the heart of the revolution

CNN’s Fareed Zakaria says 15 years ago, the only media in Tunisia and Egypt was state-run media. And he’s probably right.

“All you could read, hear and see was government propaganda…. a daily catalogue of the great deeds of Hosni Mubarak or President Ben Ali or whomever,” he says.

The Internet allowed citizens to access more information, from both western and more independent Arab media, including websites with a certain degree of anonymity.

But it was social media that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. While the computer is still a luxury in much of the Middle East, almost everyone has a cell phone. And this breaks the regime’s monopoly on information, allowing individuals to expose the government’s lies and organize themselves. Zakaria concludes:

It’s not a silver bullet, but clearly today’s information technology has the effect of disintermediating – it breaks down hierarchies and monopolies. That’s got to be good for the individual, and it must be bad for dictatorships.

This is true, up to a point.

But we can’t suppose that you only lie if you have a printing press. People with cell phones lie too. This is a heart issue, not a technology issue. (And a heart of darkness is certainly not an African or Arab monopoly.)

I’m not wanting anyone to live under a brutal dictator, but revolution doesn’t always have a beneficial effect. Think of the French Revolution, for example.

Or how badly things have turned out in Zaire (Congo), where a band of rebels ultimately turned out to be a tool of the Tutsi in Rwanda. Having been slaughtered by their Hutu countrymen—when the Tutsi took over power they used the unrest across the border as an excuse to invade and slaughter the Hutu refugees there. There are no good guys in a double genocide.

A review this weekend of Joseph Stearn’s Dancing in the Glory of Monsters is sobering but important reading. In the end the sides splinter and descend into greater horror.

No technology makes men less evil that they are. We should not ascribe to the Twitter Revolutions virtues they have not yet demonstrated.

Not every country has a George Washington, who will turn over the privileges of victory and rank and go back to the farm. In “Is there an Egyptian George Washington,” Bret Stephens observes:

….until technology recasts human nature, human nature will be what it always has been. And human nature abhors a leadership vacuum. When revolutions are successful, it’s not that they have no “papas”; it’s that they have good papas. So it was with Washington, or with Mandela—men of hard-earned and unmatched moral authority, steeped in the right values, who not only could defeat their adversaries but also rein in the tempers of their own followers.

I’m not contesting the power of social media here. It guarantees the end of many oppressive and evil regimes.

It does not guarantee what will replace them, however. New hierarchies will emerge. Either that or endless anarchy.

All social media can do is increase the speed with which it takes place.


Please note, I believe change comes from the inside out, a transformation rooted in the gospel itself.

4 thoughts on “the heart of the revolution”

  1. Great post. I’m actually helping with a research study on the influence of social media in the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. Totally agree with your assessment. However, I do think it is important to note that in countries where freedom of the press doesn’t exist social media had been providing a way for oppositional messages to be heard. Here is a hyperlink to a CNN article about the rap music industry in Tunisia (
    A great video clip about how it was through social media that this music could be published. True, dictators will always exist and technology doesn’t solve very large political issues – but it has helped 🙂

  2. This is st you may care about.
    The Revolution of July instantly had friends and enemies throughout the entire world. The first rushed toward her with joy and enthusiasm, the others turned away, each according to his nature. At the first blush, the princes of Europe, the owls of this dawn, shut their eyes, wounded and stupefied, and only opened them to threaten. A fright which can be comprehended, a wrath which can be pardoned. This strange revolution had hardly produced a shock; it had not even paid to vanquished royalty the honor of treating it as an enemy, and of shedding its blood. In the eyes of despotic governments, who are always interested in having liberty calumniate itself, the Revolution of July committed the fault of being formidable and of remaining gentle. Nothing, however, was attempted or plotted against it. The most discontented, the most irritated, the most trembling, saluted it; whatever our egotism and our rancor may be, a mysterious respect springs from events in which we are sensible of the collaboration of some one who is working above man.

    The Revolution of July is the triumph of right overthrowing the fact. A thing which is full of splendor.

    Right overthrowing the fact. Hence the brilliancy of the Revolution of 1830, hence, also, its mildness. Right triumphant has no need of being violent.

    Right is the just and the true.

    The property of right is to remain eternally beautiful and pure. The fact, even when most necessary to all appearances, even when most thoroughly accepted by contemporaries, if it exist only as a fact, and if it contain only too little of right, or none at all, is infallibly destined to become, in the course of time, deformed, impure, perhaps, even monstrous. If one desires to learn at one blow, to what degree of hideousness the fact can attain, viewed at the distance of centuries, let him look at Machiavelli. Machiavelli is not an evil genius, nor a demon, nor a miserable and cowardly writer; he is nothing but the fact. And he is not only the Italian fact; he is the European fact, the fact of the sixteenth century. He seems hideous, and so he is, in the presence of the moral idea of the nineteenth.

    This conflict of right and fact has been going on ever since the origin of society. To terminate this duel, to amalgamate the pure idea with the humane reality, to cause right to penetrate pacifically into the fact and the fact into right, that is the task of sages.

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