By: Nesima Aberra
The revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa have toppled one dictator at a time from Ben Ali, Mubarak and just recently, Gaddafi in a remarkably tenacious struggle for democracy and freedom. This grassroots movement has captured the attention of the world with today’s rapid-fire news feed and communication networks. How were ordinary citizens in these countries able to unravel the seams of the authoritarian regimes in such a short time? Who is responsible for instigating the chain of events? ‘Sandstorm: a leaderless revolution in the digital age’ by Adeel A. Shah and Sheheryar T. Sardar, attempts to deconstruct the story of this unique youth-powered uprising with the help of modern technology.
‘Sandstorm,’ published in July 2011, describes the new “global generation” as educated, digitally raised youth with mounting frustrations over the status quo, ultimately leading them to use technology to help make their concerns heard. What makes this book different is the authors’ depth in analyzing the role social media played in the revolutions in the Arab Spring and the motivation behind the push for change.
Shah is the chairman and CEO of TelniaSoft, Inc., an international business process outsourcing company, and Sardar is a founding partner of Sardar Law Firm, LLC, specializing in corporate law, digital media, venture capital and emerging markets. Both of them were intrigued by the fact that there was no leader, no singular person in charge of the revolution and how quickly news was disseminated through social networks.
“The book shows that it wasn’t just the use of social media that caused a successful revolution; it was the savvy use of it,” Sardar said, adding that some people have given too much credit to social media in the Arab Spring.
The book talks about how the savviness of the new global generation was highly underestimated by the older generations in both Egypt and United States, but government corruption, economic stagnation and wealth gaps along with the increase in knowledge all contributed to restlessness and fervor.
“This generation was mischaracterized as lazy or as complacent because they didn’t “stand up and fight” in the ways of previous generations,” Shah said. “But in the way of the Egyptian revolution, they showed us that they do speak up – they just have their own way of doing it.
Even though the activists were using modern technology to oust an authoritarian ruler, the authors are quick to point out that, “the greatest fallacy of a revolution in the modern age is that it is a revolution for democracy brought upon by the introduction of Western ideals of democracy.”
Sardar said that the revolution did signal a demand for more economic opportunities and a halt of corruption under Mubarak’s regime, but that “a blanket application of a Western-style system of governance may not work in other countries that have specific historical, cultural and social narratives shaping the psychology of a people.”
Shah added that the eagerness of media pundits to credit the United States for putting forth the ideas of democracy and freedom to Egypt and the Middle East is misplaced, because it conflates globalization and access to information with a certain political ideology.
What made social media such a powerful tool for the youth was what the authors say was a growing mistrust and disappointment in traditional media. In the chapter on “The Role of Social Media,” the book explains, “What the press failed to understand was that in times of economic depression and distress, the press was meant to be the voice of the people. But as these media giants arose, free press became a fallacy, replaced with bureaucratic corporate media. The voice of the people was lost.”
The void of genuine, honest reporting put networks like Twitter and Facebook on the forefront of covering the protests, corruption, unemployment and injustice happening all over the region.
“Often times, a country or a people can be going through a crisis but they will not receive international support because no one knows what they are going through. And the media does not always report on it,” Shah said. “The fact that the youth could bypass official sources of news and share stories on their own created a grassroots power.”
This grassroots power built what Sandstorm ultimately wants its readers to understand—that the concept of a revolution has changed and that this time in Egypt, a leaderless revolution with a thousand faces, Twitter handles, Youtube accounts and Facebook groups was the key to victory.
Sardar said the direct connection the world was able to have with the Arab activists made their stories and their fate more real and urgent, despite their governments’ attempts to block outside knowledge through traditional media. The book goes into detail of the steps of becoming a viral sensation through social media and how effectively news was spread across the Internet to garner worldwide attention and sympathy.
“Getting their message across to their counterparts allowed the Arab youth an upper hand – even if by a little – because they had international support and their plight was not being ignored,” he said.
The Egyptian revolution proved that ideas were powerful enough to inspire change without individual leaders, but there were certainly figures who played important roles like Asma Mahfouz, a young woman who posted a YouTube video encouraging Egyptians to join her in Tahrir Square, and Google executive, Wael Ghoneim, who organized and maintained the protest groups on Facebook.
As for what the future holds, the authors say there is no perfect answer, but political posturing needs to stop and Arab leaders must withdraw support from corrupt regimes, thought this is troublesome since they all fear encouraging rebellion in their own states.
The authors continue to say that to further positive change, the Global Generation in Egypt must focus on “collaborative entrepreneurship, private sector access and political and economic participation”
Sardar said that today’s youth, whether in Egypt or anywhere in the world, have the ability to proactively seek change because of specific traits including an emphasis on volunteer work, a demand for work/life balance, and innovative and organic ways of thinking.
“This is one of the most resilient qualities of this generation and will take it far in the decades to come,” Sardar said.
To read more about the how the global generation achieved success in their leaderless revolution, you can purchase Sandstorm for the nook and Kindle e-reader or through amazon.com. Twenty percent of all proceeds from book sales are being donated to Project Peanut Butter, a nonprofit dedicated to helping feed children in Africa.