I remember the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. It seemed rather surreal as dictatorship after dictatorship fell in relatively quick succession. Some passed with little bloodshed, some went through more violent phases but in the end it changed the face of Eastern Europe. It was certainly exciting for a 16 year old boy to watch unfold especially as I’d been raised with the spectre of nuclear war and faceless totalitarian states. All of this happened with nothing more than word of mouth and a few foreign radio stations reporting what they could.
Watching events unfold in Egypt and the wider Arab world you would think the ability to organise and co-ordinate offered by modern communications mean the days of Middle Eastern dictatorships are numbered. However I’m not so sure. While it’s true that more people than ever have the ability to access the Internet and mobile communications they are networks that are controllable for the most part. There are always ways around these blocks but by denying it to the majority it severely hampers peoples ability to co-ordinate. They certainly don’t have anything near the facilities available to them that our Students did during the recent student fees protests. I hope I’m wrong and the darknets are in place and cobbled together networks are playing their part in helping people organise.
What is clear that the only people that can do anything about it are those inside the affected countries. Western governments can only offer warm words with the appropriate diplomatic hedging just in case the dictators manage to hang onto power for the time being. The rest of us just get to watch.