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Dr. Charles G. Cogan Headshot

Exponentially Yours: How Facebook Has Destabilized Arab Potentates

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Did they think it would all go unnoticed? The antics of one of Qadhafi's sons beating up a maid in Switzerland, or another son dishing out a wad of cash so that Beyoncé could sing for him on a Caribbean Island? Or the in-laws of Ben Ali staging an over-the-top party in the seaside resort of Hammamet, featuring a tiger in a cage? Or the gift of a historic necklace to Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of the now former president, by Egypt's Minister of Antiquities?
If there is one leitmotif behind all the street effervescence in North Africa and the Middle East that has become known as the "Arab Spring," it is the widespread perception of corrupt practices by Arab rulers, spread exponentially through social networks. It is the propagation of these stories that has become too much. Also, it is not just a sense of personal humiliation felt by those, many of whom have degrees, who cannot get jobs, but a sense of national humiliation, felt particularly in Egypt, a country of more than 80 million people that has not played much of a role internationally for 30 years under the autocratic rule of the man who was sometimes referred to as "la vache qui rit."
Even Morocco, protected to a degree by the aura of a monarchy that claims descent from the Prophet, has not been spared. There is, in fact, an incipient protest movement that has arisen, stimulated in reaction to the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. The movement, called the "Movement of 20 February for democracy and liberty now," has not come out for the removal of the King but rather that the King give up some of his powers and become more of a constitutional monarch. In response, King Mohammed VI, obviously trying to get ahead of the situation, proposed on 10 March that he appoint a commission that would recommend a reform of the Constitution which would then be submitted to a referendum by the people. The King proposed a number of lines of reform, including "constitutionalizing" human rights, the independence of the judiciary, the strengthening of the lower house of parliament, the increase in the powers of an elected prime minister, instruments to combat corruption, and the recognition of the Berber language in Morocco (but whether it would be raised to the level of an official language is questionable). The movement appears to be growing, and follow-on demonstrations were held around the country on 20 March, a month after the inaugural one, resulting in a number of injuries.
As reported in Le Monde, a young Moroccan, (safely) based in New York, addressed on camera a message to the King, in dialectical (i.e. Maghrebian) Arabic and in a tone of (disrespectful) familiarity: "Mohammed, come down into the street and see how people live. Sell one of your palaces, to help them. Morocco would outdo Dubai if you returned [all] the money you have taken."
The difference, in contrast with the past, is that this video, posted on Facebook, has had 500,000 hits.