts to aide the Americans against France’s historic enemy, Britain, resulted in a rise of revolutionary thinking among his own people. This resulted in the French Revolution, which unlike the American Revolution, became a civil bloodbath, a dictatorship, and even an empire before finally becoming a republic after a century of political upheaval.
In the 19th century, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia and other nations experienced revolutions, resulting from the rise of nationalism, rooted in democratic principals. Looking back at Russian Czar Alexander II, known as Alexander the Liberator, we find that a leader who sought constitutional government, with democratic rights for his people was himself assassinated for his liberal thinking. Proving the point that people get the government they want, he was succeeded by his son, Alexander III, considered by historians to have been a repressive and reactionary czar.
Nicholas II, a weak Czar, was overthrown in a bloody revolution resulting in a communist regime that lasted 70 years, with leaders who ruled with an iron fist. Why? Because the Russian people want strong leadership.
From time to time, political thought shifts, as we are seeing now in the Middle East and north Africa. But in fact, we ourselves are going through political turmoil resulting from the technology we ourselves created.
The rise of the Tea Party, presently allied with the Republicans is in large part, the result of political dissent communicated via blogs, social media and mobile technologies. We are yet to see whether the Tea Party will remain in that alliance, or split off as a third political party, or go to an extreme, and create so much political dissent as to cause a second American Revolution. Clearly, its present numbers in Congress, resulting from the 2010 elections pose a strong risk of a stagnant, do-nothing Congress, with leadership in both chambers frustrated by ineffective votes.
The great question before us, as these nations shift political structures and leadership, is whether stable democracies will be the result, or like France post Louis XVI, will we see bloody revolutions and political turmoil? American companies, with investments in countries like Egypt, must of course be gravely concerned.
As Israel’s strategic partner in the region, an unstable government in Egypt could result in threats to stability in the entire region, with increased terrorism that will likely spread from the region to the rest of the world. We’ve already seen how Al Qaeda has managed to attack such peaceful, non-strategic places as Bali.
This Facebook Revolution underway in the Muslim world could easily become a vehicle for the spread of Islamic fundamentalism. It is not inconceivable that we might see the first formal government based on that dogmatic concept outside of Iran. What would another fundamentalist Islamic theocracy mean? One thing… danger.
While some would say.. ‘Let’s keep our noses out of this’, realistically, it is something we cannot ignore. While action is difficult, for we sponsor democratic change, we must also consider that change must be civil, but revolutions rarely carry with them civilized behavior.
Could political unrest in the Muslim world, and dissatisfaction with their leaders spread to our shores? Absolutely. Technology will always lead to political unrest, as it provides a vehicle for dissent, discussion and news. America is far from exempt from this. More likely, our government will one day face its own challenges prompted by our own inventions.