The Beginning of the Arab Spring and the Role of Mobile Technology, Social Media, and WikiLeaks

On December 17, 2010, a 27 year old Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire after his fruit cart was confiscated by local police for nonpayment of bribes.  Mohamed did not have the means to pay the bribes and as his pleas within the town hall to release his cart fell on deaf ears (BBC, 2011). Humiliated and hopeless, Mohamed stood in front of the town hall, doused himself with fuel, and lit himself alight (BBC, 2011). The physical fire instantly transformed into a metaphoric fire of rage that spread throughout the Arab world through video captured by mobile phones and social media. Protestors gathered in front of the town hall, demanding justice. Fed up by the corruption of the government, joblessness, and touched by Mohamed’s plight, Tunisians took to the street (Reuters, 2010).

The Tunisian media was tightly controlled by the authoritarian government through censorship, and the great social unrest went unreported. Meanwhile, social media sites such as Facebook displayed the events that unfolded in an increasingly unstable country (BBC, 2011).

As discussed in Peter Walker’s Guardian article, Amnesty International hails WikiLeaks and Guardian as Arab spring ‘catalysts’ (2011), WikiLeaks’ role in the Arab spring cannot be understated. WikiLeaks is an international, online, non-profit organization that publishes submissions of secret and classified media from anonymous news sources, news leaks, and whistleblowers (About).  In particular, WikiLeaks’ revelations about Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s corrupt regime helped spark the protests in Tunisia (Walker, 2011).

Amnesty International’s secretary general Salil Shetty stated, “The year 2010 may well be remembered as a watershed year when activists and journalists used new technology to speak truth to power and, in so doing, pushed for greater respect for human rights. It is also the year when repressive governments faced the real possibility that their days were numbered” (Walker, 2011).

A quarter of the population of Tunisia had broadband, and 90% of Tunisians had mobile phones (BBC, 2011).  Hence, the Tunisians had access to one of the most advanced internet infrastructures of the Arab world.  Ben Ali censored political web sites, but was not bothered by Facebook as he saw only its value as a source of entertainment (BBC, 2011).

Works Cited

About. (n.d.). Retrieved May 2, 2011, from WikiLeaks: http://www.wikileaks.ch/About.html

BBC. (2011, September 6). How FaceBook Changed The World The Arab Spring [1/4]. Retrieved May 2, 2011, from YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnPR90dJ3Gk

Reuters, T. (2010, December 19). Witnesses report rioting in Tunisian town. Retrieved May 2, 2011, from Reuters Africa: http://af.reuters.com/article/topNews/idAFJOE6BI06U20101219

Walker, P. (2011, May 12). Amnesty International hails WikiLeaks and Guardian as Arab spring ‘catalysts’. Retrieved May 2, 2012, from The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/may/13/amnesty-international-wikileaks-arab-spring?

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