At the zenith of the mass protests in Egypt on January 25, 2011, Twitter, Facebook and other Western-based social media platforms appeared to be the most essential tools for the Egyptian Revolution.
Though some observers later contested the use of the terms ‘Twitter Revolution’ or ‘Social Media Revolution,’ one cannot deny the centrality of these platforms in the discussion around the events that attempted to redefine the power structures of Egypt.
It was hardly a surprise that, on January 26, the Egyptian regime decided to block access to social media in a desperate attempt to prevent the spread of the protests.
Twitter, Google and other platforms quickly responded by “establish(ing) a system that allows users to continue posting 140-character tweets despite the Internet shutdown in Egypt”, France24 reported.
It seemed that US-based technology companies were keen on the removal of Hosni Mubarak and his regime. Indeed, their action was quite elaborate and well-coordinated:
“The solution proposed by the two Internet giants is called ‘speak-to-tweet’ and allows people to publish updates on the famous microblogging site by leaving a message on a voice mailbox. The service is free of charge, with Google offering users three international telephone numbers,” France24 wrote, providing the actual numbers in the US, Italy and Bahrain.
An Obvious Dichotomy
The irony is inescapable. How could these supposedly ‘revolutionary social media platforms’ be part of the same Western structure that is dedicated to attacking and censoring Washington’s enemies while elevating the US’ often-corrupt allies?
While some choose to overlook the obvious dichotomy, one cannot be so gullible.
This subject becomes yet more intriguing when we consider the war on Palestinian and pro-Palestine views on these very social media platforms.
While Palestinian and pro-Palestinian activists are frequently banned, blocked and censored for rejecting Israel’s military occupation and apartheid in Palestine, Israeli propaganda is allowed to flourish on social media with little hindrance.
This is not just a social media phenomenon.
The fact is, social media companies’ attitude towards the upheaval in the Arab world was consistent with the general zeitgeist of the US; in fact, Western societies – governments, mainstream media, and even public opinion polls.
While some – in fact, many – people may have genuinely wanted to support a popular push for democracy in the Middle East, governments and their media allies knew that appearing as if on the ‘right side of history’ would grant them the geopolitical spaces to influence the agendas and, ultimately, outcomes of these revolts. Libya paid the heaviest price of that self-serving Western crusade.
But when the revolts largely failed to create the major paradigm shift that Arab masses had coveted, Western governments were the first to reincorporate the post-revolts Arab regimes back into the embrace of the so-called international community.
The West’s Real Goals
For Washington and its Western allies, the entire exercise had little to do with democracy, human rights and representation and everything to do with new opportunities, geopolitics and regional relevance.
By supporting the revolts, the West wanted to ensure the resulting political discourse in the Middle East was simply not anti-Western. Sadly, they partly succeeded, at least in creating a separation between corrupt regimes and the colonial powers that had sustained their corruption.
Though some labored to articulate a discourse that connected those who carried out the oppression – for example, Mubarak – and those who made the oppression possible in the first place – his Western allies – these attempts received little traction when compared to the mainstream Western-driven discourse.
Indeed, the anti-colonial discourse was not allowed to taint what the West wanted to paint as a purely ‘pro-democracy’ rhetoric, one that has no political or historical context that goes beyond the simplified version of the ‘Arab Spring’.
This is precisely why the New York Times, Twitter and the White House – and numerous other Western parties – ultimately parroted the same political line and accentuated the same language – while suppressing all other possible interpretations.
Since then, the political discourse in the Middle East has been rife with contradictions. For example, some of those who rejected the US war and genocide in Iraq in 2003 later joined the chorus of interventionists in Syria in the post-2011 uprising turned civil war.
Not a day passes without the US and other Western governments being called on by an Arab human rights group or civil rights organization to put pressure on this or that regime, to release political prisoners, to withhold funds and so on.
Bizarrely, Washington had become the guarantor of war and peace, chaos and stability in the Middle East. The unrepentant violator of our human rights has become, at least for some of us, our human rights champion.
But this is more than a simple case of unfortunate contradictions. It was done by design.
Sadly, Arab revolts were largely suppressed; the old regimes reinvented themselves and are back in business, again, with the direct support of, and funding by, Western governments.
Our Own Contradictions
But is a different path possible, or are we simply trapped forever in this conundrum?
We reflected on all of this during the BRICS conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, on August 22-24.
Without downplaying the internal contradictions among the main countries that established the BRICS group – Brazil, Russia, India, China and, later, South Africa – or the newcomers – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Argentina, the UAE and Ethiopia – one cannot help but ponder a world without US-Western domination.
For the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dismantling of the Warsaw Pact, there seems to be a real global political momentum of actual worth that does not emanate from the West and its regional lackeys and representatives.
Without a viable alternative for change, for decades, we have been trapped in these seemingly inescapable contradictions: criticizing Western colonialism, neocolonialism and imperialism while appealing to the moral values of the West; we continue to call for the respect of international law, though we are fully aware of how ‘international laws’ were designed, are interpreted and implemented.
In short, we want the West to leave us alone while beseeching the West to come to our rescue; we suffer the consequences of Western wars and flee to the West as desperate refugees.
We have experienced this dichotomy numerous times in the past – in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and every part of the Middle East – in fact, the Global South.
In truth, the contradiction is hardly Western; it is entirely ours. The ‘West’ rarely attempted to present itself as anything but a political mass that is motivated by sheer economic, geopolitical and strategic interests.
The West’s use of human rights, democracy and so on is but a continuation of an old colonial legacy that extends hundreds of years. The target audience for such double-speak has never truly been the colonized but the colonial entities themselves.
To claim that the West has changed, is changing or is capable of change has no historical basis and no evidence.
The Case of Palestine
The case of Palestine remains the most powerful example of Western hypocrisy and our own gullibility. Without the West, Israel would have never been established; and without Western support and protection, Israel would have never continued to exist as a military power and an apartheid regime.
Over a hundred years after the British handed over Palestine to the Zionists, 75 years of Israeli conquest and violence and over fifty years of Israeli military occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, the West remains Israel’s greatest supporter and benefactor.
These very recent headlines should illustrate our point:
“A Dutch court grants immunity to Israeli leaders from war crimes charges”
“UK slammed for opposing ICJ (International Court of Justice) ruling on Israel Occupation of Palestine”
“Biden dispatches top adviser for talks with Saudi crown prince on normalizing relations with Israel”
This is all taking place when Israel has become a full-blown apartheid regime and when Israeli war crimes in the West Bank are at their worst, at least since 2005.
And there are no signs of things improving for the Palestinians in any way, as Israel is now ruled by government coalitions whose ministers outright deny the very existence of Palestinians and are repeatedly calling for genocide and religious war.
Yes, the West is still financing, protecting, and defending that very racist apartheid entity against the mere possibility of legal accountability.
Mainstream Western media and most social media platforms continue to censor Palestinian voices as if the Palestinian quest for justice is unworthy and, in fact, offensive to Western sensibilities.
The Way Forward
In the final analysis, neither BRICS alone nor any other economic or political body will save us from our own contradictions.
The new political formations in the Global South, however, should serve as a starting point for confronting our dichotomy, at least through the realization that a whole world, rife with potential, possible allies and new ideas, extends beyond the confines of Washington and Brussels.
In the Global South, we must explore these new margins and possibilities and move forward toward real, substantive and sustainable change. Imploring the West to help us cannot be our strategy because history has taught us, time and again, that our torturers cannot also be our saviors.
Feature photo | South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, centre, delivers the XV BRICS summit declaration flanked by from left, President of Brazil Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, President of China Xi Jinping, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in Johannesburg, South Africa, Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023. Themba Hadebe | AP
Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of six books. His latest book, co-edited with Ilan Pappé, is ‘Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak Out’. His other books include ‘My Father was a Freedom Fighter’ and ‘The Last Earth’. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net
Romana Rubeo is an Italian writer and the managing editor of The Palestine Chronicle. Her articles appeared in many online newspapers and academic journals. She holds a Master’s Degree in Foreign Languages and Literature and specializes in audio-visual and journalism translation.