During this revolutionary fervour tearing throughout the Middle East, Western governments have chosen their words very carefully when commenting, fearful for being accused of diktats from abroad, a stark contrast to Iran’s so called “Green Revolution” of 2009.
It turns out that behind the scenes, the US state department and the British government have long been engaged with youth groups from Iran, Egypt and elsewhere, coaching them in how to make the best of online tools – how to effectively harness the social networks to mobilise mass support for a cause.
There’s no doubt that the Egyptian revolution is testament to grass roots activism, but any suggestions that it is entirely leaderless, like has been generally reported, is well wide of the mark, as events have been driven by a key group of activists.
The leaders of the movement were highlighted in detail, in Al Jazeera’s documentary “Egypt Seeds of Change”
It shows how these young activists used mobile phones, twitter and facebook to call for support.
Six months after the strike, one of the leaders of the April 6th movement was invited to attend a workshop in New York, run by The Alliance for Youth Movements.
There he joined a network of international activists, who gathered to discuss ways in which to support non-violent demonstrations against authoritarian regimes across the world.
“I believe that God has planted in every human heart the desire to live in freedom. And even when that desire is crushed by tyranny for decades, it will rise again.”
Exporting democratic values was central to the Bush administrations ideology, Iraq was meant to be part of that, but there was also more subtle work going on.
The man responsible for this?
James K Glassman was under secretary of state under George Bush.
This 74 minute lecture by James Glassman at the New American Foundation, can be summed up as:
“We developed a different way to communicate, I called it public diplomacy 2.0 and the idea was that we would be conveners or facilitators of conversations…big conversations, broad, deep conversations, in which our views would be one of many that would be expressed. So that was the idea and luckily technology was on our side, because this is what social media do and is what social networks are all about”
So what you have is a congruent coming together of the US state department, with partners like YouTube, Google and Facebook, to take advantage of social networking technology to tell America’s story and to encourage young people with political grievances to find outlets for their protests.
The US state department had been inspired by the successful grass roots demonstrations in Columbia against FARC guerillas in February 2008, that were organised via facebook.
It was this enthusiasm for social change that made the US state department fund The Alliance for Youth Movements inaugural conference in October 2008.
Several Egyptian activists including Ahmed Maher of the April 6th movement were invited.
Social networking also played a huge role in the Moldovan revolution of 2009, as JurnalTV’s video above demonstrates.
The New York based Alliance for Youth Movements also provides assistance via Skype conferencing to it’s activists, this time in Pakistan.
As well as being funded by the US state department, it has also seen funds from the British Government and is now seeking money from Google, amongst others for future projects.
“We don’t have a political agenda, and we appreciate that, that, it’s a, it’s a (stuttering) tight line, our goal and our mission is to enable civil society and, um, in putting those tools out there and showing how they can be used”
Facilitating non-violent protest often dovetails with western strategic goals.
Back to James Glassman:
“We are not ashamed to be Americans, we are not ashamed to have strong values that we want to espouse and promote around the world, but we also want to be effective and, um, ah, the most effective means of communicating and influencing, lets not kid ourselves, that’s what public diplomacy is all about, influence to meet strategic goals. It’s a lot easier to be influential if other people rather than US government officials are making the pronouncements and joining the conversation”
Once these networks are unleashed, no one can be sure what direction they will travel in, for libertarians under George Bush this is no problem, because they believe that their arguements about freedom and democracy will win the day.
It’s also true that the west has backed dictators under the name of stability and counter terrorism.
This means this path is not a straight forward one.
We’ve seen the hard power of shock and awe in Iraq.
Are we witnessing across the Middle East right now a form of soft power?
A shock and awe 2.0 where American social networks drive the change rather than laser guided missiles?
This was based on a BBC2 NewsNight report that aired on Friday February 11, 2011.