The world is witnessing a revolution in the way youth across the Middle East utilise websites, cell phones, chat systems, blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other rapidly evolving new media. These platforms are increasingly proving to be catalysts for far-reaching social and political reforms, according to experts.
The comments were expressed during a talk titled 'Youth, Social Media and Political Activism in the Arab World', hosted by the Dubai School of Government (DSG), a leading research and teaching institution focusing on public policy in the Arab world.
The discussions focused on the role of social media in harnessing 'people power' during the recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Examining the role of regional governments in responding to challenges posed by free flow of information, panelists also shared their perspectives on the future direction of the region.
The experts included Dr. Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, Professor of Political Science at the UAE University, Sultan Al Qassemi, DSG Fellow and a social and political commentator, Nasreddine Ben Hdid, an independent journalist and commentator who joined the event by webcast from Tunisia, and Fadi Salem, Fellow and Director of Governance and Innovation at the Dubai School of Government.
The speakers described how social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs, have been used effectively for motivating, mobilizing and organizing the community, especially by tech-savvy youth.
Sultan Al Qassemi, DSG Fellow, said, "The recent historic protests notwithstanding, it is interesting to see the shifting role of new media as young people become increasingly involved in political change. Social media is emerging as a powerful tool, offering a voice for those who may not otherwise be able to express their political views and opinions in public."
A report that was published recently by the Dubai School of Government indicated that the total number of Facebook users in the Arab world increased by 78% during 2010, from 11.9 million in January 2010 to 21.3 million by December 2010. The report also showed that Tunisia witnessed a sudden eight per cent surge in the number of Facebook users during the first two weeks of January 2011, coupled with a shift in the usage trend from merely social in nature into primarily political.
Fadi Salem, Director of Governance and Innovation at the Dubai School of Government, said, "The Arab youth have maximised their reach through information technology in an unprecedented manner to bring radical changes in their societies and to resolve real social and political challenges. A critical mass of young Arab users of online social networks have started taking advantage of these networks in organising social and civil movement in their countries."
"For these young Arabs, who constitute the majority of the Arab population, there is no more a boundary between their virtual and real-life identity. This has created a significant cultural and informational wedge between many Arab governments and the youth," he added.
Established in 2005 in cooperation with the Harvard Kennedy School, the Dubai School of Government is committed to the creation of knowledge, and dissemination of global best practices in the Arab world. The school conducts various programmes that seek to enhance the region's capacity for effective public policies.