Why do you care about uprisings in the Mideast?

And what are you going to do about it?


Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi speaks on national television from Tripoli in this February 22, 2011 still image taken from video footage. Gaddafi vowed to die in Libya as a martyr in an angry television address on Tuesday, as rebel troops said eastern regions had broken free from his rule in a burgeoning revolt.

What is important to U.S.-based technologists about the uprisings and revolutions in the Mideast?

I know that sounds either like a stupid rhetorical question or a leading one in a remedial high-school history class, but I really want to know.

The storm over the prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and aggressive hactivism of 4Chan's Anonymous certainly had repercussions far beyond what the disclosure of diplomatic messages would have before the Internet.

Anonymous went beyond traditional IT targets not only by attacking credit-card sites, but by taking down at least eight government sites in Tunisa during uprisings there, and threatening to do the same in Egypt.

Then it moved on to pressure ultra-conservative anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church.

(Anonymous also sent a kind of pissy note to the U.N. demanding in pretentious young-revolutionary language that it state its opposition to Libya and do something about it or risk attacks on its sites.)

Traditionally, instability in the Mideast caused changes in oil prices, changes in the routes freighters (or yachts) might take near troubled countries, but wouldn't have much direct effect.

Is that different now that both companies and individuals are so closely connected via the Internet that nearly everyone can claim a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend in a war zone or who has family there?

Does it affect anything about the way you do your job or the way your company is handling its online connections with subsidiaries or partners?

It was obvious why we were all paying attention to Egypt: it was an amazingly peaceful, effective popular uprising facilitated by the same kinds of technology IT people deal with every day, in a developed country that is an important ally of the U.S.

Libya is a lot less familiar, a lot less technically advanced, more bloody and more complex – portions of the military loyal to the government have gunned down hundreds of protesters; others have broken away to join them. Two fighter pilots who said they were ordered to bomb the protesters took their jets and defected to Malta. They're both colonels, which seems to show the divisions in the military go much farther up the chain of command than if they were lower-ranking officers.

The Italian Navy is also apparently watching a Libyan naval ship hanging around off the coast of Malta, but can't tell yet whether it's defecting or standing guard.

Like Egypt, the underlying cause of the uprisings may be a long-term dissatisfaction with conservative, authoritarian governments, contrasted with an increasingly common understanding of the contrast between the poverty and restrictions of life in authoritarian countries with the freedoms of the West.

What has been spreading that awareness?

The Internet.

A piece Slate posted yesterday compares the Arab uprisings to the European revolutions of 1848, which is pretty interesting if you look at the comparative social dynamics between countries that revolted and those that did not.

The countries that went through revolutions – sometimes two or three in the next decade or two – were largely authoritarian, oppressive and inept in specific ways.

Some were missing out on the Industrial Revolution entirely, allowing its people to sink further into poverty compared with others in Europe.

Others were adopting it in pieces, but hadn't adapted well. Some industrialists got rich, but the people fueling the economy were losing out. Factory workers got low pay, dangerous working conditions and slums to live in. Farm workers lost the few protections they had and were driven further into poverty by inflation.

The uprisings, often described as "communist," though they had more to do with people being sick of ineffective leadership, bad economies and harsh conditions than they did political ideologies.

The result wasn't good, though. Italy went through three big revolutions in 18 years. The rest of Europe suffered a series of power-balancing wars throughout the rest of the 19th century and into the 20th.

The whole mess eventually devolved into World War I, which wiped out most of the old empires, including the then-powerful Ottoman Empire, the fall of which allowed European powers to divvy up and exploit previously tribal or imperial lands in the Middle East.

People there are still pissed off about it.

If the Industrial Revolution and the uneven prosperity it brought created dissatisfaction and provided fertile ground for real revolution in Europe, has the Internet done the same in less-developed countries by showing people there what they're missing?

Has it simply provided a channel for people already dissatisfied with their governments to organize and protest more easily?

And what effect is it going to have on the rest of the 'net?

We don't usually cover a lot of political stuff at ITworld unless there is a direct impact on IT people. Regulation of the Internet, the effect of the economy on jobs, changes in regulation that impose new compliance requirements are all core interests for IT people.

Is Egypt a core interest? Is Tunisia? Is Lybia?

Is the "Internet Revolution" more than just a digital update of the real world so you can tweet trivial thoughts, get restaurant recommendations and GPS-enabled directions through your smartphone?

Or is it an open road for revolution and freedom?

If the answer to that last question is 'yes,' what are you going to do about it?

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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