Overcoming the Digital Divide: The Internet and Political Mobilization in Egypt and Tunisia

Author(s) Johanne Kuebler
Contact Johanne Kuebler, European University Institute, I-50014 San Domenico di Fiesole, Italy. E-mail: johanne.kuebler@eui.eu
Issue CyberOrient, Vol. 5, Iss. 1, 2011, pp. 37-62
Published May 10, 2011
Type Article
Abstract The potential of the Internet as a political tool intrigues scientists and politicians alike. Particularly in the Middle East, the most frequent narrative is that the mere availability of alternative sources of information will empower political actors that are marginalized by the traditional media controlled by authoritarian regimes. Indeed, the protest movements in authoritarian countries interact creatively with this new medium to get their message across in an environment marked by censorship and repression. Comparing the patterns of Internet use for political mobilization in Egypt and in Tunisia, this article shows how the Internet as a relative free space can be a vital factor in opening windows and expanding the realm of what can be said in public. However, the Internet as such appears not to be sufficient to radically transform the society as a whole. Instead, the case of Egypt shows how traditional media such as the press can serve as a bridge to the general public sphere, helping to operate results of discussions online and to transform the newly acquired space of discussion into actual power on the street.
Keywords public sphere, Egypt, activism, democracy, conflict, Tunisia