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The future of social media in Arab world

January 30, 2014 - 12:20:40 am
Does the social media help form the structure of public space and play a crucial role in leading democratic movements in the Arab world? 

Does it contribute to creating awareness about demand for deep political reforms and elimination of authoritarian values?

Does it have the ability to form and guide public opinion and mobilise society to produce a new culture in line with modern democratic options? Or shall we consider these hypotheses a result of fertile and dreamy imagination? 

German philosopher Jürgen Habermas coined the term ‘public sphere’ and introduced it in his book The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere in 1962.

In the public sphere, the issues of society requires a social and political debate in which public and private issues are intertwined, guiding public opinion towards one or the other issue.

Amid the debate, the criterion for legitimacy in issues becomes the logic, reason and justification, not the hierarchy or the shadow of power. As a result, the role of power becomes lax due to the growing public debate and social issues. 

Latest statistics shows that 88 percent of Internet users in the Middle East use social networking websites every day. 

The Pew Research Centre wrote in its last report that users of social websites in Lebanon, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan depend on them for discussion on political, social and religious situations and that they are twice their Western counterparts. 

The report said that even in the US a small percentage of the population, mostly students and educated people, use social websites. The pattern is repeated in all other places, although the number of Internet users, who have accounts on social websites, is higher in the US and other Western countries than in the Middle East. 

As we enter the fourth year of uprisings and revolutions in the Arab world, debate on the concept of public sphere has begun again. 

It has begun to spread in the Arab space versus the deterioration and decline of the traditional official media, and the negative role played by state-run media in the Arab world, which misled, deceived and lied to the public on even basic issues. 

I do not want to be very optimistic, as experience has taught me that what looks like gold could turn into dust when it reaches the Arab homeland. 

Will the public sphere be an exceptional case that reconstructs more than it destroys?
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