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The Jasmine Revolution is another name for the Tunisian Revolution, a series of violent protests that began on 18 December 2010 in Tunisia as a form of civil resistance. The revolution was a result of years of corruption, unemployment, poor living conditions, and lack of freedom of speech, facilities, inflation and political freedom. The protests were trigged when Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor, set himself on fire on 17 December 2010 protesting the humiliation inflicted on him by a woman municipal official. This led to a period of great social and political turbulence in Tunisia which eventually led to President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who had been ruling Tunisia since 1987, fleeing the country and officially resigning on 14 January 2011.
This uprising in Tunisia led to subsequent revolutions in many Arab countries, popularly known as Arab Spring. Protests began in Egypt which led to fleeing of President Hosni Mubarak, ending his 30 year rule. There was civil war in Libya which led to fleeing and death of the ruler Muhammar Gaddafi, ending his 42 year rule. There were also major uprisings in other parts of the Arab world like Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Bahrain, Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, Iran and Mauritania. There were also protest in other parts of the globe like North Africa and Middle East.
Dictator Bel-Ali’s government had a strong control on various media platforms. Despite great attempts at repressing the protests that were happening in Tunisia, Tunisians used a very powerful tool to make their voices heard – social media. The role of social media in the Jasmine Revolution is analysed in this paper.
In the article “Social Media: The New Tool of Revolution” by Aditi Malhotra, appeared in CLAWS Publication, she talks about how social networks like Facebook, and Twitter played a very vital role in being about the change during the Arab Spring. She talks about this fire spread from Tunisia to Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Algeria, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. While talking about the Jasmine Revolution in specific, she talks about the media blackout that was present in Tunisia. The government controlled all media platforms and it was the social media who finally was able to make a break through. Millions of people in Tunisia and all over the world were a part of the revolution as pictures and videos of the protests were shared all over the social network. Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation which triggered the revolution was in fact not one of the first cases of self-immolation in Tunisia, but it was covered by Al Jazzera and other news channels and shown to the entire world. The article goes on to say how the government did in fact try to stop the flow of information by blocking websites, deleting accounts, arresting bloggers and other active people on the social platform but they were unable to the stop this great force.
In another article, “The Emerging Role of Social Media in Political and Regime Change” by Rita Safranek, published in ProQuest, talks about social media as a major catalyst in bringing about the change in many countries that were going through a major period of political unrest. The author talks about the triggering point of the Jasmine Revolution, the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi was captured by passers-bys and posted and re-posted on YouTube for everyone to see. Furthermore, the mass protests at his funeral also spread quickly and all over. The author goes on say that despite very strict censorship of the internet by Tunisia’s government, Tunisians were able to emerge as highly connected – 33% of the Tunisian population uses the internet, 16% uses Facebook and 18% uses Twitter. Although the government did block YouTube during the crucial period of protests, it was unable to stop experienced bloggers and activists from finding alternate methods like by using private and proxy networks to post and re-post various contents and videos all over the cyber world. In fact, there was an eight percent increase in the number of Facebook users in Tunisia in the beginning of January 2011. The nature of the content being shared also changed with time – more content related to the current political situation and unrest was being shared. Although the author credits social media with helping organize the protest and connect activists, she also goes on to say that the social media will not be help with running the country which is the current concern in the country at present.
Discussion of the Case
The social media – Facebook and Twitter might not have “caused” the Jasmine Revolution but it definitely was a major catalyst in bringing about the change that we see in Tunisia today. Tunisia was always susceptible to an internet-enable revolution considering a good number of Tunisians are internet-savvy, use social media and most of the population uses mobile phones. Although the number of people active on Twitter was not as high, what matters more is who is tweeting, rather than how many people are tweeting.
The very first trigger to the revolution, Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation, created such an upheaval due to the fact that is shared on the social media and which is when it got Al Jazeera’s attention which showed it to the world and after which when news channels all over the world started showcasing it. The revolution thus began in the city of Sidi Bouzid, in the interior of the country as a result of the police got violent and the shocking images and content were shared on the Internet. Subsequently, the protest spread to the more the more prosperous parts of the country where activists became more organized and finally when President Ben Ali was ousted and the country was in mayhem, Tunisians used to the help of the social media platforms to organize themselves further to combat the armed forces. The internet and mobile phones were effectively used to inform places where the security forces were being deployed and where the next protest would be.
Facebook was used to share the latest news regarding the protests and images of the government’s brutality against the citizens. 75% of Facebook users were 18-24 years of age. Tunisians used Facebook to update their friends and families about the current situations on their cities and villages. Many Facebook users changed their profile picture to the symbol of the democratic revolt showing images of camaraderie. Twitter was also a major platform for the people to voice their sentiments. Tweets were dominated by the tag #bouazizi, subsequently, the day the President was ousted, #sidibouzid was most used hash tag and finally the whole country became consumed with #tunisia. In total, there were 196,000 mentions of Tunisia, which reached 26 million Twitter users all over the world.
Television also became a part of the revolution. Even though the domestic channels were heavily-censored by Ben Ali’s regime, the cable channel, Al Jazeera began broadcasting videos that were being shared on the internet. This helped in spreading the revolution from the younger demographics were techno-savvy to the older demographics. This helped in making the movement bigger and more active. Instances of brutality by the police and officials became more and more public which generated even more rebellion in the Tunisians.
An aspect where social media helped was creating some order and organization to the chaos. Rumours and misinformation could be easily corrected and passed on using social media. Activists could use this platform to create calm and counter people who were taking advantage of the situation in order to create terror.
Another aspect of that played a significant role was the spread of music on the social media platform. Hamada Ben Amor, a.k.a. El General performed a song “Rais Lebled” which became a sort of revolution anthem for the young protestors of Tunisia. Hamada Ben Amor was one of the most popular Tunisian Internet rap artists. The lyrics of the song talked about oppression and poverty and considering the fact that rap was banned; the song became an even more major symbol of youth rebellion. The song was shared only on Facebook, which made it even more exclusive. After the President fled from the country, the song was aired on Tunisian television for everyone to hear. Since then El General wrote a new rap song, “Vive Tunisie!” as a tribute to the protestors of not only the Jasmine Revolution, but also of many other Arab countries were revolutions took place like Egypt, Morocco, Libya and Algeria.
Analysis and Conclusion
Social media indeed was a major enabler of the Jasmine Revolution. In fact, it has also gone to be a similar catalyst in many more uprising to follow in the Arab world. It will continue to play a major role in political change as it easy to access and difficult to control. The authoritative governments cannot control the social media the way they can control the traditional media. Social media enable the chance to organize even when surrounded by utter chaos.
Social media also helps achieve something major – connection with the outer world. It is easy for the authoritative government to ban or censor various traditional media platforms thus influencing the kinds of news that is outside world hears. But using social media which is hard to censor or ban, such a restriction is impossible. The real picture of what is going on in the country can be portrayed to the world. This can enable to country in question get outside help and support which will only strengthen the entire movement.
The interesting characteristic of an internet-enabled movement is the flat structure. The movement is not led by one particular person organization. It thus seizes to have a hierarchy. Anybody, of any age group, size, colour or gender can be an integral part of this movement and nothing can break down this flatness.
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