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The Role of Information Communication Technology in the Arab Spring




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The Role of Information Communication Technology in the Arab Spring
The recent revolutions that took place recently in the Middle East, also known under the
name of Arab Spring, involved a wave of unprecedented demonstrations, protests and violent
rebellions. This social movement occurred mostly in the Middle East and parts of North Africa.
In some countries these revolutions went on to a scale that can be considered civil war.
These events have shed new light on the ever increasing influence of Information
Communication Technologies (ICT), especially on the surprisingly powerful impact of a recent
ICT component, social media. These recent events have clearly brought to light the previously
unknown power of new technologies such as the internet, social media and mobile applications.
This topic has been extensively discussed and debated in numerous recent academic works. Two
great scholars that addressed this topic are Jamila Boughelaf in “Mobile Phones, Social Media
and the Arab Spring” and Ekaterina Stepanova in “The Role of Information Communication
Technologies in the Arab Spring”. This paper aims to explore this topic while comparing and
contrasting the arguments and sources of the two previously mentioned scholars.
The Arab Spring was in a sense a new form of an old sociopolitical phenomenon and thus
it requires deep knowledge and analysis of the context, and causes, in order to understand exactly
how the new technologies influenced it. Both Boughelaf and Stepanova, agree in their papers
that one of the main causes of the Arab Spring was the vast gap between the ruling elite and the
rest of the population. Stepanova even argues that this situation caused “most experts on the
region to expect a major upheaval at some point”.
The papers seem to converge opinions on the matter that the rise of new ICT technologies
did not cause the Arab Spring but instead facilitated it. Boughelaf supports this assertion by

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making the statement that, “if we compare and analyze the events that took place in these
countries, we could assert that not only have social media and mobile phones enabled the crowds
to organize and coordinate themselves, but also provided a valuable means to tackle
governmental control over information”.
Both works furthermore consolidate this point. The importance of new technologies such
as social media networks and mobile apps cannot be disputed, being one of the biggest aids in
the early days of the Arab Spring. Stepanova highlights the fact that in the case of Egypt the
protests were apparently kickstarted by a Facebook campaign directed by the opposition. She
continues by discussing just how much the number of internet users has grown in these countries.
In about a decade or so, many Arab countries have seen an increase as much as more than 3000%
in internet users. This factor obviously had a big contribution on the later adoption of social
networks and mobile apps as mediums for communication of the protesting masses.
Boughelaf also discusses this matter by analyzing the internet and mobile phone
penetration rates in most Arab countries. Her work also points out that many of these countries
even have available high speed broadband and 3G internet connections. It is also important to
notice that most governments in this region tried to hold tight control of the communications
infrastructure but these measures failed to be effective. Both works have so far presented
arguments that coincide and effectively point exactly how new information technologies
facilitated the occurrence of the Arab Spring.
The similarities do not end there. Both works feel the need to discuss the case of Egypt
and Tunisia, where the most severe actions against the use of information technologies were
taken. According to Stepanova’s paper, “Egyptian authorities moved directly to ordering all

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