Do you know how frustrating it is to READ about actor-based models of transition to democracy when transition might ACTUALLY be taking place? Pardon me, Samuel P. Huntington, but your book that I’m currently being forced to read was first published in 1991 and I do believe what is going on MIGHT be more relevant! Never before has studying politics detracted more from my ‘keeping up with’ politics. Truly, developments have been hitting my BBC homepage (now Al Jazeera) at a rapid pace and between readings, midterm studying and term papers, it has been impossible to keep up. Not to mention, it’s incredibly disheartening when my sole focus right now is reading outdated literature, while thousands of students my age are defying an imposed curfew in Cairo and fighting for their rights across North Africa and the Middle East.
So what the hell is happening? Tunisia, one of the most stable (yet authoritatively repressive) regimes in Africa was ignited by widespread protests when a young male, Mohamed Bouazizi, was arrested for operating a produce stand illegally. After being publicly humiliated by the police (a common experience) Mohamed was embarrassed, frustrated, and struggling to support his family with his produce sales. Denied any recourse he did an unthinkable act of protest: he set himself on fire. Mohamed is representative of the desperation felt amongst Tunisia’s unemployed and his actions sparked protests so massive and fearless that as of January 14th, Tunisian President Ben Ali “temporarily” stepped down and fled to Saudi Arabia, while his long-time opponent Rachid Ghannouchi has returned to Tunisia after 22 years in exile. Just as I was catching up with Tunisia coverage, Egypt exploded.
Suffering (much like Tunisia) from poverty, high unemployment and little freedom of speech or political expression, the people of Egypt have joined the call for change. How significant are these protests? HUGE- Al Jazeera reported that at one point, protesters were attempting to push a tank into the River Nile. Thousands have gathered in Alexandria, Cairo and other major cities calling for President Mubarak to go. Twitter, Facebook, SMS and Blackberry Messenger have played a key role in spreading the word about protest sites and warnings of security forces. (Remind you of a certain Green Revolution that took place a little over a year ago?) Government attempts to block communication are largely unsuccessful, and protesters are now defying a national curfew. Not only would regime change be monumental for Egypt itself, but affects across the Middle East could be unprecedented.
Oh, and thousands are now gathering in Jordan and Yemen calling for the ousting of their repressive regimes.
So, how do you stay informed without perma-gluing your butt to the couch and your eyes to BBC, essentially foregoing your BA diploma? Here are a couple of my tactics:
1. Al Jazeera live stream has constant Egypt coverage as it plays out, allowing you to plug in at the library and drown out the mindless chatter around you:
Girl in library: I mean, OHMYGOD, I cannot believe that she was drunk enough to FALL into the PUNCH BOWL—
Me: Uhmm excuse me could you keep it down? A REVOLUTION IS HAPPENING!
2. Too mangled after studying to actually READ anything else? Try the BBC’s coverage in pictures…That’s right, you’re never too old to learn from pictures.
3. Facebook. Yeah, you know you’re going to go on anyway, and hopefully you have at least one friend who’s tuned into this craziness so your feed provides you not only with status updates but protest updates too.
4. Twitter- same thing goes. Plug into some of the more active tweet feeds from students in Egypt taking a stand.
5. Podcasts. Bless you for making transit tolerable and informative.
6. Have to do research for a paper? Can you twist that paper topic to somehow complement your need to watch live coverage?
7. Screw it, live coverage and glass of wine here I come.