Unveiling the Revolutionaries: Cyberactivism and the Role of Women in the Arab Uprisings
Rice University James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy Research Paper
44 Pages Posted: 23 May 2013
Date Written: May 17, 2012
How did traditionally disenfranchised young Arab women, whose voices were largely absent from the public sphere and certainly from international policy making circles, harness new media technologies during the “Arab Spring” to reshape traditional power dynamics within their countries and with the West? This paper introduces several of the key figures leading the revolutionary convulsions in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, and Yemen and explores how young women used social media and cyberactivism to help shape the “Arab Spring” and its aftermath. It analyzes how young women used citizen journalism and social networking to counter the state-dominated media in their countries and influence mainstream media around the world, finding that in the process, they reconfigured the public sphere as well as the expectations of the public about the role women can and should play in the political lives of their countries.This paper offers empirical evidence of how the emergence of small media that rivals the scope and reach of mass media helped shift the balance of power between mainstream, authoritative state voices embedded in broadcast and print media, which are primarily male-owned, and alternative, individual, female voices embedded in the small media of blogs and mobile telephony. Based on semi-structured interviews with activists from Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen along with virtual and physical ethnography, participant observation, and content analysis, this paper argues that the Arab Spring was not just a political revolution, it was a social, sexual and potentially religious one as well. This paper argues that not only have cyberactivism and social media platforms shifted the power dynamics of authoritarian Arab governments and their citizenry, but they have also reconfigured power relations between the youth who make up the majority of the population and the older generation of political elites who were overwhelmingly male and often implicated in the perpetuation of the status quo. Female cyberactivists stand out for their use of new media technologies and access to platforms that blurred the boundaries between private and public spaces, transcended national boundaries, and created bridges with transnational media and activists groups.
Keywords: Middle East, gender, Arab Spring, citizen journalism, technology, cyberactivism, Arab world, women
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