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How Egypt’s Social Media Revolution Could Spread Across the Middle East

The one party, strong man rule that has dominated the land of the Pharaohs for decades is coming apart before our eyes in an information-driven uprising. What and who is next?

The drama going on in the Middle East eclipses any storyline Hollywood could conjure, Oscar season or not.

Regimes of 30, 40 and 50 years are shaking at their foundations. And it is all happening in the blink of an eye.

Also read: Fox News Team Badly Beaten in Cairo

To be clear: the visionary products created by Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook and Evan Williams at Twitter are foundation stones of what is becoming a regional revolution. We reserve a nod for the emir of Qatar, who brought the world Al Jazeera.

Modern day communications are undoing what decades of repression wrought.

Over 25 years of a journalistic career I have kept a close eye on the Middle East. (For those who only know my work in Hollywood, this may be confusing, but I assure you it is the case.)

Read also: Anderson Cooper Attacked in Egypt; Media Becomes a Target

And for the past 60 years or so, the regimes of the Middle East contained the widespread frustrations of their populace with a single policy: blame Israel. The semi-democratic states of Egypt and Lebanon, the dictatorial Syria and Iraq, the theocratic Iran and the despotic kingdoms of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait all aimed their political fire at the Jewish state.

Israel was the villain of the modern political Arab narrative, the way to divert attention from poverty, illiteracy, corruption and unwillingness by entrenched leaders like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak to share power in any meaningful way.

It wasn’t common sense. But the Palestinian tale of suffering made the day to day suffering of average Arabs seem bearable, and their need to maintain ethnic unity a noble — if long-suffering — goal.

After a certain point, I believed — and I think many of us who observed the Middle East believed — that this could go on indefinitely. That a people cowed by an autocratic system, deprived of a voice by military rule, the threat of violence and torture for then and their families, would sustain the status quo.

Israel continued on its complicated and far from perfect path — a democracy beside a Palestinian people deprived of their freedom and ill served by their own leaders.

The movement and the change that was promised by Islamic fundamentalism created a wave that overtook the region for the better part of a decade in the late nineties and early part of this century.

While it once achieved a critical mass of support, the wreckage left by al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan has convinced the Arab street that it’s not what they want.

And then came social media. These tools have allowed angry, educated, frustrated young people to connect outside the confines of official outlets.

So while Al-Ahram purveyed the Mubarak line, and Nile Television offered the acceptable status quo in Egypt, it turns out the dam does break. The revolution that began in Tunisia has spread in a matter of days to Egypt where that regime is clearly finished — even President Obama now says so.

The only modern comparison is 1989, when we watched Cold War societies that had been silenced since the end of World War II crack open in a matter of weeks as the people of the Eastern Bloc finally found their voices.

The protests and anger we saw in Iran in 2009 after the Islamic Republic’s last Presidential election was a movement led by social media.

This is a revolution. By the time the Egyptian government got wise and shut down the web, it was too late.

Read also: White House to Egypt: 'Turn On Social Networking and Internet'

The situation of strong-man, one-party rule could have gone indefinitely in countries like Egypt. But instead they are crumbling on Tahrir Square.

Now we are hearing rumblings in Syria and Jordan. Who’s next? Libya?

What is happening in Egypt validates the fears of the web in regimes like China. The anti-democratic impulses of authoritarian regimes are threatened by the free flow of communication and expression that social media can provide. 

Whoever is next, this isn’t over.  

Far from it. It seems that the revolutions brought on by social media are just beginning.