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How Social Media Is Changing the Middle East

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Never has there been as much positivity about the Middle East as there is right now. Yes, there have been recent issues of confrontation, but even the manner in which these have been dealt with have elicited an amount of positivity not previously seen in the region.

This article will examine how the internet, online and mobile communication, apps, and chat forums have begun to change the climate of one of the most volatile places in the world.

Known for war… Instability and strife… or is it really?

The media has long assured us that the Middle East is a place of strife, hardship and suffering. The reality is that yes, there are systemic issues in the area and yes, there is a lot to be done to overcome these political, societal and psychological challenges, but this is a geographic area of sameness as not experienced or seen elsewhere in the world. It is a region where a mosque used to be a church and that church a synagogue. The history of the people is so intertwined that it is almost the same history, and it is only in its telling as a separate story that our sameness is diluted. Far too long has this been the case.

The reality, as is being discussed and debated on an ongoing basis by young people online, as they game, interact and just be, is that from the Red Sea to the Black Sea and the Gulf below, this is an area of sameness, of young positive people who all want and need a future from the same soil. This is the realization occurring online that is bringing nations together.

People coming together

Communication is key for people to understand one another and with the development of geographic, language and topic-specific social apps and platforms, as well as the traditional ones such as Facebook (despite the recent Facebook scandal, it is still the top communication channel in the region), Twitter and independent news channels there is a wealth of opportunities to do just this. Internet usage in the Middle East has increased significantly in recent times, with the demographics showing that more younger people are interacting online, where they are discussing issues that affect their futures and the future of the region.

The internet, social media and international social pressure have been brought to bear on those who lead, and no longer is it possible to ignore what people need. Such unity from below, as expressed on social media platforms and across forums and chat rooms, is the fabric of true democracy and will arguably result in the most change that this region has seen for 50 years.

As noted by subject matter expert Mark Dubowitz, the US should have more leverage to help the region, and this will be enhanced by the manner in which people have started to communicate.

The mainstay of this communication has been on the internet between normal people, though many have earned the moniker of peace blogger or social activists. Activism has come to encapsulate these young people, who advocate change. This is something that democratic commentators, political writers and politicians themselves had best recognize and perhaps attempt to engage in these discussions. As with elsewhere it has happened, the upswell can be immediate and sparked by the simplest of confrontations.

Freedom from below

What many commentators have indeed noted, is that based on the so-called Arab spring phenomenon, there is potential for immediate change to any system if there are enough voices singing from the same score. The power that social media provides in terms of generating support, creating meeting places, organizing, virtual unnamed leadership, are all vital criteria for the exercise of freedom from below. Young people and their knowledge, use and understanding of engagement online and through mobile technology have created an environment ripe for change. It is being felt in all aspects of modern life and there are brigades of Greta Thunberg types waiting in the wings to raise standards for equality, diversity, peace, justice and a whole range of rights.

This is freedom from below as never seen before and for many of the older generation it is perhaps difficult to imagine how young people of different, genders, races, cultures and religions are able to find expression in their sameness online and in safe virtual spaces.

Freedom of expression

Article 10 of the Human Rights Act has never been more important because we now see young people from all sides of the discussion being able to say exactly how they feel. Understanding Article 10 has also been facilitated through online discussion and debate and young people are now more aware of their rights in this regard than ever before. It is one thing to freely express yourself, but another to know that you can do this without fear of persecution or prosecution. Democracy has been deepened by the exposure of more young people to the freedom that is the internet.

Climate for change

The genie that is the internet and freedom of expression have been let out of the bag and the chances that young people will surrender these freedoms are slim to nonexistent. Regardless of what social and political commentators are writing and seeing on the streets in the Middle East, there is more happening online and in virtual chatrooms and forums than ever before. The climate for change has never been more volatile than it is now and yet using the right channels and speaking in the right tones will go a long way to ensuring that this change is controlled and peaceful. This is after all what the majority of the young people engaging and discussing their future online are looking for.

Conclusion

The internet and social media are serving to tip the balance of power in the favor of democratic tendencies, rights and peace. Soon to be gone, are the political allegiances and country politics of old and it will be time for the old guard to recognize the futility of their ways. Hark the calls for justice and a future of togetherness that are currently being made by vast numbers of young people across the world wide web.

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