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Zuckerberg Achieving What Bush Could Not

There was a massive turnout by anti-regime protesters as tens of thousands of them showed up in Tahrir Square, Friday, Feb. 4, shouting for Mubarak's departure from the country. A man holds up a sign for protesters entering the Square that reads "Thank You Facebook."

When President George W. Bush initiated Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, one of his key justifications for going to war was that a democratic Iraq would inspire positive change in other Middle Eastern nations. After almost eight years of continuous violence, the country has yet to come close to anything resembling a stable democracy.

In a 2005 address in Philadelphia, Bush reaffirmed his original assertion, stating, “By helping Iraqis build a democracy, we will inspire reformers across the Middle East.”

With just over 4,200 American combat deaths and what can only be estimated at anywhere from 100,000 to 150,000 Iraqi deaths as a result of the conflict and subsequent violent unrest, the U.S. has, by all accounts, bitten off more than it originally intended to chew. Although progress toward stability has been made, as of Sunday, Reuters News was reporting that 48 Shi’ite pilgrims had been killed near the city of Samarra in a recent string of suicide bombings.

As far as Iraq is concerned, Pete Seeger’s prophetic lyrics from the 1960’s still ring true: “We’re waist deep in the Big Muddy.”

However, in Tunisia, Egypt, and, most recently, Iran, Yemen and Bahrain, a new generation of tech-savvy twenty- and thirty-somethings is singing a different tune. They are using social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, which, as of a decade ago, did not even exist, to spread their ideas and communicate with millions of people.

Internet activists such as Egyptian Google executive Wael Ghonim, who announced his release after being detained by the Egyptian government for eleven days via Twitter on Feb. 7, are being followed by everyone, ranging from people down the block to across the globe.

A recent posting on Twitter by Ghonim captures the emotion of the last few weeks: “We cried a lot. Not because we are weak, we cried because we are human beings. Our tears were the bullets that killed 30 years of injustice.”

Since the popular uprisings in Tunisia in mid December, the internet has been exploding with revolutionary posts and tweets written in both English and Arabic characters.

This trend goes back to 2009, when Iranians used the internet to organize protests in opposition of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s contested reelection. Unlike recently resigned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Ahmadinejad was able to successfully cutoff internet as well as cell phone communication and quell the uprising.

Internet access has continued uninterrupted in Egypt since it was temporarily disabled two weeks ago.

Silicon Valley executives have been extremely hesitant to accept any direct responsibility for the recent protests sweeping the Middle East.

At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Monday, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo was careful to not take a political stance on the situation in Egypt, nor comment on how his company’s services could be used to organize dissent. He did, however, encourage Twitterers to continue using the social network to express their opinions and connect with others.

“All we care to do is drive our mission, provide our mission to people, and instantly connect people everywhere to what’s most meaningful to them,” said Costolo. “All of us created technologies that allowed these people to move forward in their hopes and dreams.”

Ironically, Facebook creator and current CEO Mark Zuckerberg lists his interests on his personal Facebook page as being, “openness, making things that help people connect and share what’s important to them, revolutions, information flow, minimalism.”

Whether Zuckerberg intended to or not, his brain child is now facilitating, though in no way fomenting, revolutions and what may become revolutions in the Middle East.

It can then be said that Bush got it wrong. The U.S.’s greatest export might not be democracy, nor the tip of the spear on which it has been delivered in the past, but the technology which allows the spread of ideas and information. This is compounded by the fact that many people around the world admire the U.S. for the goods and services it is able to produce more than the idealism it claims to possess.

If the voice of the majority in the Middle East truly wants democracy, which is yet to be seen, then it now has a platform on which to speak and be heard.

These new developments go along with Obama’s self-appointed role as a facilitator to—rather than an implementer of—change in the Middle East. Hopefully, it will now be completely up to the people of the Middle East to make sure that they do not fall victim to the same fanaticism that currently suffocates Iraq through fear.

In America’s revolution of independence, we only received assistance from France after we specifically asked for it, and proved as a result of the Battle of Saratoga that we could be successful. So far, neither criterion can be applied to current situation.

However, it is specifically because the U.S. is not an occupying force and cannot be seen as the Big Bad Wolf, that extremists will have no one to blame for the cruelty that they inflict on the very people they claim to be defending.

The problem remains, however, that for many Middle Easterners, Israel is still the biggest and most predominant Bad Wolf. Many feel that the removal of the state of Israel from what they consider to be Palestine to be their top priority—a priority which conflicts with current official United States policy, as well as over a million and a half Israelis serving in the country’s armed forces.

Although the true underlying issues in the Middle East may yet to be resolved, the United States cannot and should not do anything to impede or directly enable what is going on. This is their fight, not ours—and that is the way I suspect they want it to be.

All we can do is hope and pray that the true spirit of those taking to the streets will prevail and be able to maintain itself in the months and years ahead. Hopefully the thoughts expressed on Facebook and Twitter will serve as an early draft for the democratic constitutions that are to follow. If protestors fail to answer the question “What now?” before it is asked, then I fear they will not be able to withstand the reactionary pullback or the extremist onslaught which is sure to come.

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Zuckerberg Achieving What Bush Could Not