Democracy’s Fourth Wave? Information Technologies and the Fuzzy Causes of the Arab Spring

20 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2012

See all articles by M.M. Hussain

M.M. Hussain

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

Philip N. Howard

University of Washington - Department of Communication; University of Washington - Henry. M. Jackson School of International Studies; University of Washington - The Information School; University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute; University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute

Date Written: March 27, 2012

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Hussain, M.M. and Howard, Philip N., Democracy’s Fourth Wave? Information Technologies and the Fuzzy Causes of the Arab Spring (March 27, 2012). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2029711 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2029711

M.M. Hussain

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor ( email )

500 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

Philip N. Howard (Contact Author)

University of Washington - Department of Communication ( email )

Seattle, WA 98195
United States
2062216532 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.philhoward.org

University of Washington - Henry. M. Jackson School of International Studies ( email )

Seattle, WA
United States

University of Washington - The Information School ( email )

Box 353350
Seattle, WA 98195
United States

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford OX1 3PG Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford OX1 3PG Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

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