The Arab spring was a series of protests that swept across the middle east and north African region (MENA), by which different governments where either taken down or went through major reforms. One of the core fundamental elements of many for the Arab spring, was social media. The impact social media had was immense as it allowed different groups to connect and plan their protests without much monitoring or awareness from the government officials at the time (Khondker, 2011). Social media provided a platform for many young Arabs to debate and discuss the different responses provided by presidents and governments in response to their protests (Bruns, Highfield and Burgess, 2013). The comebacks every government took used different political rhetoric by which to calm down the public or to address the requests made by protestors. In some instances, some of the rhetoric were focused on buying time for the current regime or government, with hopes of the activity slowing down.
At the heart of every protest, was a different social media platform that was used to plan, debate and coordinate every major standoff gathering. Platforms such as Facebook, were used to spread around videos of police brutality (case study in Tunis) and the different responses provided by governments. Twitter was used for a quick sharing of videos, pictures and spreading information using hashtags (Bruns, Highfield and Burgess, 2013). Users were fuelled by the injustice that was shared in the form of videos spread around through key activists. Most social media users are young Arabs who felt oppressed and had no other means of communicating their perspectives. Youth Engagement with politics peaked in the MENA region throughout the Arab spring due to how these events unfolded. Following the Arab spring, every middle eastern country went down a different pathway either new presidents, civil war, major political reforms and new governments (Howard et al., 2015). Some of these changes were short lived and followed by more protests such as in Egypt 2013. The purpose of this research project is to explore the extent by which political youth engagement continued following the Arab spring. The middle east has had a low engagement with parliamentary and presidential elections primarily due to corruption. Understanding the long-term impact social media had played on Arab youth, and whether it did increase their engagement with their national politics, would allow researchers to recognise how social media can be used as an integral tool for implementing efficient democracies in the Middle east.
The primary question this research will aim to answer is the following:
· To what extent did Arab youth continue to use social media for political activism after the Arab spring?
The research question will be followed up by more clarification questions to try and further understand the topic at hand. The follow up questions are the following:
· Has the success/failure of the Arab spring played a role in further engaging or discouraging youth from political participation and activism?
· If there was a decrease in political engagement and activism through social media, why was that the case? (and vice versa)
· If Arab youth continued to engage through social media and political activism even increased, what was the effect and reason?
· How do local governments in the MENA region use social media and has this affected the engagement of Arab youth with regional and local politics?
Research Aim & Approach
The aim of this research is to understand how social media continued to play a role in political activism in the middle east following the Arab spring, using a post-positivism approach with a collection of qualitative methods. This approach will allow a holistic appraisal of the youth political engagement (which will be defined by the research) in different middle eastern countries. The key qualitative method will be an ethnographic study by which the purpose is for the researcher to immerse themselves within the social media environment in two different MENA countries affected by the Arab spring. This would be done by researching the usage of social media before the Arab spring through different platforms and comparing it to the activity after the Arab spring outcomes. To support this monitoring approach of the ethnographic study, 4 focus groups will be conducted to further dig into the mind of Arab youth and understand any development in their usage of social media for political debate, engagement, and activism. One justification for this approach is that a quantitative approach trying to capture many people, would not provide any useful answers to the research questions rather some statistical measures. While this could be integrated within the project, its important to narrow down the tools used to obtain a useful answer and a post-positivism approach that’s based on a all-inclusive ethnographic study, would offer more quality insight into the extent social media was being mobilized for politics by youth. To narrow down the research, two countries were chosen for this ethnographic study. First was Egypt, since the most social media fuelled protests in the Arab spring came from Egypt (Minatullah Sohail and Chebib, 2011). The second country is Tunisia, which was the birthplace of the Arab spring as we know it (El-Khawas, 2012). The age groups will be split into two, 18-23 and 24-29. The older age group would provide more valuable perspectives, as they would have been the same age as the first group during the Arab spring in their respective countries.
Bruns, A., Highfield, T. and Burgess, J. (2013) ‘The Arab Spring and Social Media Audiences: English and Arabic Twitter Users and Their Networks’, American Behavioral Scientist. doi: 10.1177/0002764213479374.
El-Khawas, M. A. (2012) ‘Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution: Causes and Impact’, Mediterranean Quarterly. doi: 10.1215/10474552-1895357.
Howard, P. N. et al. (2015) Opening Closed Regimes: What Was the Role of Social Media During the Arab Spring?, SSRN. doi: 10.2139/ssrn.2595096.
Khondker, H. H. (2011) ‘Role of the New Media in the Arab Spring’, Globalizations. doi: 10.1080/14747731.2011.621287.
Minatullah Sohail, R. and Chebib, N. (2011) ‘The Reasons Social Media Contributed to 2011 Egyptian Revolution’, International Journal of Business Research and Management.