But the key question is: Can this spread to other parts in the Middle East? I know this question comes up every time there is a protest like this. But this time there is some success for the protestors. It also appears that these movements are learning from each other. The mode of individual protests are, of course, going to be dependent on the local culture and governmental structure. But it seems to me that some basic ingredients are present in several of the countries in the region:
a) On average, 60% of the population in the Middle East is under 25, b) the jobless rate and dissatisfaction with governments (mostly autocratic) is high, c) internet - especially blogs, Facebook, and Twitter - is heavily tilted toward younger users and it is allowing the youth to be connected not just with each other, but also with others in the region with similar problems, d) government censorships are continuously being challenged with new cyber tools.
And most importantly, the access to the internet and education levels are only going to increase in the coming years. So yes, there it is not completely crazy to think that the Tunisian unrest may shake things up in the region.
So what is the status of internet in Tunisia? According to Internet World Stats, there are 3.6 million internet users out of a population of 10.5 million (34%) - the highest fraction for high population countries in Africa. Oh and there are 1.6 million Facebook users! In comparison, Morocco has 10 million internet users (33% of the population), Algeria has 4.7 million (14%), and Egypt has 17 million internet users (21% of the total population). (Please also this earlier post: Internet for Politics in Egypt and Malaysia).
And internet, like the protests in Iran and Pakistan, played a significant role in the organization and publicity of the protests. From the BBC:
Unions and traditional political groups have played some role. But it is on the internet that a new generation of activists has been credited with driving the movement forward.
This has happened despite increasingly strict controls by a government that, even before the demonstrations, was regarded as unusually zealous in its online censorship.
A steady flow of protest videos, tweets, and political manifestos has continued to make its way onto the web in a variety of languages: Arabic, the Darija Tunisian dialect, French and English.
Some encouragement has come from abroad, including France and other Arab countries. But much has been generated from within Tunisia.
"Our part as tweeple/bloggers or simple social media users is to pass the info, share it and spread the word: when, where it's happening," one Tunisia-based woman who requested anonymity told the BBC by e-mail.
"Then, once the demonstrations take place, we report live on twitter & FB [Facebook] and if some have pictures or videos, we share!"Before we get carried away with all this, it is clear that internet is not the only game in town. And there is a big difference between typing on a keyboard versus street protests (Benjamin Geer - had raised this point sometime back) - and some of the protests indeed turned violent in Tunisia in the last few days. Nevertheless, internet is the only medium that is allowing youths to connect from Tunisia to Egypt to Iran to Pakistan. Some change is bound to happen in the presence of these increasing number of globalized youths. Governments struck back in Iran and Pakistan - successfully for the time being. Will the success of protests in Tunisia shake other regional movements as well? I will check the internet for the answer.