e Arab World and the Signs of the Information Revolution

The Arab World and the Signs of the Information Revolution

The recent wave of elections in the Arab East and its neighbour Islamic Iran has directed the attention of observers and researchers to this political mobility and media activity in the countries where different kinds of elections were held: Municipal elections in Iraq; parliamentary in Kuwait and Lebanon; presidential in Iran. The most remarkable phenomena in these elections were the huge number of voters, the younger generation in the lead,and the use of advanced technology in election management, propaganda and monitoring.

The outcome of these elections as influenced by the political and social conditions of each country is a significant indicator of the changes taking place in the social structure of the peoples of the region, the development of their political awareness and their understanding of current changes worldwide.

This phenomenon manifested itself in Kuwait in the winning of women in National Assembly elections for the first time. Four women have been elected members of the 50-member Assembly, i.e. 8%. More importantly, they won a huge number of votes, with some of them ranking first and second in their constituencies. These four MPs are all graduates of prestigious international universities. This reflects a major shift in the manner of electing candidates who are no longer elected on tribal grounds or according to hollow promises, but on the basis of expertise and high education.

This phenomenon occurred in the Lebanese elections as well, as a number of young men and women have succeeded in becoming MPs, and the number of representatives of traditional and rightist political forces diminished, though the sectarian structure in Lebanon remained somewhat intact. All parties failed to receive a sweeping victory for themselves, as was the case in -Lebanon in the past. Old political forces have realized that these elections will be the last for them to stand for, giving way to a younger generation who do not acknowledge such sectarian legacies much.

The elections in Iran were very noisy, and its noise spread -to all corners of the world. The results of these elections triggered a massive wave of protests and rejection and were not recognized by the other forces which shared in the elections and regarded the results as rigged by the authorities in favour of right-wing ad stringent religious groups.

There were street protests, of course, led by university and other educational institution students. It is interesting, however, to note that these protests were not related to the elections only and were not voiced against particular persons, but were an expression of rejection of an extremist, ultraconservative political group which not only fails to understand current changes but also rejects any adaptation to the movement of international human progress.

The coming transformation

It is therefore necessary to monitor these election phenomena and understand the nature of the transformation taking place in our societies and the impact of scientific advances and of globalization which is re-forming the world according to its new tools. We have to acknowledge that information highway has been changing the face of the world, which has become open for the first time, breaking down barriers among peoples and countries, including our Arab and Muslim world, which may look stagnant on the surface, but is in -fact full of changes inside. The first tool which allows the younger generation to access the information highway, of course, is the personal computer (PC). As Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, put it in the mid-1990s: The PC-with its ever-developing hardware, applications in the world of business, direct communication service systems, internet, email and multimedia addresses ports, and games is the basis for the coming revolution.

The impact of this scientific revolution launched by the computer several years ago on the current social movements in the Arab World, through rejection or acceptance, begins to be clearly felt. The hierarchic social structure of Arab traditional societies is scientifically backward, but the younger generation, resisting the forces which control the movement of society, has emerged keeping up with the pace of world development, and their possession of this open space and this unprecedented of the freedom of expression made them determined to manage their own affairs, rejecting the old guard s argument that they need to be under their custody.

Dr. Nabil Ali, the researcher in information technology, stressing the impact of this scientific revolution, said: "The Internet has become an information medium embodying ll other communication media print, audio and visual as well as mass and personal media. The impact of these technological advances reflects on all such media, and, more importantly, on the nature of the relationships between the producers, distributors and recipients of the media message; the world has diminished in terms of place and time, and barriers have been broken down."

The impact of these scientific and technological -developments in the area of communication was keenly felt on the election process and its results, particularly in the Iranian presidential elections and the incidents provoked by these results. Dramatic advances in mobiles and their enormous -capability for high precision in the recording and instant transmission of sound and picture to satellites made live transmission of the incidents on Tehran s streets possible, despite attempts by the Iranian authorities to contain and hide them, and even cut off communication with the outside world, closed foreign correspondents offices and arrested embassies personnel.

However, all that did not prevent the publication of a photograph of a girl who was killed in street protests just as she wanted to express herself and has thus become a martyr in the eyes of people worldwide.

-Moving backwards in time

We have definitely received Gill Gates message about this future revolution which is now unstoppable as it has become part of everyday realities, and all attempts by reactionary forces to reject, prevent, contain or control it is something of the past which can not resist the liveliness of the future, particularly in view of the mark of cooperation and understanding among all peoples of the world it bears.

One conclusion is that a new awareness of global values is being developed. It favours renewal and progress and expresses peoples genuine desire to keep up with the spirit of the age and reject reactionary and extremist attitudes as it is influenced by many changes taking place in the world today the so-called global framework.

In recent decades, the process of change in the Arab region and its Islamic neighbours has been slow, with a low level of ability to keep up with world developments in the areas of culture, science, liberties, political and intellectual awareness, comprehensive and sustainable development and other areas in which the world has made considerable strides and achieved unprecedented progress in man s history, but that is likely to change. Our region is no longer isolated from the rest of the world but has come under the spotlight in terms of knowledge, as we have been as far s geography is concerned, despite the slow rate of change and widespread poverty and backwardness as well as low levels of education, which helped reactionary forces dominate society and its NGOs, parties and unions and many positions of power alike.

The culture of the margins

The globalization culture has created communication and even integration and mutual influence among world cultures, forming new cultures, values and morals. Even active, influential central cultures are being influenced by the so-called culture of the margins , i.e. culture o weak, poor and isolated countries. The effect of this revolution on carrying the message of Islam through fast communication channels can not be ignored. There is a widespread movement worldwide to introduce Islam and its basic values, teachings and principles and their impact on individuals and their behaviour.

There is also a strong movement in the West which is influenced by the arts and culture of such societies that were long considered marginal, such as that of East Asia, Africa and even the Arab World. European culture is thus influenced in various areas, such as arts, architecture, fashion design, jewellery, oriental cuisine, even philosophy and religion, as well as interior design, ornamental plants, textile printing, etc. All this reflects the effect of communication on the culture of world societies and their mutual influence and shows they can not escape such changes and new conditions which are no longer dictated by governments but by the force of capital and cultural, educational and media institutions and modern information technology.

-From sound to picture

In the past, the radio represented an international revolution which put an end to peoples isolation and helped them know what happens in faraway places and follow major -events and even influenced them. We all remember the role which cassettes played in fomenting the Iranian revolution and overthrowing the Shah s regime. The mobile camera has become the modern, alternative technology and a historic landmark in the free transmission of sound and picture, enabling people thousands of miles away to watch and not only listen to what is taking place in other countries, without reliance on governmental transmission systems.

However, the main message given by the results of these elections is peoples longing for pluralism and belief that no group can impose its own vision or creed on other groups. These demands are not just burning desires but have become a force reflecting peoples real will, and these principles will be a reality in the interest of the future and human coexistence. The progress of any society can not be achieved in the absence of such constitutional rules and laws that make such coexistence a basic approach of governments.

A revolution that can not be ignored

The conclusion that my be drawn from the mobility which the results of the elections showed in our region, the reactions to some of these results and the insistence of opposition forces on their rights is that our information age forces us to deal with things as they should really be and not as those living in the past want them to be and try to recreate the remote past with its laws, values and tools and build a political, social, moral and economic system upon it. This contemporary revolution makes it incumbent upon the Muslim Arabs to make use of the achievements of modern times, develop their systems and societies to adapt to the information age and place themselves among other peoples in a competitive world in terms of knowledge and progress. We must all strive to help our societies embark on the inevitable democratic transformation which secures human rights and -dignity so that all parties and groups in all Arab societies may realize that the alternative to this transformation is sectarian violence and bloody conflicts, as the lessons of history tell us and urge us to avert them as they will not be in the interest of any party to the conflict if they God forbid arise.


Sulaiman Al-Askary

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