The Paine-ful Arab Spring

This past year something extraordinary took place, it was a defining moment for members of our generation across the globe. Over the course of the year 19 Arab countries experienced a political movement of varying strengths. It was for once our young generation that took the reigns and lead the charge against oppressive regimes. We finally had a moment that displays this generation’s true potential. The uprisings pulsed through social media sites and used all of this generation’s intelligence as they spread across the globe.
Twitter and facebook which are utilized by our generation to talk about our weekends, show pictures of what parties we were at or update people on useless facts about our life. Most people go throughout their day using these sites and never consider how they could be used for a major benefit. Here is a couple examples of how most people utilize these sites today.

However the youth of these countries were able to use it to mobilize a mass that went on to become a political force. They were able to utilize technology in such a way that they could execute important tactics on a moments notice. This was something that made these protests and statements so profound, the fact that they were able to reach a large base to promote their strength.

http://idealab.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/09/study-twitter-played-pivotal-role-in-arab-spring.php

However it is in the content of their message that this post focuses.
Now here is where Thomas Paine would well up with pride. The rhetoric has changed, the ideals may have changed, and the medium by which the revolutionary ideas spread has definitely changed however these protests and revolutions come back to his central concept. They, the elites, do not care about us, the oppressed masses. This is a theme prevalent in Common Sense as Paine denounces the crown of England and battles for his freedoms. These revolutions are simply on a smaller scale of what Paine has been saying for centuries. It is the struggle between a ruling elite with a group that is unrepresented and completely oppressed. It may not be England vs. the new American colonies but the battle lines are drawn the exact same way.
Paine’s words still echo in the actions of each and every one of these revolutionaries. “America is only a secondary object in the system of British politics, England consults the good of this country, no farther than it answers her own purpose. Wherefore, her own interest lead her to suppress the growth of ours in every case which doth not promote her advantage.” While the words can be swapped out the concept is the exact same. The leaders of these countries care for the well being of their citizens only when that does not interfere with their own goals. Their own financial well being, much like that of the English crown in the 1700’s, trumps the well being of their citizens every time. They use their constituents as pawns in their schemes rather than treating them with the respect they deserve. In today’s world the concepts of Paine’s common sense still resonate in revolutionaries everywhere. This is an outstanding work that will always remain timeless. While the revolutionaries may not know it they have been fighting against the same oppressive regime as Paine was a couple hundred years before.

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3 Responses to The Paine-ful Arab Spring

  1. Amanda Gayer says:

    Interesting and relevant connection! I also think that Morone’s model of the cycle between of liberalism and civic republicanism applies here. When the ruler’s interests match up with those of the people, the people are happy. In this phase, they allow the government to function without interfering so that they can pursue their own interests. However, once the rulers you mentioned began to take advantage of their constituents, the people used social networks as a means of mobilizing the masses and creating change. This lines up with the shift toward civic republicanism in the second phase of Morone’s theory. However, Morone’s third phase is still up in the air. When the oppressive rulers of these Arab countries were overthrown, a power vacuum was often created. In some cases new elites clambered for power, while in other cases, peaceful elections were held. I think that while some of the nations in question may revert to their former oppressive ways, others may not. Where elections were held, the people have the opportunity to elect a leader who will create new institutions for the people – an action comparable with Morone’s third stage. It will be interesting to continue watching these nations over the next few years to see whether Morone’s theory is fully realized.

  2. jason5brown says:

    The Arab Spring seems like a great comparison to Paine as some of these formally oppressive and authoritarian regimes are finally experiencing “Democracy” for the first time. I think that what is really occurring is a global “digitalized democracy,” in which freedom of expression is can lead masses to communicate and organize with people not just within their own nations, but also globally. This is something that was not possible in Paine’s time. While America was lucky in that it was 3,000 miles away from Great Britain, these oppressive Arab regimes were holding their own people hostage. However, The Arab Spring showed that social media can be conducive to democracy because it incorporates concepts of both classic liberal and civic republican ideologies. The use of free speech through sites such as facebook and twitter allowed the masses to organize, participative, and fight for the common good.
    However, while it is important to embrace the power of social media on democracy, I find it unlikely that true democracy will occur in these nations for number of years. Primarily, this is because there are not institutions set up that put checks on government, as the elite will not quickly gather to have a greater share of power. Through social media, the masses, with the help of the international community, were able to end some oppressive regimes and usher in democratic ideals. However, nations like Egypt and Bahrain may need their own federalist – anti-federalist debate to put institutions that create an environment for democracy to stay, not just be a fleeting moment as alluded to in Wolin’s “Norm and Form.”

  3. palaie says:

    I think that it is very interesting how you incorporated Paine’s beliefs to the Arab Spring. It is actually ironic that back then Paine was referring to England as the oppressive regime and thinking that the United States would be the exact opposite, when in fact that has changed today. One can easily argue that the United states’ unwanted involvement in the political affairs of other countries has made it become that oppressive regime that its citizens were once running away from. For example, the 1953 coup d’etat sponsored by the United States overthrew the democratically elected Iranian government of Prime Minister Mosaddegh. He was replaced by the Shah, a great friend of the United States who was known for giving free oil to the United States and its allies and making it easier for them to have access to Iran’s vast reserves of petroleum. A more recent example that relates to the Arab Spring would be Bahrain. Even after the Bahraini government used violence as a means of ending peaceful protests, and eventually closing all public hospitals so that their citizens could not receive the aid they needed in order to survive, the United States approved the sale of $53 million of weapons to the Bahraini Royal family. In these two examples alone the United States has halted democratic movements through its involvement in the affairs of other countries which has led to thousands of innocent live being lost. Therefore, I believe it is safe to say that if Paine were to see the United States government and its foreign policy today, he would not find it much different than England during his time.

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