The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Information Technology and Political Islam

The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Information Technology and Political Islam

The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Information Technology and Political Islam

The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Information Technology and Political Islam

Synopsis

Around the developing world, political leaders face a dilemma: the very information and communication technologies that boost economic fortunes also undermine power structures. Globally, one in ten internet users is a Muslim living in a populous Muslim community. In these countries, young people are developing political identities online, and digital technologies are helping civil society build systems of political communication independent of the state and beyond easy manipulation by cultural or religious elites.

With unique data on patterns of media ownership and technology use,The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracydemonstrates how, since the mid-1990s, information technologies have had a role in political transformation. Democratic revolutions are not caused by new information technologies. But in the Muslim world, democratization is no longer possible without them.

Excerpt

On Friday, June 12, 2009, Iran voted. On Monday, June 15, Tehran erupted. With implausibly fast ballot counting and high levels of electoral support credited to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the dense urban centers and Azeri communities known to back the opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, the country exploded in demonstrations and violence. Over the next few days, Tehran and other major urban centers saw the largest street protests and rioting since the 1979 Revolution. And the wired world was drawn in.

Domestic politics has often interfered with the administration of elections in Iran, where even competing in elections requires the blessing of the ruling circle of mullahs. The 2005 presidential election that brought Ahmadinejad to power also had irregularities and media blackouts. But this time, civil society groups, social movement leaders, and disaffected youth had access to an information infrastructure largely independent of the state. Armed with mobile phones and the internet, trusted networks of family and friends spread the news of electoral fraud and escalating tensions.

New information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as the internet and mobile phones, have had clear roles both in starting new democratic processes in some countries and in entrenching them in others. Activists in Indonesia effectively used mobile phones to mobilize to topple Suharto in 1998. During Kyrgyzstan’s Tulip Revolution of March 2005, mobile phones were again used to organize activists to join protests at key moments, helping democratic leaders build a social movement with sufficient clout to oust the president. Kuwait’s women’s suffrage movement was much more successful in 2005 than it had been in 2000, in part because it was able to use text messaging to call younger protesters out of school to attend demonstrations. In Egypt, Tunisia and Kazakhstan opposition groups that face state censorship simply move their online content to servers in other countries. Recent elections in Turkey and Malaysia have demonstrated that blogs have a role in . . .

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