Wednesday, January 27, 2016

When Democracy Doesn't Work Anymore: For Egypt Nor The United States

Remember those heady days of the Arab Spring in Egypt in 2011?
Do you recall the pictures of protests in Tahrir Square and the promise of democracy and change made possible with Facebook and Twitter?

Demonstrators on Army Truck in Tahrir Square, Cairo Date: 29 January 2011
Photographed by: Ramy Raoof

Things did not quite turn out the way they were supposed to.

The Muslim Brotherhood was able to co-opt the popular protests and in June 2012, Morsi became president of Egypt.

The Egyptian Revolution began in January 2011 -- but by the November of that same year when disillusioned protesters reappeared in Tahrir, the effectiveness of social media in general and Facebook and Twitter in particular, was being questioned.

At the time, The Atlantic asked about: What the New Protests in Egypt Mean for the 'Twitter Revolutions'
The past several days have been hard ones for those who cheered the fall of Hosni Mubarak less than a year ago. More than 30 people have been killed protesting the continued rule of the military council, and the Egyptian cabinet has tendered its resignation. Tahrir Square, once a symbol of the possibilities for a new Egypt, has now become a stage for the revolution's unraveling. These developments (and others since last February) have provoked a simple thought: What if the combination of social media and mobile devices does make revolutions more likely, but do not in turn make republican governing any more possible? What then?

Of course, it's not been settled that these new communications technologies do make revolutions any easier. It never will be.
Fast-forward to today and it looks like in Egypt they have practically given up on asking the question.

Ih Al Ahram Weekly, Mohamed Abdel-Baky asks why social media appears to have lost its power to mobilise large demonstrations:
Five years after 25 January Revolution, social media may still play a role in political life but its ability to mobilise anti-government supporters has been eroded, particularly in the last two years.

As the fifth anniversary of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak approaches, popular social networks like Facebook and Twitter have seen limited activity, most of it focussed on calling for the release of detainees. Online demands for massive demonstrations to return to Tahrir Square have been few and far between, and the online response muted.

The Twitter hashtag #Ragain lel maidan (“We are back to the square”) attracted a few thousand Egyptian users but interest quickly waned.

“There is a lot of activity on Facebook and Twitter demanding the release of detainees and complaining about the way the revolution’s goals have been abandoned but it is far from turning into a mass movement on the ground,” says Ahmed Ragab, a researcher at the Egyptian Centre for Public Policy Studies.

Back in 2011, social media seemed to give Egyptians the kind of power and voice they lacked at the ballot box. Just five years later, social media just isn't playing as strong a role.

Ahmed Ragab, a researcher at the Egyptian Centre for Public Policy Studies, is quoted giving 2 reasons for this:
  • In 2010 a majority of social networkers opposed the Mubarak regime. However today, the Al-Sisi administration has millions of supports on both Facebook and Twitter.

  • Egyptins have lost confidence in the ability of protests to achieve political and social change.
But is that confidence in achieving political and social change any stronger back here in the United States? After all, the US is a real democracy. In the US, we have a real voice through the ballot box.


The answer may not be so enthusiastic, according to Glenn Reynolds, who writes in USA Today of a Forecast of distrust with a chance of revolution. Noting that Americans have more faith in the military than in the "political class", Glenn writes:
According to a recent Associated Press poll, the public lacks confidence in government. And by “lacks confidence,” I mean “really lacks confidence.” Specifically, “More than 6 in 10 respondents expressed only slight confidence — or none at all — that the federal government can make progress on the problems facing the nation in 2016.”

And this isn’t just Republicans in a sour mood after seven years of Obama. As the AP noted, “Perhaps most vexing for the dozen or so candidates vying to succeed President Barack Obama, the poll indicates widespread skepticism about the government's ability to solve problems, with no significant difference in the outlook between Republicans and Democrats.”
Reynolds traces this to a variety of US failures. To name a few:
  • Middle East chaos
  • Putin's increased influence in in eastern Europe and Syria;
  • Saudi Arabia desire for nuclear balance with Iran
  • Seven years of economic “recovery” and record deficits.
  • The IRS scandal
  • The botched ObamaCare rollout
Reynolds adds to the list "a seemingly endless array of similar screwups. When they’re not crooks, our leaders all too often seem to be incompetents."

And if there is no longer any confidence that the Republicans are up to fixing the problems -- if voters are not confident they can vote themselves out of this mess, then, as Reynolds notes, people will look to other solutions. Suddenly, Americans are as disillusioned with the ballot box as Egyptians are with social media. It's tough when the public consensus if being consistently frustrated.

Which may go much further than voting for Donald Trump.

Reynolds points to a YouGov poll from last fall that found that 29% of Americans could imagine supporting a military coup and Newser reported: “Some 71% said military officers put the interests of the country ahead of their own interests, while just 12% thought the same about members of Congress.“

Suddenly, The political situation in the United States doesn't seem so different from from Egypt.

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