|Some of the participants pose for a photo during the opening of the third Arab Bloggers Conference in Tunis [EPA]|
TUNIS, Tunisia – New forms of activism that have evolved in the Arab world in 2011 are being picked up by activists in the West, speakers at the Third Arab Bloggers’ Meeting have affirmed.
The meeting is the first since the uprisings began, and brings some of the most prominent bloggers in the region together for a three-day gathering.
Previous meetings were held in Lebanon. This year, the event was brought to Tunisia, the country where the spree of uprisings began.
Ten months on, as Tunisia heads to an election that is set to rewrite the rules of its political system, protest movements are blazing far beyond the region.
The innovative use of technologies and methods of dissent that had been used so effectively by Tunisian and Egyptian protesters, in particular, were being picked up in Europe and the US, according to Zeynep Tufekci, a professor at the University of North Carolina.
The forms of civic activism emerging in the region were influencing protesters in other parts of the world, becoming a model for Western countries where citizens had seen an erosion of democracy in recent years, she said.
The parallels between the Tahrir Square protests and the “Occupy Wall Street” movement in the US were clear.
“This is really a very hopeful time in history,” she said.
New media ecology
Activists in the Arab world had successfully harnessed the new media ecology to challenge state media monopoly, a strategy that their counterparts in the West could learn from.
European nations continued to be rocked by the tug-and-pull between revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries for decades after the so-called revolutionary year of 1848.
The protests on Avenue Habib Bourguiba and Tahrir Square should not be mistaken for revolution, she argued, comparing the importance to that of the storming of the Bastille during France’s 1789 revolution. Despite the symbolic importance, she said, they should be seen as moments and not revolutions.
“It’s never straightforward,” Tufekci said. “It’s a beginning, not the whole thing. Revolutions are long-term processes, not moments.”
The list of demands made by Egyptian protesters back in February, she said, was far from being met.
Yet while it would not be a quick or automatic path to change for Tunisia or Egypt, she argued that there was also good news to be gained from looking to revolutions in the past.
The upheaval of 1848 did lead to some permanent social transformation, notably the abolition of serfdom.
Whether or not the uprisings led to complete regime change, they have made an indelible mark on the society.
“A threshold has been crossed. This decade, there will only be citizens, not subjects, in the Middle East and North Africa,” she said.
Spread of civil disobedience movement
As a Syrian-Spanish blogger, Leila Nachawati is uniquely placed to comment on the spread of the civil disobedience movement from the South to the North.
Focusing on the “15 M” movement that sprang up in the Spanish city of Madrid in May, Nachawati said that there was a common theme in protests on both sides of the Mediterranean.
“There is a growing gap between ordinary citizens and political structures.
Spanish protesters directly evoked the language of the Arab Spring, she said, and used peaceful protest to take back public spaces in a massive display of peaceful dissent.
They used social media in similar ways, spreading news of their protests and grievances even as they were ignored by mainstream media.
“Traditional media did not get to the campouts on the first day, and they did not get there when it was already a big deal,” Nachawati said. “They did not know how to interpret it.”
Like the people of the Arab world, the Spanish took to the streets to protest political corruptions and rising unemployment.
In the Arab world, citizens mobilised rapidly after they broke through the wall of fear. In the West, she said, it was the wall of apathy and silence.
“We are experiencing something unprecedented. Europeans feel like they are learning a lesson from the Arabs.”