The impact of internet on the spirit of the Syrian society is marked opposite to the interest of authoritarian rulers of the country. The more the society is being involved with the cyber world the more it is being aware of its present condition under the rule of the regime. This growing consciousness is being assisted by the swarm of Syrian youth to whom socialism means nothing but a set of restrictions and restraint and at the same time change is of great interest with them. The change that internet is bringing about in the society is marked as social but its impact on the existing political system is huge. Syria is in the second position in internet growth among the middle-eastern countries. This rapid growth speaks of no less possibility of a positive change in the society. Internet is not the catalyst to play a full fledged role in bringing about a revolution, but its role is crucial to create a wider and momentous plot for a reticent revolution in Syria as internet is a vital source of information for the Syrian population.
This dissertation assesses the role of Internet non-violent revolutions, and whether it can be used as a tool in changing the social behaviour towards dictators and dictatorships, together with findings whether Internet can play a role in bringing about a democratic change in Syria, vindicated in the light of some peaceful revolutions in human history.
Syria has been under sheer dictatorship for the last 45 years. Syrian people have been deprived of their human rights during those years as they have been rigorously violated and still being violated in the so-called regime. Even at the beginning of this century only some people were familiar with Internet. A handful number of elite class citizens were capable of accessing the Internet. Unfortunately Internet in Syria never enjoyed the primrose path as the Syrian regime has always endeavoured to opt for the chances to impose rigid rules and regulations that have exploited the Syrian people of their right for free and fair access to Internet.
Taking into account non-violent revolution in Syria, it is important to stress that internet rings for a greater prospect. Since the military coup d’états of the Ba’ath Party in 8 March 1963, up till now, no political freedom as authoritarianism in different forms is a long nourished subject in the Arabian political tradition. People were never truly liberated. After the downfall of Soviet Union a democratic sway swept over the different parts of the world. One after another the old ruling elites were being overthrown in the East European. But in Syria though much of the old generation has been replaced by new faces after the soviet downfall, the declining spirit of communism is still prevailing in the ruling clans. But it is clear that socialism in Syria is more of the profit factor for the ruling than of the ideological spirit.
The ruling regime in Syria banned many potential web sites, specially the news sites and human rights sites. If any user was found involved in anti-regime activities by using Internet, the respective users were arrested. Moreover, the Security apparatuses started to intrude into the people’s private affairs by checking users’ received and sent e-mails, and imposed rigid rules and regulations on cyber cafés. If any user wanted to use Internet in a cyber café, he/she had to submit his/her National ID, e-mail account etc. For such frequent nuisances Syrian users felt discouraged to explore into the cyber-world. But thorough the passage of time the torrent of needs generated by modern technology has compelled Syrian people to be querulous and conscious of their rights. Human history does not discard the prospect of a non-violent change in Syria as it successfully has composed the same story of a non violent revolution Serbia’s Otpor, Georgia’s Kmara, Ukraine’s Pora, Kyrgyzstan’s KelKel, Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution and Belarus’ Zubr. Among them the revolutionary plot of Lebanon is more similar to that of Syria’s.
However, under the above mentioned circumstances the internet can play a potential role in bringing about a reticent peaceful revolution and democratic change. A non-violent revolution is the only viable option of change in Syria, which otherwise may need gallons of blood as the human history puts numerous examples of bloody revolutions before us, where results are not always guaranteed.
This dissertation deals mainly with status of Internet and Information & Communication Technologies in Syria, and its impact on civil society to generate human rights, and civil engagement in Syria and a potential model for a social revolution in Lebanon’s Cedar style or other non-violent revolutions in Eastern Europe. This study is divided into seven chapters, including Introduction and Conclusion. The Aims and Objective’ clause provides points where the researcher tries to reach and how he analyzes and processes the collected information on the role of cyber world (internet in different countries) and upholds them step by step to develop arguments and theories how to apply them in Syria’s case.
The clause Research Method’ has described the procedure of competition of this dissertation. The chapter General Status of Internet and ICT in Syria’ discusses the status of internet and ICT in Syria in general. The Analysis of the Regime’s Grip on Internet, ICT, Electronic Media, Print Media and Pro-Democracy and Human Right Movement’ chapter analyzes the rules and regulations imposed on the respective sectors by the Syrian Dictatorship. It also explores into the condition of human rights. The chapter A Review on Several Non-violent Social Revolutions of Human History’ examines critically and in details the pre and on revolutionary plot of the several Eastern European and Middle Eastern countries. The Analysis of Pro-revolutionary Prospect of Internet and communication Technologies in Syria’ chapter provides:
- Study about the role of internet in promoting the agenda of human rights and civil liberties in Syria;
- Experiments on the use of Internet and ICTs for to bring about a change in Syrian social behaviour and eventually to lead this change to a peaceful or non-violent revolution; and
- Role of Internet to raise the level of civic engagement in Syria.
The Model of a Non-violent Revolution in Syria’ chapter examines the prospect of a non-violent revolution and presents potential model in order to bring about a placid revolution in Syria. This paper also examines some recent literature to identify the dictator’s iron hand’ on public use of ICT, and particularly the Internet, in Syria. Much of this research is also pertinent to many middle-eastern countries as a developing country like Syria shares many cultural traditions with its Middle Eastern neighbours.
The Aims and Objectives of the Study
The principal objective of this study is to explore the role of Internet and communication technologies in promoting the agenda of human rights and civil liberties in Syria. Hence it necessarily focuses on some similar historical contexts to vindicate the same prospect for Syria in terms of others’. Again, it will definitely let the world community come to know about Syria’s current Internet policies and situations and show the ways to use Internet towards the transformation of a social behaviour or facilitating a non-violent revolution. The function of Internet is to raise the level of civic engagement in Syria in addition with theory, discussion, etc. In this study, the researcher will give priority on the following objectives:
- To trace the universal appeal, utility and accessories of internet.
- To explore the effects of the historical background of Syria on internet.
- To sort out the specific reasons of the growing appeal of using the internet among the Syrian people.
- To explore geo-temporal factors affecting the Syrian’s internet use.
- To explore socio-cultural factor affecting the use of internet in Syria.
- To trace the hindrance created by the dictatorship on way to the Internet uses in Syria;
- To trace the clash-points between the internet and the interest of the dictator Regime.
- To examine the effect of the internet in bringing about a social revolution in the present social, cultural and political background of Syria.
- To critically examine other historical contexts of non-violent revolution in term of Syria’s context.
- To explore the role of Internet to raise the level of civic engagement in Syria, and find out the other factors regarding the civil engagement; and
- To examine whether the Internet and ICTs can ignite, or be translated into, a social behaviour that will eventually lead to a peaceful/non-violent revolution.
- To develop an Internet based Social Revolution’ model as well as to justify its future promise.
This study is a qualitative study. Data have been collected both from primary and secondary sources. While gathering the information an effort has always been exerted to find out a reliable and non-biased source. Few recent survey reports have played a significant role in this study. Few important references have been mentioned from different books of different writers. The journals of recent time on Syria’s Internet culture have significantly highlighted in this dissertation. And a little percent of information has been received from web pages. This research gives an overall idea on the universal features and acceptability of internet, current Internet policies and status of Internet culture in Syria. Then it throws a light on the history of several non-violent revolutions against the respective dictators to justify the Syrian plot for a social change.
(Gambill, C. Gary, 2000)
The author strived to underline the meaning of the internet for Syrian people. He stated that internet introduction seemed to be beneficial both for economical and political situation and development of the state. The main idea shown by the author was to highlight the fact that internet is to be used for economic and scientific purposes of the country. The author managed to show that the development of internet usage covered hundred of centres and states.
(Human Rights Watch, 1999).
In his essay the author tries to uphold an overall picture of the status of internet in Arab countries as well as in Syria. He mentions that many countries in this region have no local ISP. The author also throws a probing eye into the present condition of internet in Syria. There is a continual denial from Syria to grab to enter into the public local access to the Internet. The author has focused on Damascus’ increasing interest in Internet. He basically discusses the present situation of Arab.
In The Orange Revolution: a Case Study of Democratic transition in Ukraine’ the author Anastasiya Salnykova critically analyzes the pre-revolutionary plot and factors of Ukraine situation and her gradual transition into a democratic country. The author goes deep into the Ukrainian society to analyze the revolution. In her view the generational change in the population, the rise of nationalism in the public sentiment, awareness of the corruption in the regime played vital roles in the pre-revolutionary plot. Then she discusses the role of ICT as a factor. She attempts to show that internet mainly plays the role of an effective co-ordinating tool. She also discusses several other factors that are typical with any revolution.
(FACT – Freedom Against Censorship Thailand, 2008)
Here the author ties to explore people’s reaction to the resentment against the Syrian regime. The author mentions some events of protests from common people of Syria who became the victims of political suppression. First the author mentioned the example of a Tariq who was punished for his criticism against the regime on Internet. The author has uphold a vibrant description how the Syrian assembled for Tariq as well as against the regime. The author also mentioned here the clog on media culture in Syria and argued that the main reason of Tariq’s punishment was to strangle freedom of the Syrian.
(The Centre for Democracy & Technology, 2007).
The author described the situation of Syrian media as well as Internet. He wanted to explain the penetration of Internet in Syria comparing people who were the users of Internet in 2000-2006. The author mentioned the number of cyber cafés in Damascus and the cost for using cyber café per hour. The traditional restriction of Syrian Internet usage was thoroughly described but he has not mentioned what is the actual traditional restriction. The data comprises the clog of media freedom but the author failed to mention what problems the media faced.
(Rosen, Leonard. 2003)
The information is devoted to the economy of Israel presented by a Managing Director of a banking unit. The author managed to disclose the main ways of buying spread in Israel. He underlined the financial side of the country and deepened into the history of Israel economy development. The author stressed that the capital was raised up to $5.5b by investors per a year. The society living in Israel had an opportunity to feel wealthy life and living standards were completely improved by the government.
(The Centre for Democracy & Technology, 2007)
The role of the Internet is thoroughly presented in the material under analysis. The Internet is regarded to be one of the main units promoting human rights worldwide. Global network enables to communicate on the main aspects of human rights. The data presented underline the major achievements made with the help of the Internet development. The information discloses the main points of the Universal Declaration as to the rights of privacy provided by the Internet. It abounds in Policy Recommendations and Governmental Restrictions concerning the Internet usage.
(Peled, Alon. September 2000)
The author strived to prove that Internet Technologies could change the politics of the Middle East. Internet influences Middle Eastern repressions and replaces them with liberalization and transparency. According to the author civil society is strengthened by the Internet. It can change internal structure of the whole society and expand the foundation of the states. Inter-state cooperation can be also created by means of the Internet usage. The author managed to underline the fact that such countries as Lebanon, Syria and Egypt benefit a lot from the Internet development in the sphere of economy and politics.
(Antelava, Natalia. 2003)
This article is devoted to the theme of revolution in Georgia. The author showed that the success of the country lied in the right strategies worked out by its leaders. The author stresses the fact that people managed to express their own views on the situation in the state by means of demonstrations and concerts. They showed their strong character in order to resist pressure and misunderstandings. The author highlighted that aspect that the country refused to use US money invested in the election system. The data describes that Georgia got support from many countries of the world such as Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan etc.
The article under consideration is devoted to the Syrian wireless technologies and fast Internet access. The author of the article wanted to stress that with the rapid development of the Internet Technologies the control over its users increased a lot. The government provided new system of security for the Internet cafes and their owners are to control all the users taking down their names and some personal information. The author states that no comments were observed on the part of the government as to new restrictions; but the on-line services became more available, improved and convenient.
(Biassi, Tariq. 2008)
This article says about freedom of the Syrian people and their country. It discloses the peculiarities of the state constitution in relation to human rights of Syrian people. The author highlighted the case connected with human rights limitations showing it by different examples from the life of ordinary people. The article described the case of person’s accusation for tactless comments in the Internet forum. The author underlined the suppression of the civil freedom using vivid example of human accusation.
(Traynor, Ian., 2004)
The author of the article under analysis strived to underline the main features of the Ukrainian Pora Movement of the youth. The data is devoted to the revolution peculiarities with the involvement of famous orange revolution which covered the whole country at that period of time. The author disclosed the participation of other countries in the future of the country; he stated that cooperation of the presidents provided some sort of support to the country. A number of parties were created and the politics was aimed at the elections and new movements taking place at that period of country development. The government tried to take power away from anti-democratic system of regulations.
Regime’s Grip on Internet, ICT, Pro-Democracy and Human Right Movement
Analysis of the Regime’s Grip on Internet and ICT
The regime in Syria is not friendly with the agents of ICT and Internet. The past dictator’s chapters from human history again are being repeated in Syria. It is the repetition of some of the East European dictators’ story. But the contexts of Syria and the east European countries are different. The difference is only in between the past and the present. Since the Renaissance in Europe technology has taken the world by Storm. Among these technology oriented progresses the most remarkable one is the massive development in the in the information and communication sector. Since then this progress in ICT has been to be against any sinful isolation of any part of the world. It had penetrated into torture camp of the Syria backed regime in Lebanon, helped the pro-democracy people to demolish the fortified wall of Kelkel’s garrison in Ukraine. Hence the blessings of ICT have always been defined by the people invested with absolute power.
There are a huge number of examples through which Syria’s miserable condition can be exposed: a number of reports say that Syria faces the expand of “Iron Censorship”, Syrian bloggers are being imprisoned for over one year for no reasonable ground, detained opposition leader Riad Sief was forced to sleep in prison corridors which is one of many examples of sheer violation, another one of the detainees, Ali-al-Abdallah detained opposition leader are tortured. The picture of the ravage humanity is vividly clear from the comment of the Press Freedom Organisation:
“The Syrian regime is not content to censor the traditional media and block access to opposition websites. It imprisons dissidents as well. It does everything to deny its opponent’s access to the Internet by monitoring online activity. Saleh’s conviction for the second time is sadly evidence of this.” (Index online, 26 April 2004)
In respond to all these malpractices of power the Syrian Culture Minister Justifies harassment of Syrian Intellectuals finding this as a means of keeping peace throughout the country instead of considering it as a means of suffocation of the freedom of expression.
Nature of Restrictions on Internet
The unique aspects of internet determine the nature of the Regime-imposed restriction on internet use. In case of historical dictator ordained censorship such as the censorship in Serbia, in Lebanon etc, the mode of restrictions affected mainly the individual territory. Those restrictions were related with the traditional mode of communication. Internet introduces a completely new mode in the field of communication. As it is of the type of individual connectivity, it is difficult for any Security to trace the individual who is off-line. But it is easy to find out which web sites a user has visited or tried to visit while browsing Internet. Gambill (5 September 2000) mentions –
“One of the reasons that the Syrian regime is tightly regulating Internet cafes and other access centre is that these surveillance techniques can only identify which computer terminal is receiving or sending information, not the person at the keyboard.” (Gambill, 5 September 2000).
Eventually the regime has nothing but to impose surveillance on the whole network and new rules and regulations on internet use. One of the reasons working behind the regime imposed restrictions is the lack of faith of the helmsmen of the regime on their common people.
Abuse of Licensing Order
Internet is an essential tool for the media. As media has to depend on various data and Internet is the ocean of information, the media man has to connect with the Internet in order to provide updated and dependable information to the customers or users. In recent time the media entrepreneurs are facing huge amount of abasement in getting licence. In some cases, they get the initial licence, but when they run in full swing, then they face abstractly and restriction in licensing. Sometimes, the licence has been cancelled because of political measures.
Administrative censorship to the Internet
The regime has to decide whether the Internet technologies or Computer technologies will enjoy the freedom or not. The dictating regime can effectively curb, supervise, or channel residents’ Internet activities. “They can prohibit the commercial use of the Internet, as the Syrian government does” (Peled, September 2000). Government can also make Internet censorship law; such kind of law indicates that Internet is not different from other aspects of life like other media. Government put rigid control over the modern media or Internet. As per Syria’s concern, Government monitors email messages/ address. But this kind of activities cut off citizens’ human rights. Government can install surveillance equipment to monitor their citizens’ online activities – by setting up a unique IP address for PCs, by installing telecom firm to monitor telephone conversation, by satellite intercepting equipment.
With an ability to search stored messages and Internet traffic for key words or specific strings of characters, governments can monitor the Internet even more efficiently and effectively than they can other media (Alterman, 1999, p.75). Government can also employ powerful surveillance techniques to monitor what their citizens are doing online – by installing equipment in telecom firms to monitor telephone and data communications, by deploying systems to intercept satellite traffic. For this, government can setup a national hub where nationwide ISPs will route to Internet. And government can easily block access to thousands of sites. That means; this national hub works as a filtering system. As an example in recent time, “[t]he Saudis have developed an elaborate “censorware” toolkit to control what citizens do online. As a result, Saudi users who request a site that is blocked get a message on their screens warning that all access attempts are logged” (Elmusa, 1997).
By developing and supervising the physical network lines which connect neighbourhoods and home Government also can control Internet activities. A study about the history of national information infrastructure (NII) initiatives in Singapore by Mr. Poh-Kam Wong says that these kinds of decisions of communications infrastructure were made at the highest political level. “The Singaporean government, it appears, believes it can “exert greater control over programming piped through cable television channels than programming sent via satellite broadcast” (Wong, 1997, pp.44-52).
Present Status of Internet in Syria
According to a statistics over the years from 2000 to 2007 the use growth rate of internet was 4900 percent in Syria whereas the use growth in Iran was in the first position that is about 7,100.0 percent. In the scale of use growth Syria is now in the second position. Even the users were 7.8 percent of the total population. A cyber population of 1500000 in 2007 is bigger enough than the 30000 users in 2000. Up to march, 2008, 2,132,000 internet users were counted. Recently, to meet the growing demand Syrian regime has taken a decision to establish 2, 00,000 new Internet connections and they are also going to build a whole new network for Internet use. The facilities, accessories and utility invests ICT with such a strong appeal that it, even being threatening to the dictating interests of the regime, make itself inevitable to penetrate into the country. Internet is the heart of this new ICT technology. Its speed has a great triumphant effect on the traditional communication system, its decentralized and citizen-to-citizen connectivity have won the overwhelming popularity of common people.
Table 1. Middle East Internet Usage and Population Statistics. Source: (Internet World States, 2001-2008).
( 2007 Est. )
|Usage, in |
|Internet Usage, |
|% Population |
|(%) of |
|Use Growth |
|Syria||19,314,747||30,000||1,500,000||7.8 %||4.5 %||4,900.0 %|
Mainly the educated section of Syrian society is becoming more dependable on internet. This part necessarily includes the people involved with teaching in schools, collages, universities and others, the students and the elite business class. They have to depend on internet to perform their daily affairs. A statistics shows that 25% of the students said that on Internet café they spend 400 Liras per week. The 45% of the students has access to email. Moreover there is the young generation who always indulges themselves in ICT based entertainment taking it highly fashionable. Generally the mobile-internet plays a crucial role to be swaying fashion with young people.
Indeed the mounting appeal of internet is due to its triumph over the so-known limitations of the traditional communication system such as creating a decentralized communication, individual accessories, high speed, low cost etc. But this triumph of internet is the triumph over any dictating monopoly.
There is the granite fortification created by the Syrian regime to any visible effort to bring about any change from outside that goes against them. Hence internet is an irrefutable access to penetrate into the closed border of the Syrian Regime. Its penetration into Syria is because of its own numerous utilities and facilities which are its unique features. The incredibly high increasing demand of internet facilities in the people must force the regime to embrace internet from a wider angel.
Syrian Government Controls Telecommunication Sector
Of course physical infrastructures are important for the telecommunications networks. But in Middle East as well as in Syria telecommunication sector is almost under Government’s control. Government owns companies are continuing their monopolies. To protect such monopolies from the large multinational corporations they are now trying to raise a new banner namely ‘national security’. This is seemed absolutely ridiculous. In recent time, “fears of such competition dominated the behaviour of Egyptian bureaucrats who mounted an impressive opposition to hosting the Middle East Economic Summit in Egypt in 1996.” (Friedman, 1999, p.275). Because of continuation of such kinds of policies Syrian regime has yet not permitted any multinational companies.
This ‘national security’ paranoia makes many international telecommunications companies suffer. For example, “when call-back services were first introduced in Egypt, the government blamed them for abetting terrorists by allowing them to keep in touch while bypassing local exchanges (and the state security apparatus)” (Peled, September 2000). Similarly, when call-back service was introduced to Saudi Arabia, then Saudi Government has banned this service. Considering all these examples, it is simply understandable that why, “in 1997, Israel and Turkey were the only Middle East countries that signed the 69-nation World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement to open up the telecommunications sector worldwide” (Country Report, 30 April 1997).
The regime fears that the Internet can bring problems for dissemination of Western political thought and the spread of pornography. Administration censors are in fact still using the same technique, but have prolonged their list of illegal keywords. The STE have prohibited Hotmail and Yahoo, which are free web-based email sites, severely the number of Internet users slowed down for this alone. “There are already many freely available Internet privacy tools using encryption, anonymous re-mailing, and other methods that permit users to obstruct surveillance of their email and navigate the Internet anonymously” (Gambill, 5 September 2000). As the mobile phone technologies have not yet developed spread in Syria, it is a problem for any NGOs to communicate its branch or wings in short time. But through Internet network a remote branch could keep in touch. Syria is very rife in censorship, and the services of broadband are extremely restricted. “Even so, the Web is lively with Syrian bloggers – only about 40, but that’s up from three at the beginning of the year. Syrians are also finding their way, anonymously to online forums” (Stack, 12 September 2005).
Web Site Blocking
In recent times the Syrian Regime has blocked or banned few domestics as well as international web sites. They accused those sites for publishing unethical reports, reports which go against humanity. The restrictions have been extended for swathing the websites, which are treated as a new media. Syrian authorities have blocked a number of most important sites that propose free downloads of privacy software (such as Besilent.com). On the other hand, it is very easy for people to get such software privacy software to have friends outside the country send them via email. Finally, the Syrian government will discover it essential to expand rising economic and human resources in order to go against privacy technology that users can get for free.
A Long List of Banned sites
The names of several banned web sites are given below. It is not very difficult to carry out the motive of the regime. Most the banned web sites either went against the despotic interest of the regime or were anti-ethical. “On March 2004, the Syrian authorities blocked access to two Kurdish-language news websites based in Germany, www.amude.com and www.qamislo.com, both of which provided news, pictures, and video clips of demonstrations by the Syrian Kurdish minority” (Index online, 26 April 2004). More are as follow:
- Muslim Brotherhood
- Two Kurdish Web sites
- the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon
- Two Kurdish Web sites
- the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon
- Arabic-language newspapers
- the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Seyassah
- the U.S.-based Web site of the Arab Times
- three pornographic Web sites
- The Institute for Counter Terrorism’s Israeli
- the World Zionist organization
- The lesbian, bisexual, gay, and Tran gendered
Laws and Regulations on Internet
According to Syrian constitution of 1970 and in 1973 includes numerous articles which have the assurance of freedom of the citizens. “Article (25) of Chapter IV stipulates that freedom is a sacred right, and the State guarantees the personal liberty of citizens and preserves their dignity and security. (Al-Ibrahim, 1998). According to Article (38) the Syrian Government gives all the freedom in printing and publishing. “Article (38) provides that every citizen has the right to express his opinion freely and openly by word of mouth, writing, and all other means of expression (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, 1998). But the real picture is totally opposite to it. The existence of these articles is found only in the printed pages of the constitutional books. They are not implemented in practice because of the emergency law which has been in force since 1963. Legislative Decree No. (50) In 2001 was issued by the President “Bashar Assad” for the press and the media. This Decree assured all kinds of freedom in printing, press, and publications. “In 2001 the law on the protection of intellectual property rights and scientific publications, research was also passed but it did not include any laws on or any references to publications on the Internet or the control mechanism or methods that allow it to be legitimately used (Arab Team for Programming).
According to the press law of September 2001, the state controls the printed, visual, and audio media which severely limits all the Media’s freedoms. The Minister of Information gave a briefing that Minister is entitled to cancel the license of any printed media who does not have to supply a reason. Though this power ended in 2004, the state still controls traditional media (Al-Ayham Saleh, n.d.) Internet is a substitute media which can easily work around the dominance of the nation. For websites construction an owner needed to present a photocopy of his identity card and mention the place of residence to the judiciary. Those documents are only needed for the political news websites. And the authority controls the website. They decide what is permitted and what is not permitted. These perceptions of the law was first described by “Shadi Hijazi”, the editor of Syria Mirror mentions it as a kind “of madness” and “Nidal Maalouf” the editor of “Syria News” website mentions that “if the new law is a trap, they should block our websites now” (Al-Ayham Saleh, n.d.). The Journalists and the media people were anxious and met the Government. They discussed with them about the organization of controlling electronic publishing means. However, “Kadi Amin” Deputy Syrian Information Minister replied that the chaos is not in anyone’s interest and they need to control in order to determine responsibility for websites is very important (Al-Hayat newspaper, 16 October 2005,)
“Moreover, since the mid-1990s, a number of governments and international institutions have sought to control the Internet through laws and regulations. They have been quite successful” (Tadros, 2004).
There is no limitation of regulations in religious, sexual or political web pages. Cyber users in Syria are facing huge amount of restriction by law enforcement authorities, they (Cyber User) have to provide all the records, i.e.- their passport no or national ID, date and time of using Internet, duration of using PC and other details. In recent times, few cyber users were jailed and also facing some other punishment. Cyber Cafe owners are also affected by such restrictions. Because of tight rules and regulations the general people are not getting interest to use Internet. For this, their (Cyber Cafe Owner) customers are not increasing at required rate. And sometimes it happens that some occurrence being taken place at one cyber café and the law enforcement authority is taking action grossly to all cafe owners. Syria works on controlling online posting in a new media law (Al-Hayat Newspaper, 2005, p.4).
In the Regime some officials proposed not to grant the Internet access to Syrian people and at the same time they reject to permit the use of fax machine to the Syrian people. If any Syrian uses fax machine without first permission then the authorities could arrest him or cut the phone connection.
Restriction in News Publications
In Syria the freedom of press is cased. The freedom of expression has been abducted by a handful of the country who is usurping it. When the movement for the freedom of press is going on all over the world, the press of Syria discovers itself in prison. Government has a desperate control to the news published in newspaper and other publications media. Many leading newspapers and magazine of Syria have been banded in recent years. There is no way to speak about the government and their fault. If any news goes against ruling government, then government officials takes aggressive steps against newspaper’s editor, reporter as well as newspaper.
Domination of Government Favoured Media
The domination of dictatorship favoured media is significant in Syria. A handsome percentage of government advertisement, circulation and announcement go in their favour. And the people of higher management of such types of media are directly involved in pro-ruling party politics. Their news is often optimistic and the editorial always goes in favour of government. Official mass media are still dominant in all sectors. In several cases it is found that the conspiracy of the political leaders of the ruling regime was hidden from the sight of the mass people. The media or press cannot do anything against the conspiracy though they know all about it.
Treatment and Torture for Internet Usage
The prisoners are being tortured routinely and frequently in Jails, police stations and interrogation centres. As torturing and ill treatment activities has become common factors for Syrian’s law enforcement authority it has become an alarming factor for Syria’s human rights as well. The way or the methods of torturing are different depending on detainees’ social and political status. They are being tortured physically, mentally and even by socially.
In few considerable cases torture led to death, but authorities refuse to take the responsibilities of the death. Usually, they claim it as a ‘sudden heart attack’ or others. When the dead body is handed over to the detainees family, they often ascertain to be the reasons of death ridiculous. The press release made by the authorities is refused by them also.
Ragged and Ravaged Human Rights
A public domestic e-mail service would be readily obtainable by the use of a particular server at the national telecommunications centre that “would allow control of incoming and outgoing services, including the ability to block contact with destinations regarded as undesirable” (Reuters, 1999). The civil society and human rights activists have been exposed to considerable persecution, harassment, oppression and punitive and vengeful measures. Many of them were detained and sentenced to unreasonable prison terms; while others were fired from their service, some people were banded for leaving country. The campaign against signatories of Damascus-Beirut Declaration resulted in condemning Michael Kilo and Anwar al-Bunni to various sentences. Akram al-Bunni, Ali al-Abdullah, Fida’ al-Horani, Walid al-Bunni and Yaser al-Iti etc. some activists of Damascus declaration were still being detained by the end of 2007.
Clog in Citizens’ Freedom
Bath’ists dictatorship is often called the Syrian misery for every citizen. The Syrian people face many problems in using InternetComposition of rules is a simple matter of verbalism for the regime and thus they clog Syrian people’s freedom in hesitantly. “The rules, conveyed orally by security agents, require Internet cafes to record a client’s full name, ID or passport number, the computer used and the amount of time spent on the device” (Kuwait Times, 26 March 2008). If the people have a say against the authority or about their freedom, they are always harassed by the Syrian Government.
“Ahed al-Hindi, a 23-year-old who was hauled from an Internet cafe in handcuffs and a blindfold in late 2006 for criticizing the regime on an online forum, said security services often ask cafe owners to spy on clients, providing them with software for the task.” (Foxnews, 25 March 2008, Kuwait Times, 26 March 2008, Foxnews)
Case study: Human Rights’ Violation for Using Internet
Tariq Biasi a Syrian blogger
Not only Tariq, many Syrian people has become victims of the regime-favoured security for the use of Internet. Tariq Biasi is not the only and the first Syrian blogger who is currently in prison, long before I have started this blog about a year ago, a Syrian blogger named Tariq Gorani was detained on 19-2-2006 for a year (Blogger for Freedom, 2008). The Syrian security are endangering for the wrong judgment on 17/06/2007, four months before Aldomari was his blog’s name. “Aldomari” is originally taken from the first and the last independent Syrian newspaper that addressed and investigated the corruption of the Syrian authorities for a few months before it was shut down by the regime (Blogger for Freedom, 2008). The Syrian people who were engaged against Syrian government’s activities and raised their rights that are suffered from long time were mostly arrested. When the government arrests them, the government always hides the main reason and gives other causes.
Tariq Gorani (1985) was not detained only for his blogging activity; he was mainly detained and imprisoned along with his seven friends for establishing a “Democratic Syrian Youth Activity.” Because of their online organized activism, they faced harsh and serious verdicts with seven and five years sentences (Blogger for Freedom, 2008). Tariq Biasi is detained for an online comment criticizing the government, but Tariq Gorani was detained and faced serious charges spending seven years in prison not for expressing his views as much as for expressing them within an establishment and an organized body (Blogger for Freedom, 9 February 2008). In Syria another victim was Rukana Hammor. She was harassed by the Syrian Government as she was always aggressive about the Syrian democracy and the activities of Syrian Government. She always criticized the Syrian dictatorship form of Government. For this reason she was threatened by the government and could not take part in the Syrian election. She had withdrawn her nomination paper for the force of Syrian government. She is very vocal about the authorities and judicial system’s corruption in Syria, and was thus threatened by the intelligence forces to withdraw her nomination to the Syrian parliament (Blogger for Freedom, 9 February 2008).
A Syrians Bounn Jailed for Internet Use
A defended Syrians Bounn jailed for Internet use said because of the Internet use anybody can speak about the Syrian Government and they have lost hard authority. He also show crisis about the President Bashar Assad’s ruling government. “Assad does not know what he wants to do about it. He wants to return to his father’s time, when nobody could speak” (Stack, 12 September 2005).
A Review on Several Non-Violent Social Revolutions of Modern History
Review on Several Non-violent Social Revolutions
Human history shows that a number of non-violent revolutions took place against the ruling clans of a country as an aftermath of the organic function of some social, political, economic and technological factors. Some factors were common among them: the growing resentment of a population is the mother of a revolution and other factors are considered supplementary to this mother factor. Among other supplementary factors, communication factors play a vital role to bring about a well-organised and successful revolution. As a communication tool internet is the most popular and influential, and the easiest means of communication. For this reason the role of internet is crucial to any revolution in present days.
The Kmara Revolution in Georgia
After the dissolution of Communism in the USSR in 1991 there was a wave of democratic movement all over the Balkan region. The influence of the communist leaders continued to prevail in these countries. But the trend to democracy in this region was fanned by the failing leftovers of the communist policies in the developmental sectors of the countries. In the series of success in democratization the Rose Revolution’ was a score point. Inspired and by the same democratic forces of PORA of Serbia, Kmara movement achieved its huge success to oust former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze in who was installed by in the place of President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. During his 11 years of Presidency overwhelming poverty, corruption and crime visited the country. As a result of Russian tightening on the economic screw such as the ban on the import of wine and mineral water, the price hike of the gas supply, the rupture of the trade and business caused the economy to nose-dive. After all the deteriorating condition of the country that affected the common people’s life and the all-out effort of the Kmara activists eventually led to the overthrow of Eduard Shevardnadze that was termed as the Rose Revolution and Mikhail Saakashvili, the leader of Kmara movement succeeded him in 2004.
Factors of the Kmara Movement
Like any other bloodless revolution in human history the Rose revolution also possesses some common features, i.e. the corruption and delinquency of the people in power, its adverse effect on economy and the life of common people, mass awareness of the corruption, pro-human right manpower etc. The path of Kmara movement was as usual as it is for any movement in human history. At the beginning students were at the heart of the movement. The activities at the grass root level were run mostly by them. Woks were spontaneously by them to support the movement. “So they cleaned rubbish from the streets, organised concerts, collected money for charity, protested against police violence and ran TV ads condemning the government” (Antelava, 4 December, 2003). But there are some factors in the rose revolution that are specific. Like the Pora movement, the Kmara in Georgia also was assisted by the international communities like. Here internal factors were more spontaneous than the external. In the election management in Georgia the US investment was nearly $2.4m, but no US money was spent on Kmara.
The Otpor Movement of Serbia as Inspiration
Inspiration of the success of the Otpor was crucial to the Rose revolution. The activists of Kmara were hugely inspired by the success of Otpor. It is said that Kmara is the Georgian version of Otpor. The movement was accelerated by this inspiration. Sponsored by the Soros foundation most of the primers of Kmara was trained at the Center for Nonviolent Resistance in Belgrade and also several other Western organizations were involved in supporting the group. The Georgians, for the first time, made a link with the activists of Otpor in the spring of 2003. As the trans-national assistance the Otpor revolutionists were actively playing their role in Georgian context. Slobodan Djinovic, one of the leaders of Serbian movement admitted it in the following speech, “[w]e are working with civil movements in several countries, and I don’t want to name them. But Georgia is the first success story” (Antelava, 4 December, 2003).
The Kmara activists also followed the non-violent tactics of protesting the Government. They adopted the policy of accusing the government in a comic satirical way. They made fun of the people in power that surprisingly revealed their dark aspects. Whatever their policy and actions were, the message was about the failure of the government and its accountability. Ms Tutberidze says, “Otpor was a huge source of inspiration. Our goal was to make things fun, unusual and tell people that it’s they who are in charge of this country” (Antelava, 4 December, 2003).. The output of their policy was also encouraging. The non-political way of relating the message won the heart of common people. The movement was getting more and more popularity in the course the government inflicting the torture upon them.
Kmara, stimulated with the Otpor success, itself became a factor for the rose revolution. In 2000 Kmara started its march as a student movement with about 2500 student-members from Tbilisi State University. Later kmara’s activities were expanded over the country by forming Student Government’ at orther universities. The remarkable stategy the movement adopted was its decentralized activity. As it did not have a centre it was more sustainable under any pressure from the government.
Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution Case
The most significant role that internet played in the orange revolution in Lebanon is that of co-ordination of the activists to topple down Syria backed regime that continued to dictate the country for almost forty years. In modern Lebanon the revolution got a huge favour from the larger instalment of internet in the country. Surely several other vital factors such as sentimental change in the Lebanese’s social behaviours, change in the pattern of the Lebanese’s economic life, the development of national identity and Westernism, the growing contention and dissatisfaction against the Syrian military backed government, foreign support etc. were helpful a lot to the withdrawal of the Syrian Army from the country. The revolution is counted as a huge success on the way of its freedom. It achieved a long list of goals: the withdrawal of Syrian Army from Lebanon, to replace the Syria backed regime with a patriotic government, the resignation of security officials, and the organization of free parliamentary elections. The Pro-Syrian government was also toppled down to achieve the main goal of the revolution.
Despite there was a tiny population of two major religions, Islam and Christianity, the co-existence of the two groups of people enhanced the mutual understanding, coherence and harmony in the society. In 2005 the society incorporated about 45, 00,000 people with a density of —— per square miles. The rise of nationalistic sentiment contributed, in a large scale, to the mutual understanding and coherence among the people. But the rise of nationalistic sentiment was fuelled much by the pro-democracy and civil liberty activists. The number of social group organisations in Lebanese plot was not remarkable enough; the emergence of pro-democracy and civil liberty virtual communities was not less than overwhelming. Stimulating discussions, expressions and ideas paved the way of participatory democracy in the Lebanese context of ICT.
Internet as a Stimulus among the Young Generation
Like any other society the younger generation in Lebanon was more welcoming to internet technology. Internet was highly popular among the young as e-fashion. This trend among the young was tactfully directed the revolution by the activists. It is said that the trend of e-fashion was changed into the culture of free expression. It is the young generation whom the revolution pivoted on. Some chat-site and some forum sites were highly popular with the young. those provided them scope of free expression, to learn and then to revolt against any suppression.
Internet and ICT as a factor
Though the revolution was triggered by the assassination of the President Rafik Hariri much of the pre-revolutionary plot was prepared by internet. Behind this preparation the participation of the Lebanese in internet using was remarkable. Since the connection of internet in Lebanon the number of the internet users increased at a high rate. This high is due to the due to the social behaviour of the Lebanese society. As unlike the most of Middle Eastern country a significant part of the population includes people of Christian belief, the society was embracive to internet, the invention of the west. Internet became a part and parcel of this tiny Lebanese society of about 4.5 million people. The then status of Lebanese internet helped the opposition activists to co-ordinate the movement fruitfully. It will be clear from the following tables how the status of internet in Lebanon:
Table 1. Internet Growth and Population Statistics in Lebanon. Source: (Internet World Stats, 2001-2008).
|YEAR||Users||Population||% Pop.||Usage Source|
Though Internet – in other cases of historical peaceful revolution – played the similar and typical role of an effective co-ordinator among the activists, it played a somewhat different role in Cedar’s case. It was not only a fruitful co-ordinator but also a tool of publicizing for them. The pro-Syrian government was helpless before this organisational infrastructure of the activists.
A Comparative Study of Lebanon’s Cedar’s pre and on Revolutionary Plot with Syria’s Pre-Revolutionary
The pre-revolutionary plot of Syria differs from that of Lebanon. It differs not only in the status of internet but also in the religious holds on the society that impedes the progress of internet in the country. The pre-revolutionary politics also differ from each other. Now what exist in Syria in the name of politics is the interest policies of the oligarchic clans. But the in the pre-revolutionary political plot of Lebanon democratic impulses was discernible in the country. Then political and social environment of Lebanon allowed political parties of different interests though the suppression thrown by the pro-Syrian regime was not totally absent from Lebanese politics. But the political status of Syria can be stated as the dark period of political expression.
Again in case of mass awareness of the people of the two countries it can be asserted that the regime of Syria always handles tactfully the episode historical conflict with Israel to make an excuse from their human right violations. The hold of religious rigidity on the people’s mind always impedes the any positive growth that was, though not totally, absent in the social background of Lebanon. In economy and technology the country lags far behind other developing. The bath party elected regime has benefited of this backwardness. It is not that the country is not moaning about its present deplorable condition; the people have been cut off and kept isolated from the rest of the world their innocent folly never turns into querulous experience.’
In 2000 the number of internet users was very poor whereas the number for Lebanese internet users was 300000 that is ten times bigger than that of the Syria. Even in 2005 the ratio of user-population ration of Syria has not caught up to that ratio in Lebanon. However the following table will be helpful to get a picture of the internet status of the country.
Table 2. Internet Growth and Population Statistics in Syria. Source: (Internet World Stats, 2001-2008).
|YEAR||Users||Population||% Pop.||Usage Source|
In Lebanon the demographical ratio of the Muslim and the Christian and the interaction between the people of the two religions has given birth to a culture of peaceful co-existence. As a result how the Lebanese view the western world is different from the view of the Syrian. It is the Lebanese society that holds a hope, modified by the new outlook on the future.
Whether the role of internet in Syria is equal to that of Lebanon
It is notable that the number of the cyber-goers in Lebanon is comparatively high than that in Syria. According to internetworldstat’ in 2000 the population in Lebanon was about 44,61,995 and the number of internet users was 4,00,000 that is about 9.0 percent of the total population. But in 2005 the population grew up to 4509678 but the growth rate of the internet users seems to be surprisingly 13 percent in term of the total population. There is an internet user among every ten Lebanese. This picture of internet promised a great role for internet in the afterward revolution in Lebanon. But the table 2 renders that the status in Syria is totally opposite to that of Lebanon.
Totalitarian Regime of Myanmar
A close study of the past human history answers the question why information has always proved to be lethal to any the autocratic rulers of the world. The lack and cleavage in the communication system played a significant role to keep the people of a country submissive to a handful of persons who were invested with a better communication system. Consequently the ablest despot was to be the consummate manipulator of information trickeries. To keep the people in darkness had been proved to be one of the best suited strategies to retain autocracy or a form of government where the interest of a few people is preserved. A king was considered as a king, in the past, because of his power of communication through his non-technological agents. As a result people, for their safety, were to depend on and at the time, fear the power their ruler that was partly engendered by a better communication system.
The impact of Internet on Burmese society
Before 1950s if a spy was to be feared as information leak by the people in power, now they are to fear the whole nation whom the eruption of technology along with its enormous success in the field of communication has endowed with a stronger technological spying power. In the second half of the nineteenth century communication technology began to change the nature of the ruler and the ruled relationship. Eventually the genre of communication technology is totally opposite to the spirit of isolationism that is usually favoured by any form of despotism. Indeed isolationism of any state, a term that emerged in the growing well-knitted composition of international political context, becomes less common in the technology based global village. Despotism in any form began to grow isolationism to face the threatening challenge of communication technology. But their isolationism along with their closed border seemed to be fruitless since the emergence of internet. Even though they had attempted to choke the flourish of this technology, they felt helpless before its inevitable penetration. “Meteoric advances in communications have also paralleled the fall of isolationism” (Krebs, May 2001).
Internet both as a primary factor and as a tool helpful to the pro-democratic force proved its magic performance to topple communism in the East Europe. In a presentation titled “The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule” Kalathil (25 June 2003) comments,
“There were plenty of stories, of course. There were tales from Eastern Europe, and people made connections there between the spread of photocopiers and fax machines and the fall of communism.”
Though isolationism and totalitarianism are shrinking subjects in the present international political background, they are still prevailing in some parts of the world. Even then the impact of internet on these regimes is such that they are to tackle a significant change in the socio political background in their county. It seems that the David of the microchip is on its triumphant march to bring down the Goliath of totalitarianism. (A statement of former President Ronald Reagan, “The Goliath of totalitarianism will be brought down by the David of the microchip.”) In the same presentation, pointing to the fall of Suharto in 1988, Kalathil comments:
“In that instance, there were student groups who used e-mail to communicate with each other, and it is thought that the Internet played a vital role in helping them to communicate” (Kalathil, 25 June 2003).
What internet contributes to the social behaviour of Burmese society is “a role in simply boosting the quality of life for citizens” (Kalathil, 25 June 2003). The impact of internet on these authoritarian countries such as Myanmar, China, and Cuba (especially China) etc is not only of political. Rather its impact is a complex one including various non-political sectors that are necessarily are linked with the political situation of these countries in a round about way. In the same way the impact of the internet based changes in the social behaviour of these societies on the politics is also indirect.
Sometimes these changes became so overwhelming that they had prepared the plot for a direct effort on the existing politics. In 1988 Myanmar the contribution of internet to the uprising of the students is not notable enough as the use of Internet as a means of communication was not available in those years. But after eleven years in 1999 internet seemed to play a role that was stronger than the previous years. During these 11 years the anti military-junta groups of Myanmar got new dimension with its potential campaign on internet. Groups at home and abroad began to emerge on cyber-space to put pressure on the military regime that tries very hard to keep its borders controlled and its country protected from foreign influences.’ For these groups Internet became a tool of drawing the attention and pressure of the international community on the regime and at the same time a tool to create a anti regime pressure circle within the country by creating a counter culture.
In 1995 the formation of this counter-culture was initiated by a Burmese student living in exile, when the internet campaign of the Free Burma Coalition was started in Wisconsin. Even being the only Burmese within a radius of several hundred kilometres Zar Ni was managed to a coordinated “Burma Action Day” on 27 October 1995 and to stimulate the creation of over 100 local activist groups (Kalathil, 25 June 2003). “He and others managed to put trans-national companies under pressure to stop their foreign investment in Burma” (Kalathil, 25 June 2003).
The formation of the Burmese counter culture has been viewed by Viola Krebs in the availability of information and the tone and content of their presentation. The interactions between the regime’s and pro-democratic circles’ information became open and direct. Viola in his essay “the Impact of Internet on Myanmar” necessarily terms this contribution of internet as “cyber empowerment” as is expressed in the following line:
“The Internet not only gives access to cyberspace, but also enables individuals to express themselves a lot more freely and globally than with traditional media. I call this new dimension “cyber empowerment”
Since the advent of internet in Myanmar the change that took place in the socio political contexts in Eastern Europe has been echoed in this country. Beneath this mega achievement of internet, though it has been able to reach the zenith of success in the manner the pro-democratic movement gain in topple the communist elite of the respective, in composing pressure factors for the military junta of the country there lies several features of the technology as defined by Meyrowitz that the space, time, and physical barriers of other traditional communication mode become communication variables.
A Limited Presence of Burmese Civil Society: Why
The present impact of internet on Myanmar is to bring a coloured revolution. Indeed there the impact of internet did not gather enough potentiality to initiate massive formation of civil society on Burmese land. Kalathil comments “If you look for information about Burma, or Myanmar, on the Internet, what you will get is a lot of overseas sites run by non-profit organizations and transnational advocacy organizations. But you’ll get a number of sites which have been set up by the government there” (Kalathil, 25 June 2003). According to another statement of Kalathil around 2003 “In Burma there are now a couple of Internet cafes that are open, I believe, but for the majority of people in that country accessing the Internet is really just a dream” (Kalathil, 25 June 2003). According to Krebs (May 2001),
“Sales of computers are growing rapidly in Myanmar’s otherwise sluggish economy. The 100-member Myanmar Computer Federation estimates that there are more than 50,000 computers in this land of 48 million people [approximately 1 per 960], one of the world’s poorest. But networking between those computers and the outside world is still forbidden.”
Even in March 2008 there are only 40000 internet users whereas the total population is 47,758,181 (—million) and the penetration is the poor.1%. The iron censorship of the military government is thoroughly responsible beneath this poor picture of the status of internet in the country. The military junta passed a law in 1996 under which they can impose a Burmese a 7- to 15-year jail term if he or she is held with an unauthorized modem. In the same year “an American diplomat was arrested and later died in prison because of illegal use of a fax machine” (Krebs, 2001 and Eliot, 1997).”
Ukraine’s Orange Revolution
Orange revolution in 2004 in Ukraine is considered to be one of the successful non-violent revolutions in human history. In this revolution internet’s role was partial rather than complete. The growth of internet contributed to the emergence of all the factors that were active to bringing about the revolution. The general consequences of internet on the Ukrainian society began to be exerted long before the revolution but later it started to be manipulated by the PORA activists. Behind the formation of civil societies, the mass awareness of the regime’s corruption, the stimulation of the Ukrainian youth for a change, the growing internet population in Ukraine functioned tremendously.
Indeed both internal and external factors can be held responsible in this revolution. The torrents of democratic impulses took the turn to gather the momentum of a revolution reticent in nature 15 years after the downfall of the Soviet Union. It was internet that initiated the democratic impulses to the society. Yet the change in the social behaviour was not complete enough. The continuity of the soviet influence prevailed over a major part of the Ukrainian society. Indeed the then Ukrainian new generation was at the forepart of the revolution. Two aspects of the new generation were’ as it is stated by Anastasia Salnykova, “a (1) new (non soviet) standard of social expectations and behaviours, a (2) higher level of national consciousness”
In this revolution the change between the generations is an important factor. The first move for a change was initiated the young generation who possessed significantly different values and behavioural pattern than the old generation. Anastasia Salnykova comments:
“The current 20-30 year old group of Ukrainians was especially active in the course of democratization as illustrated by their membership of PORA’ civic campaign and other non-government organizations” (Salnykova, 2004).
The transformational national identity plays a significant role in the pre-revolutionary plot of Ukraine. Growing nationalism among the mass Ukrainian helped to reduce the number of the people identifying themselves as Russians. The people claiming the Russian identity shrank from 11.36 min to 8.33. Consequently whereas the Ukrainian: Russian ratio was 72.7:22.1 in 1989, the ratio was 78.1:17.3 in 2001. This change in demography has been termed by some analysts as identity change’. Eventually this change had a positive impact on the democratization of the country.
Role of Internet in Formation of Civil Society
In this movement the study of the role of internet reveals two folds character of this technology. Firstly its role was that of primary. From 1991 (the year of independence) to the early of 2000 (emergence of Committee for Truth) internet played the role of a primary factor that was independent of the role of being as a tool. At least the evidence of being used as a tool was not discernible during those years. But from 2000 internet was increasingly being used as a tool by the pro-democracy forces of the country. Indeed PORA enjoyed the maximum of the cyber culture of the country that meanwhile built the socio-techno-political networks. The synchronic growth of the role of internet is shown in the following diagram:
Internet began its journey in Ukraine in 1991 and the revolution took place in December 26, 2004 by the installation of Victor Yushchenko into power when internet was in its fairly matured age. The movement started to become visible in early 2004, founded in Kiev. The emergence of the movement was firmly based in the past formation of the civil society that was generated by internet. In 2000 triggered by the death of the journalist Heorhiy Gongadze the student movement that informally began in 1990s turned into the Committee for Truth, a prototype of PORA. But it is remarkable from a speech of Vladyslav Kaskiv that even before the formation of Committee For Truth, the students and other young adults learnt to build civil society, democratic institutions, public service, and participated in creating a new economy in Ukraine—today the fastest-growing in Europe.’
Since the student movements of 1991s about 350 NGOs emerged in Ukrainian socio-political background. Most of the NGOs have their websites with a huge number of frequent young visitors and developed an interconnected cyber network that enabled them to arrange fruitful demonstrations throughout the Kuchma period. “On the eve of the presidential campaign, PORA had 73 territorial substructures with tens of thousands of participants, becoming thereby the largest, most influential and active civic movement of the last decade in Ukraine” (Klid, 21 April 2005). To maintain the informational communication with the segregated structure of PORA internet was handled as an effective tool that allowed them to communicate dispersedly with their activists at the grass root level.
Civil society is considered to be the crucial element for democracy. It played a role in this revolution to bring a pro revolutionary change in the social behavior. These civil societies existed both in the formal and informal aspects. But almost all the civil societies in formal forms had their websites on cyber space as fashion cult that attracted the youth. Ian Tramor, in his article US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev’ depicted the picture vividly:
“With their websites and stickers, their pranks and slogans aimed at banishing widespread fear of a corrupt regime, the democracy guerrillas of the Ukrainian Pora youth movement have already notched up a famous victory – whatever the outcome of the dangerous stand-off in Kiev.” (Traynor, 2004).
The associational enthusiasm drove the young generation to form communities for a behavioural change in the society. Civil society development was boosted by the foreign actors. A whole network of the internal civil society and the transnational civil society was formed before and during the orange revolution (Salnykova, 2004). The role of the formal civil societies such as the potential NGO’s was to create support for the revolution among the mass population of the country.
Anastasia Salnykova comments
“It should be mentioned that the formation of pre-revolutionary civil society in Ukraine was rooted in the preceding history. During the soviet union there was a number of personalities and groups that opposed the communist regime, mainly for nits human right violation and prevention of Ukraine national self determination.” (Salnykova, 2004).
Development of different groups and organizations among the common people of Ukraine had an overwhelming impact on the pre-revolutionary plot of Ukraine. NGO’s with various pro-revolutionary mottos were formed within the country. People from different walks of the society belong to these groups and organization. Committee of Ukrainian voters’ was one of the most important organizations that contributed hugely to the revolution. Like it PORA also was the most swaying political movement in Ukrainian politics. Even the impact of these civil organizations was so deep rooted that they posed hold on the people of the grass root level of the society. Though it is said that PORA possessed the only momentum to create the challenge against then Ukrainian regime, its strength was dispersed on tiny public organizations among people of different occupations and interests:
- political organizations
- socio-political organizations
- social organizations
- socio-business organizations
- trans-national organizations
The involvement of youth: the role of Internet
At the beginning of 2004 the cyber culture of Ukraine was matured enough to present the movement with an internet population of 12—— that was about 2—percent of the total population. 2—percent of the total population means that out of 100 people there were about 2—internet users. So if one internet user is manipulated as the messenger for ten including their family members the total percentage was a reliable media to send the information of the delinquency of the regime to almost the whole population of the country. To collect the e-mail addresses of the internet users was not difficult for the PORA activists.
They could easily manage it from the enthusiastic young students of collages and universities for whom to get an e-mail message was a matter of thrill. The messages on the current politics of the country and on the invitation to give opinion on the political situation made the student feel that they were the potential part of the politics. A message through e-mail meant important for them. The message sent by the activists was a hot talk in their surroundings including their family. Because of the state’s repression on the media, to use traditional media was not possible for Juschtschenko. This weird situation forced him to be more depended on his websites. “Websites of Juschtschenko’s opposition party turned out to become forums of public discourse. Soldatenko sees the role of internet-communication as a kind of catalyst of the future development of traditional media” (Bosina, and Gössweiner, 2006).
In the Ukrainian background the demographical change was remarkable for the movement. Much of the old conservative generation was replaced by the liberal youth. The facilities and the entertainments provided by internet were highly popular with the young. Internet was an agent of change and a means of inter-border culture based on solidarity. An invitation for opinion on the politics and human right condition from the activists enhanced their participation in politics. As to a fact of entertainment the presence of the young people on the chatting forum was notable. At that time it was not difficult to divert the topic of discussion of a chat room into the political discussion. Also for the chat room visitors to express freely was easy because this freeness was generated by the feeling that they were invisible.
Certainly one of the contributions of internet in bringing about a change in the social behaviour in Ukraine was that participation of the people in such chat-forums made them habituated with unhesitant expression. Even here most of the forum viewers also were the young people. Now they were habituated to pass the leisure that they used to pass in their limited friend circles before, in a broader circle of cyber world. What they used to express in the apparently solitaire cyber world freely was helpful to remove their fear of the regime. The dispelling of the fear raised their engagement in politics. “Stickers, spray paint and websites are the young activists’ weapons. Irony and street comedy mocking the regime have been hugely successful in puncturing public fear and enraging the powerful” (Traynor, 26 November, 2004).
The Role of internet to Raise Mass awareness of the corruption and human right violation
There were frequent publications of the news of corruption and human right violations on various blogsites and websites by the dissidents in an unorganized way. The PORA activists took the advantage of the considerable internet population of that time.
“While the Orange Revolution was going on, internet use increased strongly, although the spreading of internet access in Ukraine is very low, internet access only reaches about 10% of all households”. (Salnykova, 2004).
The news of corruption and human right violation on internet were being used to raise mass awareness and to draw public support. It was the corruption in the marrow of the administration of the country that continually added fuel to the revolutionary notion of the nation. The worst sufferers of this corruption were the common people. The growing resentment of the people eventually led to the mass awareness of the delinquency of the regime. The fact that the people were being aware of the corruption of the regime was important for democratization in the country. Consequently the regime adopted the policies of suppression and torture for its dissidents to conceal their wrong doing from the international community. But these human right violations eventually led to a socio-politically aware society.
Indeed both of mass awareness and development of civil society worked simultaneously in Ukrainian plot. Both supported both. Ukrainian civil societies contributed a lot to the creation mass awareness among the corruption affected common people. In return they got their expected support from the grass root level of the population. The motivation that drove the people to attempt a radical change in the power was essentially generated by the awareness of the regime’s corruption and human right violations. Oligarchic clans’ interest in the country was dictating enough to dissatisfy the potential part of the society. Then Kuchma’s zero tolerance suppressive policy for his dissidents who were growing more active, added fuel to this mass awareness.
Role of internet and ICT In the revolution
A revolution naturally has a chain of commands and its success usually depends on a fruitful coordination of the plans. Eventually internet and ICT were proved helpful in this task in the respective revolution in Ukraine. It is notable that internet was manipulated as a tool to draw the pool of social awareness. that was created by the PORA activists was the fifth popular website in Ukraine. The use of mobile phone was remarkable in the protest rallies afterward 2001-2002 (Salnykova, 2004). However a successful co-ordination among the opposition activists was the major contribution of internet in the movement. There was a continual communication between the activists and their leaders. Moreover “practically everyone sympathizing with the democratic movement was able to obtain information about the current needs and future tactical steps of the national protest” (Salnykova, 2004). The web site www.maidan.org.ua is a remarkable name in the revolution for the cyber role of pro-activists virtual community in Ukraine (Maidan, n.d.). Among its various pro-revolution functions the following are important:
- Providing continual reports on the organization
- Providing space for the combination of the protesters
- Contribution to the proliferation of anti regime political videos, jokes, Cartoon and literature.
During the pre revolution and revolution period the increase in the number of internet users show the growing dependence of the activists and their well-wishers on internet. Indeed the dependence was due to the fact that internet was then the only means of transnational communication. Towards 2004 the numbers of the Ukrainian internet started to increase (YES-Yalta European Strategy, 2007). In 2004 the total number of the internet users in Ukraine was about 45000 that was about 1 percent of the total population. A calculation in Human Development Indicators 2003′ for per 100 people there were 1.2 users. The simplicity of the use of internet is the main feature that helped the revolution to a greater extent. It is clear in the following line,
It was enough for an unknown person to post the information that tomorrow at 7 pm the rally will take place in front of the Vancouver Hall on the www.majdan.org.ua website for a series of spontaneous self-organized Diasporas rallies to take place. (Majdan, n. d.)
Internet based Counterculture and ‘Otpor’ Movement of Serbia
In October 2000 the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic was, at a first glance, the ballot revolution against the Milosevic Regime. Though the movement seemed to be abrupt to many, it was based on a strong pre-revolutionary background. The harassment of opposition, civic, and suppression of the media activists was growing intensive during his ten years presidency. The culture that internet was conjuring in Serbian society was spiritually opposite to the non-democratic impulses of Milosevic regime. The unique features of internet paved the way to the formation of an environment in the society that got its blood in the free flow of internet based information. Consequently the pro-democracy intellectuals of and decision makers were aptly handling the situation to compose non-violent counter strategies. There were a number of such organizations, networks and student group over the whole country.
“This counterculture was made up of loosely related organizations, networks, communes, music and drugs scenes, cantered on the students and young intellectual elites of Belgrade, Novi-Sad and other urban centres in Yugoslavia” (Bosina, and Gössweiner, 2006).
Around 1998s the status of internet in Serbia was not enjoyable enough for the OTPOR activists as it was the case for PORA after four years in Ukraine. The anti-Milosevic organizations, specially the student movements, were spirited within themselves to use this all-embracing technology to promote their activities. It was the young section of the Serbian society in whose hand internet was being used as a passive tool to bring the change. The impact of internet on the society, independent of the activists’ effort was less discernible. The situation was
“in Serbia, where a very small number of people were using the internet, but even this fact contributed to more trust in the internet as a medium, which allows freedom of communication” (Majdan, n.d.)
The growing suppression of the regime made them to turn to internet as a means of informational communication. The reason of this passivity of internet lay beneath the fact that the expansion duration of internet was comparatively short and hindered by the internet policy of the regime. Long before the moment when internet began to exert its impact on the social behaviour, the informal resistance began.
“All of these events [informal protest] coincided with the rapid growth of the Internet as a major means of communication in the second half of the 1990s. As early as 1995, the radio station Studio B was communicating directly with the international community through its web-site, which is still operating”.
After 1995 internet helped the leading youth of Serbia build solidarity with the international community. Indeed this solidarity with the international community encouraged them to lead the revolution of 1996-97 that is known as the whistling revolution. During the Kosovo conflict the criticism based role of internet and its ability to draw the transnational attention made it clear for the leading youth of Serbia that it held a great potential to fight back the regime. The young intellectuals were to criticize the regime and at the same time to reaffirm the Serbian cultural identity. For this intellectual community Internet was an effective means of communication and an instrument for the propagation of ideas. As Robert C. Hudson, in his article From Lara Croft to the Kosovo Girl: Identity, Counterculture, and the Role of the Internet in Serbia during the Kosovo Conflict’ says,
“For in the Serbian context of the late 1990s, the Internet served a double purpose, both as a tool for national and cultural reaffirmation, during a period of crisis and conflict, and also as a means of attacking the Milosevic´ régime”. (Bosina, and Gössweiner, 2006).
The revolution was driven more by the people’s growing resentment against the regime than any other factor. Certainly the vortex of the people’s resentment was correlated with other factors. As a report asserts, “a complex combination of factors – including wide spread frustration over Yugoslavia’s many wars, its shattered economic infrastructure, and increased government repression – contributed to his demise” (Cevallos, 6 August 2001). Of these one of the important factors that contributed to the rise of mass awareness among the Serbian is the clever campaign of strategic non violent action wielded by the student-led Otpor ‘Resistance’). The Serbian young intelligentsia was skilful enough to lead nonviolent attack on the regime and non-violent protest to attract the attention of the common people. In 1998, Otpor emerged as a movement to protest the regime’s repression at the University of Belgrade. Since then Otpor started quickly to be a driving force to promote democracy in Serbia. The factors which were crucial to its success are listed below:
- Effective broad coalition of the opposition political parties,
- Effective co-ordination of the non governmental organizations, media, and labour unions.
- Foreign help to sustain the broad anti-Milosevic coalition and organizations.
- Pressure on the regime and from civil societies and international communities.
- Effective co-ordination among the pro-democratic forces through ICT.
In this revolution in Serbia, as Matiç says, “The greatest strength of the internet lied in its innovative use in combination with traditional media and traditional ways of communication.” When Radio B-92 was shutdown On 3 December 1996 the authority broadcast their programs via the internet and overcame technical difficulties by using strong transmitters from the BBC and the Radio Free Europe. An internet based media development and the evasion from the authoritarian regulations was counted as a success” (Bosina, and Gössweiner, 2006).
Strategic Use of Internet to Raise Mass Awareness and Civic Engagement in Politics.
If the strategies of Otpor are to be studied, it is more or less to study other non-violent revolutions. The strategies and the procedure were adopted from other non violent and pro-democracy movement. “OTPOR’s main objective was to raise citizens’ awareness – especially among the young population – about the importance of playing an active role in political life” (World Bank, n.d). But it was the Serbian young intelligentsia on whose non-violent strategies the success of the movement depended and the use of internet was one of their strategies to create awareness in the mostly young and enthusiastic youth and the educated section of the society.
Indeed Otpor is rooted in the student demonstration of 1996 and 1997 and later Serbian youth especially the students organized as Otpor after successful demonstration of the “1998 Law on the University campuses. They were at the centre of the awareness raising campaign of the movement. The movement helped to raise awareness among the common people; in turn it received strong support from them.” But it is not that the movement did not employ new tactics along the advancement of the revolution. Long before the emergence of OTPOR as a formal resistance in 1998, the use of internet as a pro-democracy tool started by the young intellectuals.
“The role of the Internet as a means for intellectual comment, criticism and influence, can be applied directly to the role of the intelligentsia in Serbia” (Bosina, and Gössweiner, 2006).
Media is always considered to be important as a tool of propaganda to bring about any radical change in the society but under the iron hand of Milosevic the flourish of independent media was choked. The political opposition was allowed a narrow leg-room by the regime favoured security and media. Milosevic’s strategy was to make use of the factional condition of the opposition. But whenever Milosevic’s faced failure in his strategy he opted for the roller of suppression i.e. the crack down on the opposition movement ‘Zajedno (Together)’ of 1996-97, anti-Milosevic demonstrations erupted in March 1991. Milosevic had illegally handled the media for his own purposes. This time the attempt was to conceal the huge corruption and coercion, and the vulnerability of the regime. In the country agents of democracy and human right were being tortured and in some cases the tortures led to death.
The United States Institute of Peace Report (2007), upholds a vivid picture in the following lines: “Independent journalist Slavko Curivija was killed— by state security agents, some claimed… fearing for their lives, opposition leaders, along with thousands of young men avoiding the draft, fled to neighbouring’ countries” (Cevallos, 6 August 2001). Milosevic’s regime tightened its grip on the independent media by banning “those outlets that rebroadcast foreign news, an act that was explicitly outlawed by the notorious media law” (Cevallos, 6 August 2001). There was no balance between the regime’s and the opposition’s propaganda and publicizing ability. So internet was being used by the activist, an alternative to fill the lack of an independent media. Rather internet was more favourable to their purpose. Veran Matiç, Chief Executive Officer of RTV B-92 and explains the crucial role of the internet: “The independent scene in Serbia began using the internet successfully all the way back to the four-month protests of 1996/1997” (Traynor, 26 November, 2004).
In Serbian cyber space Opennet was a remarkable name to fight back against internet monopoly of Milosevic’s Regime. The website was opened to support the non-government organizations, to support independent media and other anti Milosevic groups. Its another aim was to improve their communication with the rest of the world (from the isolated Serbia) and increase their communication with institutions and individuals.” Internet, together with other media, was used to unify the resistance. According to Matic’s statement, in 2000 there were 50 radio and TV stations that were connected to internet, “which served as a core joining together of the resistance comprised of non-governmental organisations, student and schoolchildren movements, artistic movements, unions and political parties” (Bosina, and Gössweiner, 2006).
Internet: A Catalyst in the Emergence of NGOs
Veran Matiç says, “Communication through the internet enabled civil society to emerge in Serbia.” Beside the political opposition parties the emergence of non government organizations which were with different pro-democratic mottoes was remarkable in the pre-revolutionary context of Serbia. Because of the frustrations and factions in the political opposition, the pro-democratic forces had to turn to the emergence of these organizations. However these organizations played multifarious roles in the pre-revolutionary context of Serbia. They were needed to generate the movement for a more democratic environment. They were able to create pressure on the government in the issues of corruption, accountability, human right, etc.
Anti-Milosevic and anti-NATO Propaganda on Internet during the Kosovo Conflict
Internet played a crucial role during the Kosovo conflict 1999 that preceded the overthrow of Milosevic to fuel the anti-regime sentiment among the people. As a report asserts, a complex combination of factors — including wide spread frustration over Yugoslavia’s many wars, its shattered economic infrastructure, and increased government repression — contributed to his demise.’(Whither the Bulldozer? Non-violent Revolution and the Transition to Democracy in Serbia). The strategy of the use of internet by the anti-war circle characterized the war as a virtual war. It was described as the first internet war (IGNATIEFF, 1999) the success of which was counted as another step toward the victory over the Milosevic regime. According to Ignatieff in this war the people were communicating with Kosovo the country where their military were engaged with the so-called enemy’. Internet communication was fruitfully being maintained with the Kosovo people while in other wars no electronic communication was possible because of the state imposed control over all communicative sectors.
In the conflict over Kosovo links with the “enemy” were maintained through the use of the Internet. Furthermore, during the period of conflict, the number of Internet users in Serbia grew from 25,000 to around 55,000 (COLLIN, 2001, p. 163).’
It was not possible for the state to control the way of communication during the conflict. The discernible fact in the situation was that internet played a significant role to weaken the ability of the state to control the people access to information. Through the Internet they were able to continue their communication with the states’ enemies during the conflict. As ROBERT C. HUDSON says in his article:
Although one can be sure that the various intelligence services monitored what was being said, they were not able to or did not wish to stop it being said.’
According to Robert C. Hudson it was the period of Kosovo conflict when the members of the Serbian intelligentsia reaffirmed the Serbian cultural and national identity as a solid ground to launch further attack on the regime through the devising of various electronic illustrations on Internet, which very often included humour, usually of the black variety.’ Humorous way of presenting the insanity served as a way of maintaining sanity in the time of war.’ Robert C. Hudson presented some images to vindicate his statement. Such materials were available on the comic postcards, graffiti, T-shirts and computer game the conflict. Employing photomontage emerged as a popular technique of protest in the cyber culture of Serbia. An example of photomontage published on internet can be mentioned here. It was of a F-117 that fell down in the first week of the war. A version of the photomontage showed
“an F-117 flying over the faded background of a sleeping child and across it is sprawled the legend -Soory [sic] we did not know it was invisible…- referenced to a graffiti in Belgrade” (Traynor, 2004).
While criticizing the regime the Serbian intelligentsia attempted to win the heart of the common Serbians by affirming the cultural and nationalistic identity in their presentation against the NATO. They had been forced into isolation, into a collective Serbian solipsism, or a Serbian Sonderweg.’ These themes were oft-repeatedly featured in those representations to affirm Serbian sense of self, identity, and community in the past.’
According to Richard C. Hudson there were four types of representation on internet and media based counterculture. They are as following:
- cartoon satire;
- advertising brand slogans;
- the use of traditional cultural references taken from the fine arts;
The following figure is one of the many images that were published on internet to define the position of the Serb about the Kosovo conflict. It was the recruiting of Lara Croft to the Serbian Cause.” Lara Croft the girl fighter who features in Sony’s Tomb Raider computer games appeared in the Serbian image to present postmodern Kosovo Girl. She is kitted out in paramilitary gear.’
Her three fingered salute against the background image of a Serbian kokarda is symbolic of the Serbian national identity. The strong composition of versatile theme presented in such images proved to be lethal to both the NATO attack on Serbia and also on the Milosevic regime. The reaction evoked by such representation against NATO helped the Serb to reaffirm the national identity and the reaction evoked by the anti-Milosevic represent created the anger that together with the evocation of the national identity led to the mass resistance.
Theory of the Potential Use of Internet in a Non-Violent Revolution and Its Application in Syrian Context
In the light of non-violent revolutions of human history it is reasonable to infer that though these revolutions were composed in different contexts, they had some common features shared enormously by the socio-political background of Syria. In those cases a list of events took place one after another in response to the previous. First there had been the dark monopoly of the dictator rulers and their sheer oligarchic interest resulted into massive corruption and human right violation which eventually led to the overwhelming deterioration in the socio-economic condition, and on the other hand, common people moaned about the adverse effects such as poverty, hunger, rise of crime, illiteracy; their resentment and anger grew day by day. Indeed for an effective revolution a third group of agents played an indispensable role to convert the people’s anger into action.
These groups of converter-agents generally included the abler and veteran portion of the society, and all of the helpful and effective tools, support, forces which were available around them. The primary factors, the abler and qualified section of the society, had always manipulated the secondary factors tactfully to implement their purposes. Generally the educated sects such as educated youth who are found to be more liberal to embrace any positive change in the society belong to the primary factors. For a peaceful revolution the primary converter-factors were and still are the important factors. Whether the revolution would be violent or non-violent depends totally on the primary converters’ strategy. The following diagram depicts the model of converter’s strategy theory’ of a non-violent revolution.
It is remarkable that in the above mentioned model, the role of Internet is that of a tool manipulated by the manipulated by the primary converters. It is assumed to be a successful co-ordinating media. In most of the East European context internet played this type of role. The following is a diagram of Co-ordinating Role of Internet:
Internet Strategy Theory of a Non-violent Revolution
But Internet played a different role in the pre-revolution context of Lebanon’s Cedar and Serbia’s Otpor. The role was independent of other factors that were active in the East European Context. In Cedar the role of internet was that of both the primary, and secondary and of co-ordination. In Cedar the role of internet was more of Internet Strategy’ than of Converter Strategy’. Indeed in the Internet Strategy Model of a Peaceful Revolution’ the role of internet is that of a primary converter that remains active in changing the pattern of social behaviour towards democratic trend. According to this model, internet itself mainly deals with the major portion of the population by providing them its democratizing opportunities. The diagram of Internet Strategy Model of a Non-violent Revolution’ is given below:
Role of the Internet Strategy Model of a Non-violent Revolution’
It is remarkable enough that both the triumphant march of democracy in modern world and the growth of communication technology have started coincidentally. Hypothetically communication and information technology have helped democracy by creating opportunity for people to express their opinion, to know information and to participate in politics. It creates the scope for people that reduces the liability of the rulers to the role of a representative in politics. Communications technology greatly contributes to the expansion of knowledge and freedom, and the democratization of culture.
“…it is the story of the progressive liberation of the human spirit.’ (Does Internet Create Democracy)
When internet and ICT turns the world into a global village, it certainly turns a country into a small clan. Fellow feeling among the people increases to the extent that prevails among members of a family. This fellow feeling exercises an impact on government. However it is the awareness of the people of their condition. As internet provides easy accessories, people join the electronic community spontaneously and public sphere is revitalised. Public sphere’ turns to be the dominating force. In Does Internet create democracy, Alinta Thornton says,
Democracy is dependent on citizens’ ability to act on the results of their debates and the information they gather.’
Indeed a democratic community largely depends on the closeness among the people where a member is instantly informed of the opinion of another member. The role of ICT and Internet is seen as to create a unified nation and a unified culture: a great public of common understanding and knowledge (Carey, 1989:143).
What internet provides the people of society are:
- everyone who might be affected takes part in the discussion
- equal, free interaction on any topic, and
- the outcomes can be negotiated (Habermas, 1993 in Calhoun, 1993: 449).
In the Internet Strategy Model of a Revolution’ Internet and ICT, unlike the traditional media, is itself a living whole that allows other factors such as the activist groups to reach the people’ bedroom. In few words it is to say that the role of internet is to allow people to discuss, to decide and to inspire to implement.’ The diagram of the Internet Strategy Model’ is given below:
The Application of Internet Strategy Model’ in Syrian Context
Present Syrian political background bears a lot of similarity to those of the non-violent revolutions in human his history and voices also have been raised against the dictatorship of the Regime. Bathist oligarchy prevails over the political context of the country. It is said that the status of the country’s politics is pseudo democratic. The constitution of the country protects more of the oligarchic interests of the ruling class than of the public spirit. The constitution preserves one half of the seats for the Baath party in parliament. So the prospect of achieving a culmination of revolutionary success through election, as it was found in East European cases, seems to be far away unless there is any change in the constitution.
Again apparently it seems that huge human right violations by the regime failed to draw the sympathy of the mass population in the past. There were not so many events of protests as expected and as they were observed in East European pre-revolution background. Even if there were a few campaigns for democracy and human right they were completely failure. The reasons of these failures lie in the composition of the society and also in some other strategies of the regime. The reasons have been discussed in clause 4.6 of this paper. They are given below in points:
- Strong hold of religious belief on the people.
- Technological backwardness of the country.
- Domination of the regime on Media and communication.
- Manipulation of anti-Israeli sentiment of the people to suppress the anti-regime activists.
Analysis of Pro-revolutionary Prospect of Internet in Syria
According to statistical data, up to March, 2008 the number internet users was 2,132,000. The percent is very prospective. This user percent is very near to that of Lebanon during the time of Cedar revolution. Moreover the shining hope is that most of users are the young section of the society and they are usually the students. Of course Internet itself is a technology with some unique features as they are discussed in some of the above clauses. It bears no prospect if it is handled in an inappropriate way. Hence there should be no doubt that Internet bears the prospect of conducting a social revolution. This social revolution can be ignited by the Syrian youth in a peaceful manner as it had been observed that students were at the forepart of the past revolution.
The Role of Internet as a Pro-Democracy Tool and the Practice of Non-Political Democratic Environment
Some analysts think that Internet has shifted power to access and present information from governments to people, which gave a rise to the hope, and fuel to the claim, that is indeed a possible democratizing force. “After all, the Internet continues to be an exclusive tool whose access, cost, and skills make it prohibitive to many in the Global South” (Tadros, January 2005, p.2).
In the cyber space a user can find the way of free expression. As a result internet can be used to create a democratic environment in the country. In the non-violent revolution of Georgia the strategy of creating non-political democratic environment was proved effective at the beginning of the revolution, the same can be adopted in Syrian background. At the beginning the practice of democracy under non-political label will be more sustainable under the Iron Hand’ of the regime. Moreover the practice of non-political democratic environment in the civil society of the country will be helpful to change the pattern of social behaviours. People at the grass root level will be more accustomed to the democratic system. This strategy also will be less accusable and discernible by the regime. It will take the society to the point to pose a greater challenge for the dictator of Syria.
Internet as a Pro-Human Right Catalyst
The human rights have been exposed to miserable level of harassment, punitive, persecution, oppression and vengeful measures. For better coordination and actions Syrian human rights workers can use email to communicate with NGOs (non-governmental organizations) as it’s cheap and easy. Moreover, Internet can easily get its potential user, especially who wants such information. Internet can be used as a secure means of communication among the groups who are working for human rights. Thus it can be used as an important tool for human rights. Internet can help human rights activities through following ways:
- Internet is the most important tool for human rights groups to help establish coordination and the most effective means of communication among the people all over the world. One can put his opinion in Internet and can share arguments or support from others. This is not possible so effectively in any other means. So, it can play a very important role against the violation of human rights all over the world.
- NGOs, which plays very important role in the development of a country, can smoothly and effectively organize the organization through Internet. Internet helps to send e-mail, giving advertisement and state one’s view, thought and perception in his web site or many other web sites. This helps the people to form the NGO or any other organizations in world wide. Internet also helps the organizations’ coordinators to send command to sub-ordinate in possible shortest time. In this way Internet helps coordination activities among human rights groups.
- By Internet one journalist or human rights volunteers can easily expose human rights violations activities before the world. It can make web page publication, which can act as a press release. They also can inform other human rights groups by using Internet communication method.
- Through Internet organization or human rights organization cans take necessary steps in shortest time, and help the politicians or leaders of different countries as well as the human right organizations of the world to save human rights victims.
Internet as a Pro-political Liberty Catalyst
There is a strong prediction that the Internet based technologies will impressively change the politics of Syria. If the practice of democracy in a non-political environment goes well with the civil society of Syria they will gather enough momentum to raise their voice for more political liberty. “Citing as evidence anecdotal stories about his meetings with various Internet-save individuals, he argues that a ‘silent invasion’ (Mishra, 23 August 2000) of information is taking place in the Middle East and that, unlike previous invasions (Petras, 2006), ‘there will be no cease-fire’ for this one” (Peled, September 2000 and Friedman, 1999). Internet can make Syrian policies transparent and democratize, while now there is a traditional form of stealth and repression. For future development of Syria Internet can act as a key factor whether positive or negative. So, the regulatory body is needed to be formed, the regime has to work as a ‘watching dog’. Kemal Dervis and Nemet Suafik mention that, “If things go wrong, Syrian governments will fail to block Internet access and a large number of their citizens will become frustrated after using the Internet to discover the true nature of their regimes.” (Dervis, and Shafik, 1998).
Impact of Internet as Converter: Voices against the Regime within the Country
There are lot many dissidents who raise the voice against the tyranny of the regime. The Syrian has been protesting the bans of the administration placed on web pages since Syrians gained access to the Internet. “These citizens believe that the bans are in clear contradiction with the spirit of the current age and disrupt the free flow of information.” (Al-Hayat newspaper, 12 April 2004). They include people from all walks of life, such as journalists, school teachers, professors, students etc. who are mainly from the educated sector of society. A Syrian blogger named Tarique was jailed for expressing his opinion against the Syrian government; and for this reason he was jailed and the citizen Omar who made a group on face book.
He asked for help for the immediate release of Tariq and organized a campaign too. He wanted the support of the people for Tariq’s release by on line petition (Rosen, 30 June 2003. The other Syrian citizen Arwa and Omar contracted with the news media and human right organization. Okobay and Tariq’s lawyer also joined them. Now they are five in number. In support to their campaign they quoted from the Syria’s Constitution: “The freedom of the country is only protected by free citizens. They said about the freedom of the country people that they didn’t violate the law. They describe the constitution through article 38, which suggests that “[e]very citizen has the right to express his opinion freely and openly, orally and written and in all other means of expression. He also has the right to contribute in the control process and in the constructive criticism to ensure the safety of national reconstruction” (Biassi, 20 January 2008).
The campaigns were only the form of a release on behalf of Tariq and a freedom of human rights. They wanted to release Tariq from the government dictatorship. Those campaigns are entrance to the hall for protecting people whose freedom and basic rights are ill-treated. They started the campaign without any help of media & other human rights and agencies. These activities happened in not only Syria but also in Arab regime Razan Zeituna: These campaigns are very important, mostly for unleashing the freedom of speech causes from the dual relationship between the regime and human rights organizations, to make it a public affair that would interest wider circles of people and groups. About the campaign various people gave their opinion.
They blame their Government activities and policies. They wanted Syrian people enjoy human rights. This is changing now; these kinds of campaigns, however, as they put symbolic pressure on the government, gives the individuals whose rights are invaded part of what they deserve, and treat them as people with names and dreams (Blogger for Freedom, 9 February 2008). The people of Syria wanted to change the political environment of their country. Generally the campaign activities makes a strong feelings towards set of matter for this reason they feel need to be changed. That motivated them enough because many people support it partly or fully. Razan Zeituna: It’s his right, before it can be beneficial to him or not. With governments like ours, these kinds of pressures don’t affect the regimes much; this is no reason why we should not practice these pressures in the first place. (Blogger for Freedom, 9 February 2008).
Internet: Pooling Pressure on the Regime from Outside
The Human Rights Watch sent letters to the Syrian government about the condition of Internet policies. But the Syrian Government did not respond to Human Rights Watch’s letters requesting information on Internet policies. Its go-slow come near is reliable though with its efforts to repress all types of terms considered critical of how the nation is administrated. The president of Syria Mr. Hafez al-Asad put a poor response to human rights at the time of issuing Internet policies to the country. “The President Hafez al-Asad’s go-slow approach is consistent however with its efforts to suppress all forms of expression deemed critical of how the country is governed” (Human Rights Watch, June 1999). The web sites that is blocked there is no information the kinds of content in Human Rights Watch. For this reason the Syrian Government and the Syrian Computer Society did not answer the letter that was noted above. Public access was impending there were once again press reports in early 1999.
Internet Strategy Model for a Non-violent Revolution
Internet Strategy Model for a Non-violent Revolution in Syria
In the chapter 4 the two models of Internet-ignited Revolution are based on the two types of approaches regarding the role of internet to bring about a revolution. Internet is assumed to be the primary converter in the Internet Strategy Model’. In this model internet plays the role of a converter to make people accustomed to a more democratic environment. To accomplish this task internet uses its popularity to penetrate into a human society. The penetration is indomitable by any regime. Eventually the free flow of information that is provided by the internet creates awareness among the people of their existing condition and the scopes of discussion and expression provided by the same technology help to prepare a society as a force opposing to any despot. In the above passages as it is mentioned that in order to bring about a social revolution a nation must create the pro-revolutionary plots simultaneously in some other sectors such as economic, technological, industrial and education sector. A positive change should be brought in all these sectors as an accumulated or integrated whole’. Only then the change will be marked as a social revolution. Indeed Internet itself is invested with some unique features. It bears no prospect if it is handled in an inappropriate way. This social revolution can be brought about in a peaceful manner. There are also some other factors that influence the social revolution peacefully.
Internet as a primary converter is not self-sufficient. At a point the function of internet as a converter comes to a halt if it is not effective manipulated by civil society to raise the further benefit of internet using it as a tool. The primary plot for a non-violent revolution is prepared much by the internet through creating civil society but later it is to be backed by the civil society for its further accomplishment. The discussion in chapter 3 shows that at present in Syrian context, much of the primary plot has been prepared by the internet as there are frequent protests against the regime are visible. Now what is needed is that internet is to be used by the pro-democracy civil society. The stages of a non- violent revolution are described in the following diagram:
Stage-1: Internet as Primary Converter
Creation of Democratic Environment under Non-political Tone
Democratization under non-political tone is more sustainable in a close regime. Moreover it is more effective to draw public support. This strategy is more helpful to give birth to civil society and NGOs. The civil societies with a non-political message are able to gather momentum to play a greater role as a pressure factor in a country’s politics. The websites of groups and organization with a non-political message are able to raise the civic engagement with Internet where the people can be easily influenced by and introduced with the democratic features of cyber world. Though the role of internet is not self sufficient, it is crucial in bringing about a change in Syrian social behaviour. Indeed this change will lead to the expected non-violent revolution.
Internet to Create Pro-Revolutionary Manpower
Generally this step follows the establishment of a potential democratic environment in a society. Indeed, this is the main part of the expected revolution in which Internet can play a great role. As it is almost impossible for any attempt to penetrate into the country with an objective to bring about a change in the Syrian society because of the firm grip of the regime, Internet is the only tool that can be used to bring about the expected goal. It is supposed to be invested with such an appeal that it is destined to be a part and parcel of modern Syrian society. Very possibly the regime is helpless before its penetration. The only step they can take is to ban a site but modern technology also has made it possible to by-pass into the banned web site. As it has been said before that the man in front of the keyboard is more important than the Internet, it should be used to create a pro-democracy manpower first.
Pro-democracy and human right forums on internet
The idea of a forum always goes with popularity in cyber space. There are lots of forums that exist with millions of fans. The positive side of a forum is that it creates a fellow feeling and the sense of unity and solidarity among the users. But the type of a forum varies according to the taste of the forum member. Different types of forum are popular with different type of users. A forum allows a user to express freely. There should be forums for different tastes and ages of Syrians users. There can be the following types of forums:
- Writers’ forum
- Readers’ forum
- youth Forum
- Fashion-cantered youth forums
But the reaction of the regime must be allergic to such means of free expression. So the forum needs to be under a banner which will be friendly with the regime and at the same time, get popularity. The idea of forums will get the habituated with free expression.
The role of the forums and Syrian virtual on internet
A strategy can be adopted to raise public awareness of their condition through internet. The whole strategy should be composed and run by Syrian writers, journalists and policy makers. Such steps taken and arranged by the famous Syrian writers or personality are supposed to get long life because they include potentiality of the writers’ status. The role of the writers’ strategy should be as follows:
- To create pro-revolution internet groups at home and abroad
- To engender Mass Awareness
- To raise public awareness through internet
- To promote people’s interest to establish and develop a liberal cyber relationship with the people of other countries; especially with neighbouring countries to be a good member of the virtual community
- To prepare Syrian cyber youth agenda and Syrian cyber Wierters’ forum agenda on democracy and human right.
- To build public opinion to create pressure on the regime to release imprisoned opposition leaders, writers, human rights workers as well as all opposition activists if they are only arrested on the charge their talks against the government.
- To remove obstacles and open free access towards Internet so as to get opinions from different faith groups within the shortest period of time.
The strategic role of internet to bring about a revolution
Indeed the role of internet to bring about a revolution is of the nature go slow and steady and win’. The following diagram shows the effect of internet on the Syrian society. Communications technology can provide a great contribution to the expansion of knowledge and freedom democratizes culture and erodes monopolies of knowledge’.
“…it is the story of the progressive liberation of the human spirit. More information is available and is made to move faster: ignorance is ended; civil strife is brought under control; and a beneficent future, moral and political as well as economic, is opened by the irresistible tendencies of technology” (Thornton, n.d. p. 189).
The Role of the of Virtual Writers’ Forum
If the evidence from history is taken into concern it will be clear that the writers’ community has played a significant role in those revolutions to give them both moral and practical ground. So in Syria’s case the writers’ forum also can play a potential role in the expected revolution. The roles that they are to play are:
- to compose Pro-democracy literature
- to compose Pro-human right literature
- to compose Pro-democracy literature
- to create awareness against the coercion and the corruption in the bone marrow of the regime and the society.
- to hit the youth sentiment on the ground of amoral affection: love and music vs rigidity.
Rise of pressure groups: To introduce the slogan Protect Internet from being the toy of the Elite and high profile Politicians’
The Internet users or customers are not aware enough to realize that they are logging into a less developed countries web material which is exactly located in high- bandwidth country like United States of America (USA). The main problem is that the less developed countries like Syria are still struggling with the normal or general use of Internet where the Internet revolution is moving ahead at tremendous speed in the rest of the world. In Syria Internet still remains toy for the elite and high profile politicians and government officials, as a result they are going to miss the Internet revolution.
“Put differently, a country is doomed to remain hopelessly at the bottom of the emerging new global information economy if it always plays “catch up” with yesterday’s Internet technologies” (Peled, September 2000). Here, the investors and entrepreneurs are not interested to invest at e-commerce or Internet sector in Syria because of their poor policies. A conference which was recently held about telecommunication says that only 0.11 percent of Arab people currently have the Internet access where only 5 percent of the household users have the same access; they express their anxiety about the growth rate of Internet in Arab countries. “Take the burgeoning e-commerce revolution: only a handful of companies in the Arabic-speaking countries of the Middle East employ the Internet for business” (Peled, September 2000). In this regard, Syrian government has to give economic incentive for developing e-commerce solutions. The circle of vicious has improved: undeveloped communications infrastructure and values effect in modest stipulate for Internet services and modest stipulate consecutively does not produce sufficient civics force to develop the communications infrastructure and to lesser the price of Internet connection. In Syria this vicious circle reasons to overlook the financial benefit of the Internet uprising.
At this stage the movement faces the censorship and restriction imposed by the dictator. But the movement is speedy enough that the more the regime is harsh, the more the movement will be alive.
Primarily, the study discusses the role of internet in changing the social behaviour in Syria. In Syria, 40 years’ Emergency Law throws the status of Democracy into question. The freedom of press has rigorously been violated. What there exists under the cover of media is nothing but the regime’s machine of brain wash. If press publishes any news revealing of the delinquency of the regime, they are to face the threat of being banned. In the preliminary stage of Internet in Syria, the number of users was very low. When Internet made its move first in Syria, its flourish was being choked by rigid rules and regulations. The users could not access to every site where they wanted. Most of the popular web sites were banned by the dictating authority. They did it mostly under the banner of protecting the ethical value of the people. It was the dark period’ of Internet in Syria.
But a striking change, though not unexpected, took place in 2000 in Syria. Now the growing number of internet users in Syria is remarkable. A user easily opts to by-pass the banned web sites. They became more aware of the facts and facilities of Internet. Seemingly they are rushing to the world of cyber where they feels that they are not alone isolated from the rest of the human civilization. The vortex of passion to taste their rights is screwing up their courage to raise their voice against the tyrannical rule of the Regime. If the regiment still clings to their decision, it is going to bring about a change in Syria very soon. But how far do they have to go to reach their destiny?
The answer of this question exclusively depends on the people who explore into the cyber world clicking on the icon of the internet explorer in front of their personal computer. Even then it depends on those peace and democracy loving people who will spell the dream of freedom upon the Syrian. Those days are not very far away from when Internet will be available in Syria to bring about a peaceful change in social behaviour. It will not be difficult for the Syrian to take steps towards the state of freedom if the peace loving people of the world come forward to help the Syrian. Will the conscience of the world people respond to the melancholic imploration of the caged bird of human right in Syria?
As we argued it in earlier chapters that internet is not able to bring about a full-fledged revolution in Syria but it can be played as a potential catalyst to prepare a fruitful pre-revolutionary plot. It is an effective tool to promote human right and democracy and at the same time to introduce the Syrian with freedom from a wider angle. Mr. Bashar al-Asad, the president’s son, who is a little bit liberal advocate of Syria’s Internet Revolution, expressed his opinion in favour of public access to Internet. But he thinks that, public should not allow the access, where National security is threatened. The present study provides information about the status of Internet and media sector in Syria. NGOs working for human rights in Syria can email to the whole world within the short time through Internet. So, the world personnel could take necessary steps within no time.
“By enabling early access to information, immediate dissemination of calls for campaigns, and the organization of wide international pressure, the Internet greatly increase the lobbying capacities of human rights groups. It is vitally important, therefore, to promote freedom of expression and privacy as central elements of the development of the information society” (The Centre for Democracy & Technology, 11 June 2007).
At last, the study figures the actual scenario of Syria in Internet sector and dictatorship of the Syrian Regime.
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