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Faces change, systems remain

..everybody in the world—well, almost—has access to the same information.

By Nordstjernan columnist Ulf Nilson, February 2011

This column is being written in Cagnes-sur-Mer on the wonderful French Riviera. But it could just as well have been written on Värmdö or Greenwich, England or in the U.S. or in Spain, or.…
What I am trying to say is that we have arrived—well, almost—at a point when everybody in the world—well, almost—has access to the same information. We're all in that square in Egypt. Or in Bengazi, Libya or Bahrein. The Internet circles the whole wide world and opens it up. Things cannot be hidden any more.
And the dictators fall, whether they are called Mubarak or Ben Ali ... well, almost.
There is no doubt the great uprising in the Arab world (as well as Iran) has been shaped and fueled by new communications over the web. Television, radio and newspapers can be and are frequently controlled but the Internet is basically free. In China some 455 million people are plugged in and many more are added every day. While the authorities do their utmost to block unwanted information it is simply not possible to stop news from spreading. More and more Chinese become aware of the fact that they live in a world that is not at all like the one their leaders describe to them.
Same in the Middle East. Suddenly the young people (50 percent of all Egyptians are under 24 years of age!) can see with their own eyes that people in other countries fare better than they do. The contrast between freedom and wealth abroad and poverty and oppression at home becomes unbearable. E-mails and phone calls are exchanged, demonstrations organized and—literally in minutes—the revolt is on.
Neither Mubarak nor Tunisia's Ben Ali knew how to send an e-mail, so how could they know what hit them or how to cope with it? Well, the answer is in: They couldn't, and so they are no more. Will the evil Gadhafi go the same way? Perhaps not this time, but certainly some time. And the same goes for most of the other dictatorial leaders in that area and maybe Russia and China, too ... some day.
But wait! Don't expect too much. Democracy is not going to break out all around the world all of a sudden. In Egypt today, the army rules and will continue to rule. Elections will be arranged sometime this fall, but will they be free and fair? Most likely not. The generals certainly won't allow anybody sporting “bad” or “wrong” ideas to win. Politicians deemed dangerous by the leading generals will be stopped—and probably jailed—while the election is rigged. All in all, the Egypt after Mubarak will be very much like the Egypt under Mubarak. Just as Tunisia is going to be the same as under Bin Ali, and Libya remain Gadhafi-land.
We must also be aware of the risk that things will take a turn for the worse. If the new leaders of Egypt feel shaky—which is probable—why not try to win popularity by turning against Israel. Why not tear up the peace agreement with Israel, and if worst comes to worst, go to war again. There is also the possibility of civil war, maybe in several countries at the same time. In which case oil prices will jump to high heaven and make us all suffer.
So to conclude:
It is good that a few evil and incompetent dictators are gone, but democracy is not in the cards. Not this time and maybe not in a hundred … well, let me stop here.…


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