Media Revolution

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Abu Aardvark hails satellite TV for its role in the Lebanese uprising:

Part of it is a long term process: al Jazeera, and to a lesser extent to the other satellite stations, have been eviscerating the legitimacy of the Arab status quo for years. The al Jazeera talk shows are full to overflowing with critics of almost every Arab regime and of the entire Arab system more generally. Hardly a week has gone by in the last five years without a guest on some popular al Jazeera program denouncing some Arab leader as an authoritarian despot, or demanding greater democracy, or complaining about Arab backwardness….

There's also the cumulative effect of the way issues have been framed. One of the key things that al Jazeera (and, again, to some extent its competitors) did was to explicitly and implicitly link together everything that happens anywhere in the Arab world into a single, coherent narrative: Egyptian protests, Bahraini arrests of bloggers, Tunisian sham elections—they are all part of the same story, not isolated events….

While those who want to claim the current protests as a vindication of the Bush Doctrine might not like the analogy, the closest comparison to the current situation is the spring of 2002, when al Jazeera drove and energized Arab protests against the Israeli re-occupation of the West Bank not just by showing gory pictures but by showing Arabs that other Arabs were marching and protesting. I know from interviewing lots of people involved in those protests that the Arab media were really important in shaping their ideas of what was possible, inspiring them to march and to protest—and, in a very real way, making them feel that they were part of that same, common story…When Jordanians marched in Amman, they weren't only "talking" to King Abdullah, they knew that they were being seen by Egyptians, by Moroccans, by Palestinians.

He concludes: "Maybe you needed Bush to get what you're seeing today—I remain skeptical—but you definitely needed al Jazeera."

Reason's Michael Young praised the station's role in the region back in 2001.

NEXT: Rip Van Leverett

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  1. Just being playful here, but if we accept that weekly denunciations of some Arab leader or another on TV news can spur people to start revolutions, doesn’t it that follow Grand Theft Auto videogames could lead the Youth of America to think highly of stealing cars and going on killing sprees after all?

  2. The difference, of course, is that we saw no such demonstrations against Arab regimes and in favor of democracy (outside of Iran, at least) for the years and years that AJ has been allegedly undermining their legitimacy.

    We did, however, see such demonstrations after the elections in Afghanistan and Iraq (at the instigation of the Bush “regime”), and after Bush’s high-profile rhetoric in favor of democracy in the Middle East.

    Oversimplified as a two-variable problem, it is obvious which has been the critical variable.

    That said, I hadn’t really thought about AJ undermining the legitimacy of Arab regimes, but I also hadn’t heard that AJ was agitating for the Western-style democracy that is anathema to Muslim conservatives and radicals alike. Since AJ seems to spend a lot of energy opposing US efforts to bring democracy to the Middle East, I guess their role is at best ambiguous in all this.

  3. R.C. Dean,

    Wrong. There have been anti-Syrian demonstrations in Lebanon since 2000. I’ve repeated this fact that you think you would have picked it up by now!

    There have also been demonstrations in Egypt since at least that time too. I am thinking specifically of a demonstration in February of 2000 which had numerous placards calling for the end of the Mubarak regime and the end of most governments through out the middle east.

    At least get your facts straight.

  4. “At least get your facts straight.”

    If he did, he wouldn’t be R C Dean. This is his signature: make shit up and pretend not to notice when people expose him. Or did you forget his claims that Iraqi insurgency is mostly composed of non iraqis?

  5. ” doesn’t it that follow Grand Theft Auto videogames could lead the Youth of America to think highly of stealing cars and going on killing sprees after all? ”

    s.m., I’ve never even SEEN Grand Theft Auto (except for t.v. comercials), and I think highly of stealing cars and going on killing sprees everytime I read the “thumbs down” column in Reason.

  6. Wait, praise for Bush and al-Jazeerah? I think my head is going to explode.

    RC,
    I know people that have been protesting Mubarak and asking for democracy for over a decade there. Just because you weren’t paying attention before we started bombing Iraq doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

  7. RC Dean might be wrong about the chronology of protests in the Arab world, but his point about the two-variable equation still stands. It’s pretty easy to describe both dissemination by al-Jazeera of Arab protests and US intervention in Iraq as necessary but insufficient preconditions for reform.

  8. The difference, of course, is that we saw no such demonstrations against Arab regimes and in favor of democracy (outside of Iran, at least) for the years and years that AJ has been allegedly undermining their legitimacy.
    We did, however, see such demonstrations after the elections in Afghanistan and Iraq (at the instigation of the Bush “regime”), and after Bush’s high-profile rhetoric in favor of democracy in the Middle East.

    “We” didn’t see it because “we” weren’t watching. It doesn?t mean that they don?t exist.

    It?s easy to be anti-American and anti-status quo pretty easily. Who do you think enables the current regimes? The US. Al-Jazeera has been pretty harshly anti-American because the Americans have done quite a bit to continue the status quo. Are they skeptical of American efforts in the region? Of course, for obvious reasons. Middle East conservatives and Middle Eastern regimes have been pissed off at Al-Jazeera and trying to shut it down for a lot longer than American conservatives have.

  9. If there weren’t any demonstrations, organizing, etc. before the US invasion of Iraq, we wouldn’t be seeing these people-power movements now. The hawkish argument (or, rather, the hawkish argument that makes some sense) holds that the war opened the space that has allowed those movements to surge, and that it also provides an implicit threat to the governments being protested. I don’t really buy this argument — and I certainly don’t think the only way to open such a space was with a war — but if we’re going to debate the issue, let’s start by all recognizing that there already were a lot of Middle Easterners fighting (or itching to fight) for substantial reforms.

  10. Jesse Walker,

    Excellent comment.

  11. Speaking ex rectum again here, but here’s my hypothesis:

    There is something significant going on the Middle East, and the catalyst is not the war in in Iraq per se, but the January 30 voting that the war made possible. I wonder whether the psychology behind it is something like this: “What the hell? If even the Jew-loving, imperialistic American oppressors let people in this region vote in rather free elections, then our own home-grown leaders should at least keep up.”

    By the way, I think it is possible to believe that the Iraqi war was a bad idea, or at least an unwise risk, going in … and at the same time believe that something really good might come out of it in the end. The question of whether Bush knew what he was doing or blundered into a potentially great outcome is a separate question.

  12. Oops, this just in — there was already a plot to topple Saddam just about ready to go, right about the very time U.S./coalition forces invaded Iraq. Wow. So the war was totally useless after all.

  13. Stevo Darkly,

    That would have been a weird turn of events if prior to the invasion Uday had taken the reigns and just opened the country up to painstaking inspection.

  14. Uday replacing Saddam… another data point supporting the observation that when you think things cannot get worse it is best to remind yourself that they certainly can.

  15. Or how about this scenario:

    1) Uday was about to take over Iraq.

    2) He had a Great Big Diabolical Megalomaniacal Plan that he would put in place once he became Iraqi dictator. We’re talking about a Dr. Evil, secret construction of the Death Star, type plan.

    3) GW Bush knew what Uday was planning (both the overthrow of his father and the Great Big Diabolical Megalomaniacal Plan that was to follow).

    4) Hence the urgency to invade Iraq before Uday could take over and initiate the Great Big Diabolical Megalomaniacal Plan. The concern about WMD was just a cover story. The Great Big Diabolical Megalomaniacal Plan is even worse.

    5) The nature of the the Great Big Diabolical Megalomaniacal Plan remains classified, and must remain so, until we find out where Uday stashed the plans for the Secret Anti-Matter Global Doomsday Universal Death Machine. Uday was supposed to be taken alive, so we could question him. Now we have operatives scrambling frantically to find out who has the plans.

    6) When the plans for the Secret Anti-Matter Global Doomsday Universal Death Machine are found and are safely in U.S. hands, its existence can be acknowledged (even though details will remain classified), and GW Bush will be hailed as the Savior of Humanity.

  16. Stevo Darkly,

    You drinking tonight? 🙂

  17. No, but I just saw Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me the other night.

  18. I stand corrected concerning anti-Syrian protests in Lebanon. I’ll grant that there was widespread discontent in the Mideast all along (Jesse’s “itching to fight”). Indeed, the Bush/neocon argument all along is that the Mideast is full of itchin’, and that it is being successfully channeled into anti-Americanism. Something has changed, and the itchin’ is now being directed in a much more productive direction – toward the oppressive regimes that govern the region. What changed?

    If you answered “US-sponsored elections in Afghanistan and Iraq”, then you and I are well on the road to agreeing.

    I submit that there is little difference between ineffective and marginal protests (which seem to have been the norm in Lebanon up until now) and no protests (as I mistakenly believed), and that what changed to make the ineffective and marginal protests into a movement with a chance of succeeding is the, for lack of a better term, “Bush doctrine.”

    If you have another candidate for what changed, lets hear it.

  19. Well, here’s the really paradoxical thing, R.C. There was one mass movement for democratic change that clearly would not have happened without the US invasion of Iraq, and its victory is probably part of what’s inspiring the protests in Lebanon and elsewhere.

    It’s Sistani’s protests against the US occupiers, to force them to have the (relatively) open elections that he preferred.

    Try to fit that into either the simple pro-war scenario or the simple anti-war scenario. It can’t be done.

  20. I’ve repeated this fact that you think you would have picked it up by now!

    Man, you repeat like a bean burrito.

  21. R.C. Dean,

    Something has changed, and the itchin’ is now being directed in a much more productive direction – toward the oppressive regimes that govern the region.

    Actually I would argue that the itchin’ by the majority of the folks in the region was always primarily direct their local governments. Of course, that’s kind of why I gave you an example of this in my post above. Of course, you ignored it. Man, its like pulling teeth with you.

    I submit that there is little difference between ineffective and marginal protests (which seem to have been the norm in Lebanon up until now)…

    How do you know if they were either? Shit, you didn’t even know they existed until we told you about them!

    …and no protests (as I mistakenly believed), and that what changed to make the ineffective and marginal protests into a movement with a chance of succeeding is the, for lack of a better term, “Bush doctrine.”

    The difference of course in Lebanon is the death of Harriri. No Harriri dead and its difficult for me to imagine these new protests in Lebanon. In the P.A. its the death of Arafat (which the Bush administration fully admits – that’s why they kept on saying we have oppurtunity now). Anyway, since you’ve got as much knowledge of the region as can fit into a cat’s paw (which have readily demonstrated), why anyone would take you seriously is beyond me. You’re a hawkish “true believer” who will use any and all information, no matter how flimsy or even contraditory, to support your Bushophilism.

  22. Actually, Gary, several things are different besides the death of Hariri, though that obviously was the spark that set this off.

    Given that the Lebanese protest movement calls itself an “intifada” and is directed against a foreign occupation, it’s pretty clearly influenced by current events in Israel.

    A lot of the tactics being used by the protestors are taken directly from the uprising in Ukarine.

    And America’s recent sabre-rattling towards Syria obviously makes the U.S. useful to the Lebanese protestors, just as the Lebanese protests are useful to the U.S.

  23. Great point Jesse. They couldn’t have done it without us, but it wasn’t because of us. It’s hard to peg it one way or the other. Though instead of trying to assign credit, let’s take the opportunity we have and roll with it.

    To Bush’s credit, he has been very good at using these opportunities in a way that promotes freedom.

    Hooray to us for backing down!!! (that’s not at all sarcastic, we wouldn’t be in this mess if the Brits did the same)

  24. Two less serious points:

    1) Reading the article abut Uday and Saddam is almost like going back in time to the dynastic struggles in the middle ages. The difference being at that time the entire world worked that way politically and these days it generates disbelief and head shaking among a majority of the world’s population.

    2) Does anyone else keep expecting references to Paul Maud’dib when reading about the Iraqi “Fedayeen”?

  25. How do I know the previous protests were ineffectual, Gary? Well, the Syrians were still there, and still running the show, weren’t they? That sounds pretty ineffectual to me.

    If the unhappiness in the Middle East has been directed primarily at the current occupiers, where is the evidence of this? Really. Link me to something that gives an account of the mass protests and popular movements to overthrow current regimes in the Mideast. I know of one, in Iran, but the others have stayed off my radar screen. Help me out here. This is a blog. Post a link.

    Now we have a couple of candidates for “what changed.” On the one hand, the death of Arafat, which I will agree is a major change in the Pal’s situation, although its not clear yet how much close the Pal’s are to throwing off the PLO terror regime. To tell you the truth, I don’t think the old butcher’s death really affects events outside of Palestine, not yet. If a functional and sane Palestine emerges, yeah, that will have a ripple effect, but so far, not so much.

    The other is Hariri, the undoubted catalyst for the recent Lebanese protests. I’ll grant that Hariri’s death is a necessary condition for what is going on in Lebanon, but I submit that both the scope of the protests and Syria’s non-response, which has allowed the protests time and space to take root, has everything to do with events in Iraq (and Afghanistan).

    With the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam in Iraq, no elections in either place, then the prospects for sane, legitimate government in the Mideast are much worse than they are now, and any protests that might be going on would be doomed to the same fate as their predecessors. How hard is that?

  26. there was already a plot to topple Saddam

    Well, not to fail to believe Peter Arnette, of all people, implicitly… but there were ultimatums and deadlines and such strewn around. The article seems to suggest that, oops, the US military caught the supposed coup attempt by surprise.

  27. Yeah, I don’t know how seriously to take that Uday-was-about-to-overthrow-Saddam story.

    2) Does anyone else keep expecting references to Paul Maud’dib when reading about the Iraqi “Fedayeen”?

    From now on I will.

    “Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death.”

  28. If protests of the same scope in lebanon had occurred in, say, 2002, all Assad would have had to say (as he HAS said, for the past three weeks) is that Syria needs to stay in Lebanon because of the Zionist Entity…and that would have satisfied the UN, probably the Europeans, definitely the Saudis and the Egyptians…and sadly, probably the US State Dept, in the run-up to the war.
    Arafat’s death is one difference, but so is the successful resolution to the war, capped by the elections. Does anyone seriously think Saudi Arabia would be telling Syria to leave immediately before Jan 30?

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