Credit's taken, but is it due?
July 19, 2011 5:27 AM   Subscribe

The popular WikiLeaks Mastercard Parody Video (youtube link) makes the claim that the wikileaks data is at least partially responsible for the Arab Spring goings on.... is it true?

This question has been brewing in my mind since I read the Manning chat logs. I'm a midwestern US guy, with lots of access to the internet, but I've never been further outside our borders than Toronto. This isn't intended to be yet another overlong back and forth about the right and wrong of wikileaks, it's just pure curiosity. How can I explain to my conservative father that WikiLeaks is at least partially responsible for this?
posted by DigDoug to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The basic argument is that some of the WikiLeaks documents pertained to the corruption of the Tunisian government, and that this overt exposure of the Ben Ali's corruption (which was formerly just glossed over in Tunisian society) was one of the sparks that caused the first wave of protests. You can read more about it here, for example, or just Google "Wikileaks tunisia".
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:40 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

The way I heard it framed (on one or more political NPR shows) was that some of the leaks revealed US diplomats' frank and dismal assessments of entrenched middle-east leaders, conveying much less flattering pictures of those leaders than those offered by state-sanctioned media. I don't know how to measure the effect of the leaks, but it seems perfectly plausible that they played a role.
posted by jon1270 at 5:41 AM on July 19, 2011

Response by poster: That link is perfect, thanks Johnny.
posted by DigDoug at 5:50 AM on July 19, 2011

Personally, I'm highly dubious that the pet toys of western digerati (Twitter also gets credited with setting this off on equally questionable evidence.)

While there are young, educated, english-speaking elites in these countries who certainly use the Internet with great facility, would be aware of the wikileaks cables, and may even have read a few, these people would be vanishingly rare compared to the thousands and millions who had to turn out onto the streets to make the revolutions what they became.

I wouldn't totally discount the effect of increased media availability (by which I mostly mean TV and online news rather than Twitter or Wikileaks) with making people aware that they weren't the only ones who had had enough, what really drove these things IMO was exactly what's on the label: decades of corrupt, authoritarian rulership that had effectively shut them out of the benefits of society and denied them a meaningful future.

Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit vendor whose horrifying suicide set this whole thing off, did what he did because he'd had enough and could take the hopelessness and indignity of life under the Tunisian regime no longer, not because he now knew what U.S. diplomats were talking about behind the scenes.
posted by Naberius at 5:55 AM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Ah, I seem to have lost part of a sentence there, but hopefully you can make out what I'm trying to say. Missing words be something like "deserve the credit they're being given here in the west."

Basically, I don't buy it.
posted by Naberius at 5:56 AM on July 19, 2011

Yes, I should have mentioned that the case for Tunisia being a "WikiLeaks revolution" is far from airtight. It probably did add something to the ferment of the situation, but whether it added a little or a lot is really open for debate.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:05 AM on July 19, 2011

I feel it's accurate to say: Z, all of the above - with some hundredth monkey thrown in.

My history is honestly weak enough that I don't know if this is unprecedented on this scale, but it certainly seems like the perfect storm. Modernity converged and created an atmosphere of transparency, communication and a greater understanding of direct action/non-violent protest in the region.

I'll give wikileaks almost as much credit in this as Gandhi, MLK and our other forebearers of freedom.
posted by a_green_man at 6:43 AM on July 19, 2011

From all accounts, Mohammed Bouazizis was pretty apolitical and something of a pissed off hothead, who was very angry at how the local government was treating him. The idea that he was this calm redditor reading through Wikileaks links and walking out of his house and setting himself on fire because the Tunisian government isn't good with its debt is ridiculous on its face. I don't think he even had internet access.

I think its fair to say most revolutions are started by angry hotheads and its impossible to trace to any source. A lot of these countries have been brewing with dissent for decades. The dam had to break sometime. I don't see how Wikileaks had anything to do this, but this belief seems to validate the political beliefs of a lot of people on the internet.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:19 AM on July 19, 2011

I will say that internet seems harder to monitor and makes it easier for dissidents to communicate, plan, and organize.
posted by Jacen at 8:02 AM on July 19, 2011

A friend of mine who is a journalist, and who is currently in Libya covering the revolution there, found the Wikileaks ad ridiculous. She felt this article from the Christian Science Monitor did a good job of explaining why:
The Egyptian revolution came after a decade of bubbling protest, of political organization at great cost and risk to the few who got involved. The Egyptian left had spent years trying to create a strong independent labor movement (independent unions were outlawed under Mr. Mubarak).

Others spent years trying to build bridges between secular activists and the Muslim Brotherhood, seeking to find common cause against Mubarak. And the blossoming of online blogs and later social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter had been taken to with gusto by Egypt's young revolutionaries. All of this provided the impetus for the mass protests that took Mubarak down, both in street savvy and online know-how.
posted by yankeefog at 8:47 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Americans really do love their idealized, instant and single-cause events. i.e. 'Rosa parks was tired that day and just needed to sit down!'.
posted by a_green_man at 6:40 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

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