Popular discontent sweeps through Arab world despite crack-downs on social media

Watching the massive protests in Egypt live on Al Jazeera English is fascinating but disconcerting. By all accounts a genuine ground-swell of protest, with no identifiable leader.

What will be the outcome of this tsunami of disenchantment?

Like Tunisia, where the government of President/dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben-ali was toppled two weeks ago, the insurrection seems to fueled by the economic and social discontent of young people.

And like the protests in Iran in 2009 over that country’s rigged national election, social media has been a galvanizing force, even as the besieged leaders have tried to “turn off” Internet access and cell phone transmission. The images and the stories inevitably get out, and take on even greater meaning.

In Iran, the jubilant, youthful energy of the “Green party” protesters in 2009 did not lead to regime change. Indeed, “President’”Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to be recognized as the legitimate head of state nearly two years after the highly dubious elections. Will the apparent success of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings provide a new spark to the young populists in Iran?

And, what of the upheaval in Lebanon and Yemen? Will all this popular discontent lead to greater freedoms or provide an opportunity of instability for new fanatical regimes to seize power?

The world is watching. And thousands of on-the-spot images from cell phone cameras and other forms of citizen social media provide not only a fascinating window into the chaos but a galvanizing force as well.

- Jon Harmon

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