2011 – A Year of Many Things: A recap of the big events of the year

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The Revolutions Heard Around The Globe

On December 17 2010, after having his small wheelbarrow confiscated and publicly humiliated, a street vendor from Sidi Bouzid went to his governor’s office and set himself on fire. His name was Mohamed Bouazizi. He was 26, had a computer science degree and was poor and unable to find work. His self-immolation, however, would soon be the starting point of something very big – the Arab Spring.

From Tunisia, it spread to neighboring Algeria. But when the Tunisians were able to, after days of protests despite a government crackdown, overthrow their government and force President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia; it expanded to the entire region.

However, while Tunisia may be the birthplace, Egypt was when the world started to watch what was happening. The country was in a unique position – it was relatively close to Israel, where most of the western media have bureaus to cover the region.  As such, once protests started in January 25, and the government’s violent crackdown, many scrambled quickly to Egypt to cover the news.

It was, like many of the protests in the Arab Spring, sparked by social media. The use of Twitter and Facebook to communicate and organise became the story. It showed the true power of the internet, and how quickly people can respond. From shocking images of brutality to supportive tweets from those outside, the Internet was united with the people. Twitter also proved to be as important for journalists for their job, as the need grew to disseminate information quickly – breaking the news immediately in 140 characters, rather than on radio and television.

We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the worldActivist talking to Miller-McCune

And like many governments in the year, Egypt was quick to shut it down. Initially blocking Facebook and Twitter, the entire internet was then pulled in order to prevent people to communicate – protestors and journalists – domestically and abroad. The country had a total internet blackout, with all ISPs bar one (which was soon turned off later) forced to disconnect all their users. However, that did not stop them. Quickly, many used alternatives – even using Dial-up – to send their messages across Facebook, Twitter and around the web. Many ISPs even waived their fees in order to assist the Egyptians. As well, others used ham radio frequencies to relay messages.

Then, after days of struggle, Hosni Mubarak – President of Egypt for 30 years – finally resigned on February 11.

But, while the Arab Spring has only been limited to the Middle East, what the Egyptians, Tunisians and Libyans have done is being replicated in the West. The Occupy Movement is a somewhat equivalent to the Arab Spring. However, instead of protesting about government change because of corruption, it is instead protesting about corporate greed and corruption. They are upset about the growing wealth discrepancy – which is especially severe in the United States, where the richest 1% of people control 40 percent of wealth (according to Joseph Stiglitz in May).

Started in Canada, popularised in Wall Street and soon spread across the globe, the movement uses the same tactics as the Arab Spring protestors – The use of social media to organise and communicate their cause. And as such, like the Arab Spring, it is no wonder that the movement has spread across the West. There are Occupy movements in London, Melbourne and Sydney – just to name a few. You can understand why there will be one in London – they are also undergoing lack of economic growth and austerity measures – but Australia? But we didn’t experience an economic collapse during the Global Financial Crisis in 2008? There is still corporate greed in Australia, despite the discrepancy being not as large as what is seen in the United States. Though, the Occupy movement in Australia feels more of a sign of global support for the movement in Wall Street rather than protesting about issues in Australia.

However, it really doesn’t matter if you are against them or for them. You cannot deny the fact they have used the Internet in order to spread their message – successfully, just like the protestors in the Arab Spring.

In the past twelve months, we have seen what the social web is – a return to the power of the people.

– TH

Images: Mosa’ab Elshamy (left) and David Shankbone (right). All licensed under Creative Commons.

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