A leading Curtin academic has highlighted the major role of social media in the recent political unrest in the Middle East and Northern Africa, and believes the conflicts are evidence of a collapse of US foreign policy in the region.
Up to 15 countries in the area have witnessed pronounced political demonstrations since December 2010, resulting in changes of government in some countries and in the case of Egypt and Tunisia, revolution.
Senior Lecturer in International Relations and Strategic Studies Alexey Muraviev said the current turbulence was the first of its kind to be influenced by social networking sites.
‘Social networking was certainly a cross-border provocateur,’ he said.
‘I mean we can really talk about Twitter-type revolutions when Facebook and Twitter played a considerable role in assembling critical mass, in inspiring people, and even sharing tactics on how to achieve desired outcomes.’
‘They can see the success or relative success in one place and be inspired by that success. So that certainly played a very significant factor, in the mimicking the Tunisian experience because you see similar types of trends occurring later on in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, Syria and other places.’
Dr Muraviev believed the current hostilities in the area was the result of the US turning a blind eye to oppressive local regimes when fighting Soviet influence in the region in the 1970s, and could result in the eventual rise to power of fundamentalists.
‘Western interests there were effectively based on the power of local authoritarian regimes, but we pretended they were democratic regimes because they were convenient for us.’
‘We put a blind eye on human rights violations, on how they managed internal affairs and some external affairs, because they pledged their political loyalty to the West and they supplied the West with critical energy supplies.’
Dr Muraviev said there was uncertainty, not only in the region, but also for Western interests due to no one knowing which sort of regimes would take over governments, and the possibility of fundamentalists filling the void left in power.
‘Normally we are faced with two options: one is we effectively replace one secular regime with another, and that may be a military backed government like in Turkey or what is currently running Egypt,’ he explained.’
Dr Muraviev highlighted the rise of fundamentalist parties being voted in democratically was a very real possibility, citing the election of Islamist political party Hamas in Palestine.
‘By forcing in democracy and democratic principles to these countries, we may pave the way to the legitimate arrival of religious fundamentalists, similar to what happened in 2004 in Gaza.’
‘In times of impoverishment and dissatisfaction, in times of when the middle class represents a severe minority of society, times of popular outcry and frustration, when Arabs see US-led coalitions as powers that attack fellow Muslims across the globe, the popularity of radical ideas and ideologies is growing.
‘So we may just pave ways to fundamentalists getting golden opportunities to seize power, now we may have the situation where the genie could be let out of the bottle.’
He also questioned motives of those currently using armed conflict in an attempt to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, particularly the US and French governments who Dr Muraviev believed were acting, on par with other considerations, to better their chances of success in their respective 2012 presidential campaigns.
‘It’s a war of convenience, it’s a war driven by domestic reasons. It’s the war to appease the electorate at home rather than to achieve any humanitarian goals in Libya, as cynical as that may sound.’
View the latest news from Libya and Japan via the Strategic Flashlight website.