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DOT-COM/InterAction Speaker Series:
The Impact of ICTs on Democratization and Good Governance
Thursday, June 5, 4-6pm, Washington, DC

Dr. Michael Hudson: The Impact of IT on Civil Society and Democratization in the Middle East
Professor of International Relations and Seif Ghobash Professor of Arab Studies
Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University

The Middle East at a Crucial Turning Point
The Middle East is at a crucial turning point. Arab Middle East has a tradition of authoritarian political systems in two ways after the period of colonial management. One is governments as monarchies/sheikhdoms (Saudia Arabia, Jordan, Morocco). The second is the revolutionary socialists that tried to establish progressive military regimes (nationalist, military, socialist, progressive, emerged out of colonial power).

In the past 20 years there has been a gradual challenge to both models, a transformation from those to something else like liberal, open political systems or Islamist regimes. There has been a struggle between those tendencies, especially Iraq, which has been an expensive experiment in Political Science, one of the worst. For example, in Iraq there is the question of what will the impact, if any, will ICTs have, since Iraq is also troubled by socioeconomic stagnation. There has been socio-economic stagnation despite oil wells. It is still a poor to medium part of the developing world, as has been dramatically presented by the UNDP Arab Human Development Report. This new edition, which will be released in September, will focus on the knowledge deficit we see here.

Additional Notes
  1. From statist-nationalist authoritarianism to something else- Between liberal politics and Islamist extremism
  2. Problem of stagnant socio economic development
    1. Cite the AHDR
    2. And its new one on "the Knowledge Deficit"
ICT in the Middle East
The Middle East is lagging behind in ICT capability, but is moving rapidly to develop that capacity. It has moved from coffee houses/trading networks to satellite televisions, cable tv, Internet, phone. The population in this region have been information saturated despite the government.

Since the early Islamic period to recent developments the coffee houses have played an important role in the trading network. In the 1950s, transistor radio was important, and had political effect. It was TV in 60s, cassettes in 70s (Ayatollah Khomeni sent tapes from Europe to Iran that resulted in revolution), and fax in 80s (Hussein did not allow faxes). More recently, electronic publishing allowed Arabic newspapers to publish in different places and edit them locally. Newspapers were edited in places it couldn't be censored. Additionally, satellite tv, phone/cell telephony, became tools for tactical political mobilization

Additional Notes
  1. A short history of ICT in the ME: the accelerating "massification" of ICT
    • Coffee houses and salons "from time immemorial"
    • Trading and religious networks, esp in the Islamic era
    • Newspapers in the late 19th/early 20th centuries -Lebanese editors and writers
    • Telephones in the 1930s
    • Radio in the 1940s
    • Transistor radio in the 1950s- Nasser's Sawt al-Arab
    • Television in the 1960s
    • Tape cassettes in the 1970s
    • Faxes in the 1980s - And electronic newspaper publishing across continents, ex. Al-Hayat and Sharq al-Awsat, Today's Daily Star
    • The big developments of the 1990s
      • Satellite TV (Al-Jazeera; later Al-Arabiyya, Abu Dhabi, LBC, etc.)
      • Cellular telephony-big impact in Lebanon, UAE, Yemen
      • Internet (Dubai, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon-most active Arab countries); Israel, Turkey, and even Iran also very big
ICT and the Networking of Civil Society Today
The networking effect of new ICTs in Arab world today has been accelerated by new technologies, piggybacking on social networks, nature of tech for transnational networking. How do political networks piggyback on civil society networks?

Al Jezeera effect has broken barriers of culture of deference and enabled speech within authoritarian regimes, put them on defensive, connected people with global society.

Internet connectivity is a window to outside world for Middle East. In Saudia Arabia, gender roles prevent communication, but the Internet has really affected how women see themselves and expect to be treated.

The Internet revolution is breaking the state's information monopoly. It is socializing the children of elite, who are learning subversive information that's not censored. It is also creating new information networks, encouraged by the state, top down with censorship. However, business communities are pushing ebusiness and driving Internet development.

Islamists have also developed effective uses of the Internet with a leavening effect. However, effective and ingenious utilization of Internet some might have spillover to terrorism.

Additional Notes
  1. Importance of networks, and ICT as network enhancer. Big questions:
    • How do political networks piggyback on cultural networks?
    • What do they mean for civil society and democratization?
    • How to modern Info technologies enhance (pol) network growth?
    • What does the prominence of transnational networking portend?
  2. The "Al-Jazeera effect"
    • Breaking down the culture of deference
    • Putting regimes on the defensive
    • Connecting people with the global society
  3. The Internet revolution
    • Why it was relatively slow (but no longer) in the Arab-ME region-Language barrier a big factor; but now note Arabization of internet
    • Discuss our USIP project on Jor, SA, Eg, and Syr
    • Driving forces: top leadership pushes it (e.g. Jordan, Syr, Eg); and also the business community gets behind it
    • Window to the outside world
    • Societal chatrooms
    • Breaking the state's information monopoly
    • Re-"socializing" the children of the elite
    • Generating new influence networks, Internet entrepreneurs in Jordan and Egypt
    • Islamists in the forefront
    • Internet and economic development-an accelerator?
    • The fascinating gender relations implications (e.g. your Saudi student's survey)
  4. Cellphones - a new dimension to social communication
    • Where's the demonstration? Where are the police? (What Abla told me)
    • On the whole, it's having a leavening effect…
  5. But also consider the "dark side": IT and International Terrorism
    • Hadhrami trade networks and Al-Qaeda -- from Yemen to Indonesia
    • Religious networks go global
    • "Netwars"-military theorists (Ronfeldt and Arquilla)
The State Fights Back

Additional Notes
  1. The struggle to squash Al-Jazeera, but the genie is out of the bottle; and now there's competition
  2. The blocking of internet site access by the state (e.g. SA, Syr), but there are ways around this
  3. Turning IT to its own purposes:
    • E-government (e.g. in Jordan, UAE (esp Dubai) and Qatar
    • Enhancing surveillance ("Arab unity" of interior ministries)
  4. Who's winning?
    • Recent study of "Open Networks, Closed Regimes" by Shanthi Kalathil and Taylor Boas (Carnegie) suggests that the IT liberalization hypothesis is not working out.
    • In the ME they studied the UAE, SA, and Egypt
    • But I don't really agree.
Challenges and Conundrums for US policy and international order

Additional Notes
  1. Yes, this is (or should be) positive for liberal globalization, yet there are backlashes
  2. But if we really believe in supporting open political societies, then we must encourage the IT revolution in the ME.

ABOUT MICHAEL HUDSON: As the Saif Ghobash Professor of Arab Studies and Professor of International Relations in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, Dr. Hudson has written extensively on how information technologies, Islamist networks and the changing political terrain in the Middle East have impacted democratization in the Arab world.

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For more information, please contact Siobhan Green, Information and Dissemination Coordinator, DOT-COM Alliance, tel: +1 202 884-8948.

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