Sunday, June 21, 2009

What Dictators Don't Seem To Get

The news from Iran is getting grim by the moment. The deep division in the Iranian Regime is now in the open. I am optimistic that we are seeing the beginning of the end of the Iranian Regime, and its power will prove to be fictitious like that of other dictatorial regimes of the past. An iconic figure - Neda - has emerged in her death, an young lady shot by the hired assassins of the state, and hopefully the amateur images of her dying moments will stir an otherwise indifferent world into action.

The lesson that the world's dictators don't seem to get is that technology has moved forward and the usual methods of gagging - banning the journalists, stopping the newscasts - are no longer good enough. As Iran continues to dominate Twitter and the blogs, and as the street videos shot on mobile phone keep leaking out on the Internet, the evil men of Myanmar will surely call the Iranian Elite to offer an word of advise - we told you to keep Internet out!

We have seen this before, and it is being proved again now - that technology shapes our politics more deeply than ever. One can possibly argue that the modern democracy owes much to the broadcast media, the newspapers primarily. It is well acknowledged that the TV changed democracy permanently, and the advent of JFK, the undoing of Nixon, the rise of Reagan and Clinton, and to the modern day, David Cameron, has a lot to do with how TV shapes democracy. But it is not yet acknowledged how deeply Internet is changing our societies and polities. Indeed, I have read the curious trash of 'The Cult of the Amateur', who argued that the Internet is destroying the traditional media and therefore news gathering and analysis. I just hope that Andrew Keen is in audience when this Iranian crisis is playing out, when the dictators have effectively blocked the traditional media, but melting away in the face of mobile phone cameras, tweets and blog posts.

The dictators will never get it, and so would not all the 'broadcast' politicians. Barack Obama's inaction in the Iranian crisis is baffling. He seems to think that making a statement will allow the Iranian authorities to see the American hand in this crisis and crack down. As if they don't seem to see it already and are handling their demonstrators with kid gloves. It is a shame that while people are being killed, the global guardians of democracy will stand by and watch silently. In fact, one is bound to suspect that the silence of the American Administration comes at the behest of its Middle Eastern allies, dictators themselves, who would love to see the Iranian regime fold, but are deeply fearful of the street protests themselves.

India, as usual, has nothing to say. Indian Government projects itself as the great and the good at home, but it is uncertain and unprincipled when it comes to standing up for anything. So are China and Russia, which are clearly on the wrong side in every struggle for democracy and will do everything to keep the Iranian regime. But, I think, all of them are making the same mistake - they underestimate the power of the crowd united by technology. They don't seem to get it, as the ruling class, all over the world, believe in controlling the information. This may have been a modernist thinking by itself and one can trace its roots to Alvin Toffler's theories about centrality of information in the modern governance and foreign policy, but none of that will prepare a new President or a Prime Minister for an age when street videos and expense claims can be posted on the Internet in a matter of minutes.

The other thing the Iranian Regime completely missed out on is women. In their zeal, they wrote them off completely. In Iran, the women are still half the worth of men, but the Ayatollahs clearly did not realize that the women are some times smarter, more determined and stronger than men. Women, as we hear, are leading the protests, and that can not be a good sign for any of those Arab despots and their friends in the west.

Of course, we will now see a brutal crackdown in Iran. The regime is mortally wounded, and now it will come back with its revolutionary guards and all the works. There will be massacre on the streets, which we will have to see on grainy videos. Egged by its past-sell-by date Arab friends and the Chinese and the Russian bully-boys, Britain and America and all the other states will stand by and let it happen. But, then, the wheel of history has now turned and this will only buy some time for the dictators in Iran. This is the third thing - after technology and women - that is against them : time. They have already shown they are weak, dithering, vulnerable and good to go. They will soon be over, in palace intrigues and internecine feuds.

The dictators don't seem to get this. Dictators all around the world - in Egypt, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, China, Zimbabwe, and in various other African states - will soon have to bow out to the power of crowd, empowered by the people to people connection and shared ideas. The change has only accelerated by the onset of global recession and the destruction of the cosy collaboration between the rich and the powerful. And, if the leaders of the democratic world don't wake up soon and do their bit, they would commit a monumental blunder and miss one window of opportunity they had to restore sanity, human respect and democracy at the heart of the world's most troubled region - and they will have to live with its consequences forever.

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