Last week, many websites such as Wikipedia, Reddit and Google shut down or took action to protest two bills in the American Congress: The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). SOPA and PIPA are essentially anti-piracy bills whose main goal is to prevent access from within the US to websites which "engage in, enable, or facilitate" the infringement of intellectual property. But if these bills are passed, it could usher in an era of widespread censorship affecting every website in the world and with unforeseen political repercussions.
Dictatorships have generally withstood the test of time as a result of a series of myths perpetuated amongst the populations of their countries. These myths revolve around the unchallengeable power of the dictator and the futility of resistance. However, the Arab Spring is playing a key role in falsifying these beliefs, creating a watershed moment in history which will be remembered as the beginning of the end of dictatorship.
While the world cheered on the protesters and the Arab Spring which forever transformed the Middle East, regional powers trembled at the possible outcomes of the uprisings of which few, for them, would be favourable. Many of the regional and global powers which play a leading role in Middle East relations are relatively unpopular amongst the Arab youth and the general population. The Middle East is arguably not a better place today than it was eight months ago. The Arab Spring was only the first step, and if it is mismanaged it could pull the Middle East into a series of wars, the impact of which the whole world would feel.
In mid-March, at the height of the pro-democracy protest movements in Bahrain, the government resorted to bringing in foreign troops, mainly from the UAE and Saudi Arabia, to violently subdue the protesters. The following three months saw the imposition of emergency law and widespread government attacks against Bahrain’s Shia population. While Bahrain’s Shia population represents a majority in numbers, they are given little political and economic power.
Following two successful protest movements on either side of the country, Libya itself fell victim to the encroaching Arab Spring. The protests spread quickly in Libya, beginning in mid-February in the east of the country, and then quickly moved to the outskirts of Tripoli in the west within a week. There were celebrations in the streets of Libya, and the optimism spread to Libya’s politicians and diplomatic corps as nearly every major embassy shifted their allegiances from Muammar Gaddafi to the people.
The Arab Spring has forever changed the course of politics in the Middle East. The ongoing developments are forcing experts to discard former strategic analyses and re-evaluate short and mid-term strategic forecasts of the region. In less than three months, circumstances in both Libya and Bahrain resulted in foreign power military interventions with noticeable consequences. On one hand, the gains of Libya’s pro Gaddafi forces seem to have weakened the NATO alliance, which was also harmed by the increasingly diverging strategies amongst its member states.
On 14 February 2011, the pro-democracy Arab protest movement spread to the tiny Gulf Kingdom of Bahrain. While the first protests there began at a modest pace, the heavy handed military tactics of the government resulted in an explosion in the size and ferocity of the popular demonstrations which finally gained worldwide media attention.