The unrest in the Middle East and Northern Africa, with more clashes taking place in Jordan and Syria, is now closely associated with e-technologies. The term “Twitter revolutions” came into being, with many people pointing out at the oddities of the crisis that have seen e-technologies at work. There may just be more to the recent happenings that have gripped North Africa and the Middle East.
The tragic 9/11 events have not only resulted in military intervention in the Middle Eastern region, but also in the development of new soft power weapons whic, though not very visible, can create a greater destruction and undermine any society from within.
In 2001, the United States mobilized huge financial resources and created about three hundred and fifty different programs in education, culture and information to promote democracy and create a new group of citizens in Arab countries, who would be focused on values and policies of the United States. All programs were merged into a large-scale project entitled “Initiative to support partnerships in the Middle East” (Middle East Partnership Initiative – MEPI), which is coordinated from the main office at the State Department, as well as regional, located in Tunisia.
Nataliya Tsvetkova pointed out in her article which appeared on Meast.ru: “First, there was a significant increase in the number of Arabic people who got political education in the U.S. and at home. If at the end of 2000 thousands of citizens were involved in exchange programs or training, in 2004-2009 the number went up to hundreds of thousands. For example, in 1998, the U.S. State Department invited about 3300 people from Egypt for a training program to promote democracy. In 2007 the number became 47 300, and in 2008 as much as 148 700 people took part in various activities.”
Founded in 2002, MEPI program had five stated goals that it pursued in the region: to strengthen civil society and the rule of law, to empower women and youth, to improve and expand education, to encourage economic reform, and to increase political participation.
To achieve these goals, MEPI provided direct support to both international and MENA-based (Middle East and Northern Africa) NGOs, educational institutions, local governments and private businesses to implement projects designed to directly engage and invest in the people of the MENA region. According to the organization’s official web site, in 2009 MEPI distributed more than $50 million in grants.
Another statement on the website says that MEPI ultimately seeks to transform U.S. relationship with citizens of the Middle East and North Africa. Through MEPI projects, the U.S. government wants citizens to view the United States as a partner in their efforts to create positive changes in their own societies.
For a long time the U.S. had a very controversial image in the region with many people opposing its ideas and values. However, the significant amount of money invested in the new initiative resulted in some positive for the U.S. changes.
MEPI also organized education-focused exchanges, such as university scholarships, English-language learning, and social technology networking. Programs targeted both young and mature learners and their educators, often focusing on disadvantaged populations.
“For the sustainability and growth of a robust civil society, it is critical that a “next generation” of leaders with training and experience in coalition building, political campaigns, and peaceful negotiation step forward into leadership roles. MEPI empowers these aspiring leaders and activists through exchange programs that increase understanding of democratic values, good governance, and rule of law through exposure to and dialogue with their counterparts abroad,” the organization’s official statement said. “MEPI works to inspire youth to become actively engaged citizens, community leaders, and entrepreneurs.”
Keeping in mind the above data it is not surprising anymore that it was young people who became the main pushing power of the unrests in the region. It was not just because older people were not that engaged in using modern technologies. Senior citizens simply were not engaged in studying the “right” philosophy.
One can also notice that the clashes that “inspired” many throughout the region started in Tunisia – the country where MEPI’s regional office is located.
However, the idea of new soft power weapons wouldn’t be full without the description of eDiplomacy, or Twitter Diplomacy, – another initiative launched by the U.S. government.
In 2002, Ambassador James Holmes, the president of the American-Turkish Council since 2004, started the eDiplomacy Task Force. In 2003, the task force was reorganized into the Office of eDiplomacy.
The Office of eDiplomacy acts as an applied technology think tank for the United States Department of State.
In June 2009, The Businessweek magazine ran a big story on the Twitter Diplomacy application and the first steps in that direction.
“The U.S. State Dept. is enlisting Silicon Valley companies such as Google and Twitter to help bring high tech to Iraq and Afghanistan,” the article stated.
Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and several other American tech leaders visited Baghdad then.
Although Dorsey insisted that “a technology like Twitter can bring access and transparency to government,” it seems the real reason for technology implementing was different.
“Dorsey was part of a first-of-its-kind technology delegation set up by the U.S. State Dept. Executives from Google (GOOG), AT&T (T), and several Silicon Valley startups traveled to Iraq to meet with government officials, business leaders, and students to offer ideas for using technology throughout the country. While the idea of promoting Twitter in a war-torn country without reliable electricity may sound far-fetched, the representatives found a receptive audience,” Spencer E. Ante, the author of the Twitter Diplomacy article, wrote.
“Cohen [Jared Cohen of the State Dept.’s Policy Planning Staff] argues that the U.S. has a unique opportunity to open doors abroad because of the strength of its tech sector, especially as young people around the world increasingly use technology to socialize, agitate, and organize,” he added.
Nowadays we can see that all the initiatives launched by the State Department during the first decade of a new century brought fruitful results. Young people, active users of all the new means of communication did become the power that was able to change the political regimes in the Middle East and Northern Africa. They became the tool that was used for hidden agendas. The old saying, “there is no such a thing as a free lunch,” still works without any exceptions. Ultimately you will be asked to pay back. And the young people throughout the whole MENA region returned all the investments of their former sponsors.