GUEST COMMENTARY: A perfect storm in the Middle East

2011-03-08T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: A perfect storm in the Middle EastBy Yahya Kamalipour nwitimes.com
March 08, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Speaking at a recent international security conference, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "The region is being battered by a perfect storm of powerful trends." This raging storm, fomented by the autocratic governments' suppression of basic human rights, needs and freedom expression, has been brewing underground for decades.

It has so far toppled the autocratic rulers of Egypt and Tunisia, divided Sudan, and is now raging in Libya and gaining momentum in Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East.

As an avid observer of the global events, especially of the Middle East, I am simultaneously worried, mesmerized and hopeful.

Worried, because the domino effect of the uprisings and the savage military response of the self-aggrandized dictators, such as Moammar Gadhafi, could potentially result in unprecedented exodus, killings, displacement, civil war and monumental crisis in the Middle East.

Mesmerized, because citizens of so many countries have, for the first time, in a spontaneous fashion begun shouting their feelings about their unelected and suffocating regimes.

Hopeful, because the Middle Eastern youths, awakened by the free flow of information via the Internet and social networks, are demanding for the long overdue political change which could result in democracy, peace, freedom and prosperity.

Regardless of the course of events, one thing is for sure: The non-elected, self-serving and forever dictatorial regimes must go, sooner better than later.

I believe the Internet has empowered people, especially youths, and invigorated the democratization of communication and information throughout the world. In today's interconnected and interdependent global environment in which information flow is no longer unidirectional but multidirectional, rapid and interactive.

As the recent crisis and popular uprisings in the Middle East (i.e., Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen) have illustrated, the new communication technologies are empowering citizen's aspirations for freedom, democracy, human rights, and prosperity. Hence, the autocratic rulers can no longer limit their citizens' access to information or silence their voices.

The old days in which governments could confiscate tangible information materials (i.e., newspapers, books, pamphlets, cassettes, films and photos) are dead. Now, all you need to know is invisibly floating in the air that we breathe -- untouchable and vital!

Reportedly, more than 60 percent of the Middle Eastern countries are 30 years or younger; hence their transformative and promising revolution for change has just begun.

Aided by the new digital technologies, the information revolution has ushered in an unprecedented political revolution which should change the face of the Middle East forever. A hopeful and relatively peaceful revolution in which the new digital media and citizen journalists are playing the long forgotten responsibilities of the old media: informing the uninformed and functioning as people's watchdogs over the corrupt public officials and ruthless dictatorial regimes.

In order to cling to power, dictators may bribe their citizens, arrest and jail them, or even kill them, but the reality is that their efforts will ultimately prove useless or temporary. But suffocated, ignored and abused for too long, the youths of the Middle East have voiced their wishes loudly and clearly. They simply want democracy, freedom, accountability, jobs and a hopeful future!

The Genie is out of the bottle. We can no longer turn the clock back.

Yahya R. Kamalipour is professor and head of Purdue University Calumet's Department of Communication and Creative Arts, and editor of the newly released book, "Media, Power, and Politics in the Digital Age: The 2009 Presidential Election Uprising in Iran." The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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