Democracy’s Fourth Wave? Information Technologies and the Fuzzy Causes of the Arab Spring
20 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2012
Date Written: March 27, 2012
It has been 15 years since the last wave of democratization. In the “third wave” between 1989 and 1995, many remnants of the Soviet Union and failed authoritarian regimes in other parts of the world turned themselves into variously functional electoral democracies. Around the world, roughly three in every five states held a democratic form by 2010. But as a region, North Africa and the Middle East were noticeably devoid of popular democracy movements — until the early months of 2011. Between January and April 2011 public demand for political and economic reform cascaded from Tunis to Cairo, Sanaa, Amman and Manama. Democratization movements had existed long before technologies like mobile phones and the Internet came to these countries. But with these technologies, people sharing an interest in democracy built extensive networks and activated collective action movements for political change. What might have made regimes more susceptible than others to popular uprisings, and what might explain the relative successes of some movements more than others? What role does information technology have in the modern recipe for democratization? Weighing multiple political, economic, and cultural conditions, we find that information infrastructure — especially mobile phone use — consistently appears as one of the key ingredients in parsimonious models for the conjoined combinations of causes behind social movement success during the Arab Spring. Internet use is relevant in some solution sets, but by causal logic it is actually low levels of internet use and internet censorship that results in regime durability. In other words, a relative small population of internet users and low levels of digital censorship makes for a less fragile regime, while relatively high levels of mobile phone use was a causal contributor to social movement success.
Keywords: Arab Spring, Digital Media, Fuzzy Set Logic, Internet, Social Movements, democracy, democratization
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