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The Future of Revolution

We all know the story of the

Arab Spring, but what we don’t know is what comes next. There can be little doubt that the near future will be full of revolutionary movements, as communication technologies enable new connections and generate more room for expression. And it’s clear that certain tactical efforts, like mobilizing crowds or disseminating material, will get easier as mobile and Internet penetration rates rise across many countries.

But despite seeing more revolutionary movements, we’ll see fewer revolutionary outcomes—fully realized

revolutions resulting in dramatic and progressive political turnover. A lack of sustainable leaders combined with savvier state responses will impede profound change (both good and bad) on the scale of the Arab revolutions that began in late 2010. Throughout history, the technologies of the time have stimulated and shaped how revolutions developed, but at a fundamental level all successful revolutions share common factors, like institutional structure, outside support and cultural cohesiveness. The historical record is littered with failed attempts that lacked these basic elements, from Russian revolutionary efforts prior to 1917 through


Shia uprising in 1991 and the 2009


Revolution in

Iran. Modern technology, powerful as it is, cannot work miracles, though it can improve the odds of success dramatically.

With so many people connected in so many places, the future will contain the most active, outspoken and globalized civil society the world has ever known. In the beginning of revolutionary movements, the noisy nature of the virtual world will impede the ability of state security to keep up with and crush revolutionary activity, enabling a revolution to

start. But how quickly this can happen presents a new problem, since leaders will then have to operate in the physical world of parliaments, constitutions and electoral politics—none of which they’ll have the skill or experience to navigate effectively.

Easier to Start …


connectivity spreads and new portions of the world are welcomed into the online fold,

revolutions will continually sprout up, more casually and more often than at any other time in history. With new access to virtual space and to its technologies, populations and groups all around the world will seize their moment, addressing long-held grievances or new concerns with tenacity and conviction. Many leading these charges will be young, not just because so many of the countries coming online have incredibly young populations—

Pakistan and the

Philippines are three examples where the majority of the population is under the age of thirty-five—but also because the mix of activism and arrogance in young people is universal. They already believe they know how to fix things, so, given the opportunity to take a public stand, they won’t hesitate.

Every society in the future, including those that adopted Internet technology early on, will experience different forms of

protest in which communication technologies are used to organize, mobilize and engage the international community. The platforms protesters use today—


YouTube and others—will morph into even more constructive vehicles, as developers around the world find new ways to utilize the videos, images and messages related to their particular missions. The world will be introduced to more digital activists, branded heroes by the international community, as they work to become ambassadors for their cause. Countries that have not yet had their first big protest in the new digital age will experience it on a global scale, with the world watching and potentially exaggerating its significance. Democratic societies will see more protests related to perceived social injustice and economic inequality, while people in repressive countries will demonstrate against issues like fraudulent elections,

corruption and police brutality. There will be few truly new causes, merely better forms of mobilization and many more participants.

Staging a revolt used to be exclusive to the subset of individuals with the right weapons, international backing and training. Much of this exclusivity has been shattered as communication technologies break down age, gender, socioeconomic and circumstantial barriers that previously prevented individuals from taking part. Citizens will no longer experience injustice in isolation or solitude, and this globalized feedback loop where people all around the world can comment and react will inspire many populations to stand up and make their feelings known. As the

revolutions of the

Arab Spring demonstrated, once the so-called fear barrier has been broken down and a government appears newly vulnerable, many otherwise obedient or quiet citizens don’t hesitate to join in. One of the positive consequences of social media in the Arab revolutions, for example, was that

women were able to play a much greater role, given the choice of expressing themselves on social networks when going to the streets was too risky (although many women did take the physical risk). In some countries, people will occasionally organize protests online or in the streets every day, simply because they can. We saw this when we visited Libya in 2012. As we met with ministers in the transitional government in Tripoli, they mentioned casually that there were small groups of protesters nearly every morning. Were they worried?, we asked. Some were, but others shook their heads, almost chuckling, and said it was a natural reaction after more than forty years of oppression.

Virtual space offers new avenues for dissent and participation, as well as new protections for potential revolutionaries. For the most part, dissidents will find their world safer due to the mass adoption of communication technologies, despite the fact that the physical risks they face will not change. (Nor will

connectivity shield all activists equally; in countries where the government is very technically capable, dissidents may feel as vulnerable online as they do on the streets.) Arrests, harassment, torture and extrajudicial killings will not disappear, but overall, the

anonymity of the Internet and the networked power of communication technologies will provide activists and would-be participants with a new layer of protective insulation that encourages them to continue on.

Certain technological developments will assist activists and dissidents significantly. Accurate real-time

translation software enables information-sharing beyond borders. Reliable electronic access to outside information and to diaspora communities helps counter intentionally misleading state narratives and amplifies the size of the support base in a demonstrable way. And secure electronic platforms that facilitate money transfers or information exchange further connect protesters to outside sources of support without compromising their current position.

In these new

revolutionary movements, there will be more part-time and anonymous activists than today, simply because citizens will have greater agency over when and how they rebel. Once, being a revolutionary entailed total personal commitment, but today, and even more so in the future, multifaceted technological platforms will allow some to participate full time while others contribute on their lunch breaks. Activists in the future will benefit from the collective knowledge of other activists and people around the world, particularly when it comes to protecting themselves—secure protocols,

encryption tools and other forms of electronic security will be more widely available and understood. Most of the people who will come online in the next decade live under autocratic or semi-autocratic governments, and history suggests that theocracies, personality cults and dictatorships are much harder to maintain in an era of expanding information dissemination; one only need recall the contributory role of the glasnost (“openness”) policy to the collapse of the

Soviet Union. In the end, we’ll see a pattern emerge across the world in which populations with access to virtual space and new information will continually protest against their repressive or non-transparent governments online, in effect making the state of revolutionary gestures permanent.
Connectivity will change how we view opposition groups in the future. Tangible organizations and parties will still operate inside countries, but the profusion of new participants in the virtual town square will dramatically reshape the activists’ landscape. Most people will not identify themselves with a single cause but instead will join multiple issue-based movements spread over many countries. This trend will both help and frustrate campaign organizers, for it will be easier to estimate and visualize their support network but it will be less clear how interested and committed each participant is. In countries where

freedom of assembly is limited or denied, the opportunity to communicate and plan in virtual space will be a godsend, irrespective of who joins in. But generally, it will be up to those in leadership positions to make the strategic decision as to whether their movements actually have the support of the masses, rather than being a very large echo chamber.

For opposition groups, the online world offers new possibilities for critical tasks like fund-raising and branding. Organizations may choose to present themselves differently in different corners of the Internet to reach different demographics. A Central Asian resistance group might downplay its religious overtones and champion its liberal positions while on English-language platforms dominated by Western users, and then do the opposite on the networks within its own region. This is not unlike what the

Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties do today, or how

Al Jazeera’s autonomous English- and Arabic-language operations differ in tone and coverage. (For one example: On a designated day of protest in the early stage of the

Syrian uprising in 2011, Al Jazeera English was quick to report on the number of protester deaths but, oddly, the Al Jazeera Arabic website did not, focusing instead on a minor overture by

Bashar al-Assad to the country’s

Kurdish minority. Some analysts suggested that the disparity was due to the Arabic station’s political deference to Iran, Syria’s ally and a neighbor of

Qatar, the home of Al Jazeera.)

While the branding possibilities for these groups grow, the old model of an opposition organization is shifting: Groups today have websites instead of offices; followers and members instead of staff; and they use free and publicly available platforms that liberate them from many fixed costs. There will be so many of these digital fronts in the future that competition for attention between groups around the world will grow fierce.

The profusion of new voices online and the noise they’ll generate will require all of us to adjust our definition of a dissident. After all, not everyone who speaks his or her mind online—which to some degree is almost everyone with an Internet connection—can be branded a dissident. The people who surface in the next wave of dissident leaders will be the ones who can command a following and crowd-source their online support, who have demonstrable skill with digital marketing tools, and, critically, who are willing to put themselves physically in harm’s way.

Digital activism, especially when done remotely or with anonymity, lowers the stakes for would-be protesters, so true leaders will distinguish themselves by taking on physical risks that their virtual supporters cannot or will not. And it’s more likely than not that those who have deep knowledge of constitutional reform, institution building and governance issues but lack the tech savvy of other activists will run the risk of being left behind, finding it difficult to stand out in a virtual crowd and to prove their value to new, young leaders (who may fail to understand the true relevance of their experience).

Future revolutionary movements, as we’ve said, will be more transnational and inclusive than many (but not all) previous revolutions, extending well beyond traditional boundaries of nationality, ethnicity,

language, gender and religion. During a trip to

Tunisia in 2011, we met with activists from the

Jasmine Revolution near the first anniversary of their successful uprising, and when we asked why their revolution set off a chain of others in rapid succession, they acknowledged similar grievances and then pointed to their regional networks. They could build relationships easily with strangers who spoke Arabic and lived in the Middle East, they said, not just because of shared language and culture, but because they often had friends in common. Extensive social connections that already existed were activated and accelerated as revolutionary spirit swept the region, resulting in the exchange of strategies, tools, money and moral support.

But even these large networks had their limit, which was roughly the perimeter of the Arab world. In the future, this won’t be true. Sophisticated translation software, which can handle regional accents and is done simultaneously, will enable an Arabic-speaking activist in Morocco to coordinate in real time with an activist in Bangkok who speaks only Thai. Innovative voice translation, streaming gestural interfaces and, eventually,

holographic projections will open the floodgates to the formation of much broader virtual networks than anyone has today. There are an untold number of cultural similarities that have never been fully explored because of the difficulty of communication; in a future revolutionary setting, seemingly random connections between distant populations or people will entail knowledge transfer, outsourcing certain types of duties and amplifying the movement’s message in a new and unexpected way.

For some, communication technologies will allow them to engage without risk, and to feel the rewards of activism without putting in much effort. It’s fairly easy to re-tweet an antigovernment slogan or share a video of violent police brutality from a safe distance, especially when compared with the risks taken by whoever shot the video. People not directly involved in the movement can feel a genuine sense of empowerment by doing something, anything, and online platforms offer them a way to chip in and feel valuable, even if what they’re doing has little effect on the ground. For people inside a country where there is some risk of being caught by their tech-savvy regime, however, virtual courage does carry risks.

It’s certainly possible for a teenager in Chicago or Tokyo to contribute in some significant way to a campaign across the world. After

Egypt’s external communications capabilities were cut by the Mubarak regime, many observers turned to a

Twitter account started by a twenty-something graduate student in Los Angeles for what they perceived to be credible information; the student,

John Scott-Railton, posted updates about the protests gleaned from Egyptian sources limited to landline phones. For a time, his @Jan25voices

Twitter handle was a major conduit of information about the uprising—this despite his not being a journalist or a fluent Arabic speaker. But while Scott-Railton was able to garner some popular attention for his tweets, there are limits to what someone with his profile could achieve in terms of influencing policy-makers.

Perhaps a more important example is Andy Carvin, who curated one of the most important streams of information in both the Egyptian and

Libyan revolutions, with tens of thousands of followers and countless journalists globally who knew that Carvin himself (a senior NPR strategist) had the journalistic standards of a professional reporter and so would tweet or re-tweet only things he could verify. He became a one-man filter of enormous influence, cultivating and vetting sources.

Ultimately, though, however talented the
Andy Carvins or John Scott-Railtons of the world are, the hard work of revolutionary movements is done on the ground, by the people inside a country willing to take to the streets. You cannot storm an interior ministry by mobile phone.

The opportunity for virtual courage will shape how protesters themselves operate. Global social-media platforms will give potential activists and dissidents confidence in the belief that they have an audience, whether or not this is true. An organization might overestimate the value of online support, and in doing so neglect its other, more difficult priorities that would actually give it an edge, like persuading regime administrators to defect. The presence of a large virtual network will encourage some groups to take more risks, even if escalation isn’t warranted. Full of confidence and courage from the virtual world, a given opposition force will launch campaigns that are immature or ill-advised, the inevitable end result of the breaking down of traditional control mechanisms around revolutionary movements. These trends in virtual courage, for both outsiders and organizers, will have to play out for some time before opposition groups learn how to utilize them effectively.

In all, increased

public awareness of revolutions and campaigns around the world will give rise to a culture of revolutionary helpers. There will be a wide range of them: some useful, some distracting and some even dangerous. We’ll see smart engineers developing applications and security tools to share with dissidents, and vocal Internet aggregators will use the volume of the crowd to apply pressure and demand attention. No doubt some people will create specialized devices to smuggle into countries with protest movements, handsets that come loaded with encrypted apps that allow users to publish information (texts, photos, videos) without leaving any record on the phone—without a record, a phone contains no evidence of a crime and is thus useless and anonymous to any security thug who finds it.

We’ll also see a wave of revolution tourists, people who spend all day crawling the web for online protests to join and help amplify just for the thrill of it. Such actors might help sustain momentum by disseminating content, but they’ll be uncontrollable, without filter or oversight, and their narratives might skew expectations for people on the ground taking risks. Finding ways to utilize new participants while exerting quality control and effectively managing expectations will be the key task for effective opposition leaders, who will understand how much else is required for a successful revolution.

 … But Harder to


The rapid proliferation of revolutionary movements across newly connected societies ultimately will not be as threatening to established governments as some observers predict, because for all that communication technologies can do to transform revolutions in ways that tip the balance in favor of the people, there are critical elements of change that these tools cannot effect. Principal among them is the creation of first-rate leaders, individuals who can keep the opposition intact during tough times, negotiate with a government if it opts for reform, or run for office, win and deliver on what the people want if a dictator flees. Technology has nothing to do with whether an individual has the attributes to fill the role of statesman.

In recent years, we’ve seen how large numbers of young people, armed with little more than

mobile phones, can fuel revolutions that challenge decades of authority and control, hastening a process that has historically taken years. It’s now clear how technology platforms can play a prominent role in toppling dictators when used resourcefully. Given the range of outcomes possible—brutal crackdown, regime change, civil war, transition to democracy—it’s also clear that it’s the people who make or break revolutions, not the tools they use. Traditional components of civil society will become even more important as online crowds swarm the virtual public square, because while some of the newly involved participants (like activist engineers) will be highly relevant and influential, many more, as we’ve said, will be little more than amplifiers and noise-generators along for the ride.

Future revolutions will produce many celebrities, but this aspect of movement-making will retard the leadership development necessary to finish the job. Technology can help find the people with leadership skills—thinkers, intellectuals and others—but it cannot create them. Popular uprisings can overthrow dictators, but they’re successful afterward only if opposition forces have a good plan and can execute it. Otherwise the result is either a reconstitution of the old regime or a transition from a functioning regime to a failed state. Building a Facebook page does not constitute a plan; actual operational skills are what will carry a revolution to a successful conclusion.

The term “leaderless” has been used to describe the

Arab Spring, by both observers and participants, but this is not quite accurate. True, in the day-to-day process of demonstrating it’s certainly possible to retain a decentralized command structure—safer too, since the regime cannot kill the movement by simply capturing the leaders. But over time, some sort of

centralized authority must emerge if the movement is to have any direction. The rebel fighters who faced down

Muammar Gadhafi for months were not a coherent army, but by February 27, 2011, within two weeks of the first public protests in Libya, they had formed the

National Transitional Council (NTC) in Benghazi. Comprising prominent opposition figures, regime defectors, a former army official, academics, attorneys, politicians and business leaders, the NTC’s executive board functioned as an opposition government, negotiating with foreign countries and NATO officials in the fight against Gadhafi. The NTC’s chairman,

Mahmoud Jibril, served as the country’s interim prime minister until late October 2011, shortly after Gadhafi was captured and killed.


Tunisia, by contrast, the revolution occurred so quickly that there was no time to form an opposition government like the NTC. When President
Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled, the Tunisian state remained intact. Citizens continued to protest the government until all remaining members of Ben Ali’s

Constitutional Democratic Rally party resigned and an interim government the masses deemed suitable was in place. Had government officials been less responsive to the population’s demands, launching crackdowns instead of reshuffling positions, Tunisia might have followed a very different and less stable path than it did. (Interestingly, many of the leaders elected in the October 2011 Tunisian elections were former political prisoners, who had a different and perhaps more personal level of credibility with the population than returning exiles.) Tunisia’s prime minister,

Hamadi Jebali—himself a former political prisoner—told us that, in his view, the first post–Ben Ali regime minister of the interior ought to be a “

victim of the ministry of the interior.” As such, he appointed to this position

Ali Laârayedh, who under the previous regime spent fourteen years in prison, mostly in solitary confinement.

The downside of an acceleration in the pace of a movement is that organizations and their ideas, strategies and leaders have a far shorter gestation period. History suggests that opposition movements need time to develop, and that the checks and balances that shape an emergent movement ultimately produce a stronger and more capable one, with leaders who are more in tune with the population they intend to inspire. Consider the

African National Congress (ANC) in

South Africa. During its decades of exile from the apartheid state, the organization went through multiple iterations, and the men who would go on to become South African presidents (

Nelson Mandela,
Thabo Mbeki and
Jacob Zuma) all had time to build their reputations, credentials and networks while honing their operational skills. Likewise with
Lech Walesa and his

Solidarity trade union in

Poland; a decade passed before Solidarity leaders could contest seats in parliament, and their victory paved the way for the fall of communism.

Most opposition groups spend years organizing, lobbying and cultivating leaders. We asked the former secretary of state

Henry Kissinger, who has met with and known almost every major revolutionary leader of the past forty years, what is lost when that timetable is advanced. “

It is hard to imagine de Gaulles and Churchills appealing in the world of Facebook,” he said. In an age of hyper-connectivity, “I don’t see people willing to stand by themselves and to have the confidence to stand up alone.” Instead, a kind of “mad consensus” will drive the world and few people will be willing to openly oppose it, which is precisely the kind of risk that a leader must take. “Unique leadership is a human thing, and is not going to be produced by a mass social community,” Kissinger said.

Without statesmen and leaders, there won’t be enough qualified individuals to take a country forward, running the risk of replacing one form of autocracy with another. “The empowered citizen,” Kissinger said, “knows the technique of getting people to the square, but they don’t know what to do with them when they are in the square. They know even less of what to do with them when they have won.” These people can get easily marginalized, he explained, because their strategies lose effectiveness over time. “You can’t get people to the square twenty times a year. There is an objective limit, and no clear next phase.” And without a clear next phase, a movement is left to run on its own momentum, which inevitably runs out.

There are a number of activists on the street who, while critical of their own revolutions and follow-through, would take issue with Kissinger’s view. One such man is

Mahmoud Salem, an

Egyptian blogger turned activist, who became a spokesperson of sorts for his country’s 2011 revolution. Salem is highly critical of his fellow Egyptians for what he saw as an inability to move past the short-term goal of unseating

Mubarak and opening the political system to competition; but his critique is one of Egypt, not of the revolutionary model for the new digital age. As he wrote in June 2012, just after Egypt’s first post-revolution presidential election, “

If you are a revolutionary, show us your capabilities. Start something. Join a party. Build an institution. Solve a real problem. Do something except running around from demonstration to march to sit-in. This is not street work: real street work means moving the street, not moving in the street. Real street work means that the street you live in knows you and trusts you, and will move with you.” He exhorted street activists to participate in governance and in reforming the culture of corruption against which they protested. This means wearing seat belts, obeying traffic laws, enrolling in the police academy, running for parliament or holding local officials accountable for their actions.

Tina Rosenberg’s book Jointhe
Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World is yet another defense of what the crowd can achieve. By looking at the importance of human relationships in defining individual behavior and major social trends, she argues that revolutionaries can channel peer pressure to propel individuals and groups toward more desirable behaviors. Perhaps the most compelling evidence for what she describes as a “social cure” is found in the example of the

Serbian activist group

Otpor, which played a major role in ending Slobodan

Milošević’s regime. She describes how the group used playful and flashy street theater, pranks, music, slogans and peaceful civil disobedience to break the culture of fear and helplessness. In cracking down on the group, the regime was revealed to be both brutal and at times foolish, and support for Otpor grew.

But more important than what groups like Otpor represent for the past is the role their leaders can play in the future. As Rosenberg points out in a powerful story of Serbian activists from the past training future activists around the world, successful revolutionaries must develop dual strategies for virtual and physical action. Without both, what’s left will be an oversupply of celebrities and coattail riders, and not enough trusted leaders. Historically, a prominent position implied a degree of public trust; with the exception of notorious political types like warlords or machine bosses, the visibility of high-profile leaders corresponded with the size of their support base. But in the future, this equation will be inverted: Prominence will come first and easily, and then a person will need to build tangible support, credentials and experience.

We’ve seen this already with the self-fulfilling prophecies of “buzz-worthy”

American presidential candidates.
Herman Cain, a relative unknown outside the business world, became highly visible for a period in the 2012 presidential campaign, and he was treated as a serious contender by some despite his political unsuitability for the position—something that revealed itself slowly over weeks, but surely would have been discovered instantly had he been vetted by the party establishment. Political celebrities like Cain will exist in multitudes in future revolutionary movements because flash-in-the-pan charismatic figures who have a strong online presence will rise to the top of the pile most quickly. Without the experience of taking political heat, these revolutionary celebrities are likely to be thin-skinned and will be exposed easily if there is no substance behind their flash.

How opposition movements handle the challenge of finding sustainable leaders will depend on where they are and how many resources they have. In countries where the revolutionary movements are underfunded and under the nose of the regime, pruning the crowds to find genuine leaders will be difficult. In well-resourced and more autonomous movements, however, a crop of consultants might well identify born leaders and subsequently help develop the skills and networks they need. Unlike the run-of-the-mill political consultants of today, these people will have degrees in engineering and cognitive psychology; technical skills; and a much firmer grasp of how to use data to build and fine-tune a political figure. They will take a promising candidate whose prominence exceeds his credentials and measure his political potential through a variety of means: feeding his speeches and writing through complex feature-extraction


and trend-analysis software suites, mapping his brain function to determine how he handles stress or temptation, and employing sophisticated diagnostics to assess the weak parts of his political repertoire.


activist groups and organizations will project a virtual front that is far grander than their physical reality. Imagine a new opposition group being formed just days after a

revolution in

Algeria, which successfully recruits brilliant digital marketers and designers from the Algerian diaspora in Marseille. The core group consists of only five members, all twenty-somethings barely out of college with almost no prior exposure to politics. Their organization has no track record, but with its sophisticated digital platform they appear to the Algerian public competent, highly motivated and widely networked. In reality, they are disorganized, lacking in vision and wholly unprepared to take on any real responsibility. For groups like this, the dissonance between online presentation and actual operational capability will cause delays and friction within emergent movements. In extreme circumstances, we could see an entire movement that, online, looks like a genuine threat to a regime, when in fact its efforts represent little more than a clever use of technology and actually pose no threat whatsoever. By raising expectations and creating false hope around a movement’s prospects for success, opposition groups that can’t ultimately rise to meet the challenge may do more harm than good, serving as a costly distraction for the rest of the population.

No doubt every revolution in history has had its share of organizational weaknesses and false prophets, yet in the future, such flaws run the risk of heightening public disenchantment with opposition groups to an extreme degree. If society at large loses faith in a rising movement and its ability to deliver, that’s enough to stifle a transformative opportunity. When combined with the instability of leadership, dissonance between the physical and virtual fronts will thoroughly curtail a movement’s prospects for support and success in any given country. The consequence of having more citizens informed and connected is that they’ll be as critical and discerning about rebels as they are about the government.

This critical eye toward potential opposition forces will have consequences for returning exiles and members of the diaspora, too. Typically, exiles parachute into a country with international support but a limited grasp of the needs and desires of their home population. This disconnection from the realities on the ground has manifested itself in some public flameouts (like onetime Iraqi leader

Ahmed Chalabi) and very public struggles (like those of President
Hamid Karzai of

Afghanistan). On one hand, greater

connectivity will decrease the gap between the diaspora communities and the population at home, so returning exiles seeking to have an impact on the revolutionary process will find themselves better suited to connect with local actors. On the other hand, the populations at home will be better informed about the exiles who return (who, no doubt, will have generated long trails of data online about their background and activities), and this information will be used to shape narratives about them before they arrive.

Imagine a prominent Eritrean diaspora member, who made a fortune in the Western media industry, gathering a large virtual constituency with lots of online supporters, both internationally and at home. He might find it difficult to create a physical constituency in Eritrea, since many local citizens might be skeptical of his background or his ties to international media. Promises that played well on the international circuit, and with his online audience, might ring hollow to the population back home. Returning to his country expecting to find a path cleared for his political future, he could well watch his promising head start wash away as locals spurn him in favor of a leadership contender they can relate to better.

Successful leaders with ties to the diaspora will be the ones who adopt a sort of hybrid model, whereby the desires of the virtual and physical constituencies are both addressed and somehow reconciled. Winning over and making use of both those groups will be a challenge, but it will be critical for sustainable leadership in the digital age.

A wave of revolutionary false starts will lead successive generations to demand from their opposition groups not only vision but a detailed blueprint of how they intend to build a new country. Such expectations will be true particularly for newer dissident organizations that, in the absence of a track record, still have to demonstrate their bona fides to the public. This follows naturally in the footsteps of technology trends like greater transparency and free access to information. Potential supporters will act more like consumers, less swayed by political ideals than by marketing and product details. There will be more avenues to become a leader (at least in name) and with so many leadership candidates and so little to go on, people will bestow and withdraw their loyalty with ruthless calculation. But competition is as healthy for opposition groups as it is for companies.

Would-be demonstrators looking for a leader will expect any serious opposition group to do its institution-building online, including indicating who the ministers will be, how the security apparatus will be organized, and how goods and services will be delivered. Today, particularly in countries where connectivity is slow to spread, opposition leaders can make vague statements and give assurances that they know what they’re doing, but an informed public in the future will demand the details. To the extent that opposition groups exist before a revolution begins—whether in the country itself or in exile—they would be wise to genuinely prepare themselves. Proofs of preparedness to govern will be more than an exercise; the designs will be taken literally as the foundation of a new system. Any opposition group unwilling to produce them or unable to execute them effectively might find lingering praise for its community-organizing skills, but its leadership and governance credentials would certainly be called into question.

Even if an opposition movement presents a credible blueprint, and contains genuine leaders with real skill, there are still a number of uncontrollable variables that could derail a revolution. Tribal, sectarian and ethnic tensions run deep in many societies and remain a minefield for even the most cautious operator to navigate. Internal and external spoilers, like terrorist groups, militias, insurgents and foreign forces, can disrupt the security situation. Many revolutions are spurred by bad economies or fiscal policies, so the slightest economic recalibration (for good or ill) might reverberate through the country and change protesters’ minds.

Then there is the dreaded

expectations gap. Even if a revolution successfully “finishes,” with new players in power and public optimism at its highest point, few new governments will be able to match the expectations and desires of their populations. The consequence of

popular uprisings involving many millions more people, thanks in large part to connectivity, is that even more of them will feel abruptly excluded from the political process when the revolution ends.

We saw this directly in

Libya and

Tunisia when we met with activists and government ministers; neither group felt satisfied or fully appreciated. Following the revolution in Egypt, so many people were unhappy with the way the military rulers, the

Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), led the country after Mubarak that they subsequently reoccupied

Tahrir Square, the site of the original uprisings, several times. And when the population found itself with limited choices in Egypt’s first post-revolution presidential election—

Ahmed Shafik, a symbol of the army, and
Mohamed Morsi, a symbol of the

Muslim Brotherhood—frustrations and the sense of exclusion only deepened. The degree to which people can feel involved now through

connectivity will raise expectations as never before.

New governments will try to meet these demands for

accountability and

transparency by pursuing “open government” initiatives like publishing ministers’ daily schedules, engaging with citizens in online forums and keeping the lines of communication open where possible. Some citizens won’t be pacified by anything, however, and in them the ousted political elite will find its own online support network. Clever loyalists will make use of this expectations gap by staying connected to the population online and nurturing its grievances while they attempt to reconstitute the regime. Eventually, they might come to form the new online opposition movement.

Virtual Crackdowns and Containment

Faced with diffuse and omnipresent

revolutionary threats, states will look for quick solutions for uprisings that bubble to the surface. They’ll have to get creative. Traditional methods like crackdowns and blackouts will become increasingly ineffective as connectivity spreads; the age-old autocratic strategy of suppressing rebellion by violence and rounding up ringleaders is much less relevant in the age of digital protests, online activism and real-time evidence dissemination. Historically, with a few notable exceptions

(Tiananmen Square in 1989, the massacre in

Hama, Syria, in 1982), crackdowns were rarely captured on film and it was very difficult for images and video to spread outside the country. If the regime controlled all the communications channels, the media and the borders, outside dissemination was nearly impossible.

As soon as mobile devices and the Internet became a feature of rebellion and mass protest, regimes adapted their strategy: They shut down the networks. Initially, this tactic seemed to work for several governments, most notably for the

Iranian regime during the 2009 postelection protests when an almost complete shutdown quite effectively curtailed a growing opposition movement.

Egyptian president

Hosni Mubarak had every reason to believe his virtual crackdown would put a stop to the revolutionary agitation in

Tahrir Square less than two years later, but, as the story below illustrates, this strategy had already become counterproductive.

In the early hours of January 28, 2011, anticipating widespread antigovernment protests later that day, the Egyptian regime effectively shut down all Internet and mobile connections within the country. “Egypt Leaves the Internet” read the headline of one of the earliest blog posts on the event.


It had blocked access to social-networking sites and

BlackBerry Internet service a few days earlier, and with this move, the disconnection was complete.


The country’s four main Internet service providers—

Link Egypt,

Telecom Egypt,

Etisalat Misr and

Vodafone/Raya—were affected, and mobile-phone service was also suspended by all three telecom operators. The largest of the telecoms, Vodafone Egypt, issued a statement that morning that said, “All mobile operators in Egypt have been instructed to suspend services in selected areas. Under Egyptian legislation the authorities have the right to issue such an order and we are obliged to comply with it.”

Given that the Egyptian government already controlled the few physical connections to the outside world—like the

fiber-optic cables housed in one building in Cairo—the shutdown was a straightforward matter of closing these portals and contacting the big carriers and contractors with their demands. It was later revealed that the regime made it clear to companies like Vodafone that if they did not comply with the shutdown, the Egyptian government would, through its state-owned company Telecom Egypt, physically cut their service through the telecommunications infrastructure in the country (which would damage Vodafone’s ability to operate and take a considerable amount of time to undo). The ISPs and the telecom companies were caught completely off-guard—the government had long been a supporter of the expansion of the Internet and mobile services throughout Egypt—and therefore none had made contingency plans. It was a move unprecedented in recent history; other states had interfered with their population’s Internet services, but none had ever orchestrated such a coordinated and complete disconnection.

The move backfired. As a number of Egyptians and outside observers later noted, it was the shutting down of the network that truly electrified the protest movement because it brought so many more outraged people to the streets.

Vodafone’s CEO,

Vittorio Colao, concurred. “

Hitting one hundred percent of the population on something that everyone thinks is essential, and actually taking it out, triggered a much more irritated and negative reaction than what the government expected,” he told us. Several Egyptian activists reiterated this, saying, in effect, Ididn’t like Mubarak, but this wasn’t my fight. But then Mubarak took away my Internet and he made it my fight. So I went to

Tahrir Square. This galvanizing act lent the movement a considerable momentum; had it not occurred, it’s possible that events in Egypt would have turned out very differently.

When the regime’s request to shut down the network came through, Colao said that Vodafone’s first move was to “make sure, from a legal point of view, that we were confronted with a legitimate request. It could be questionable, but it needed to be legal.” All telecommunications providers were required to have licensing contracts with the state, so once Vodafone determined that the request was legitimate, it had no choice: “

We might not have liked the request, but not honoring it would be a breach of the law.”

Soon after, while Internet and mobile-phone service was suspended in Egypt, Vodafone faced another test: The government approached it and other operators in the country to send out its messages over the companies’

short-message-service (SMS) platform. This, Colao told us, was where Vodafone played a positive role. At first, he said, the government’s tone was procedural: Tonight there will be a curfew from six to nine. “This is one command you can do,” Colao explained. The second type of message was patriotic, saying something like, Let’s all be friends and love our nation—also fine, said Colao. “

But at a point it became incredibly political and one-sided, and that is where you can’t ask the local Vodafone staff to say to their own government, Wecan’t comply with Egyptian law. We raised the issue with the Egyptian embassy,

Hillary Clinton, and the U.K. government, and then Vodafone Group PLC”—the parent company—“put out a statement saying that we [would refuse the government request]. That’s what stopped the SMS messages. We were stopped for twenty-four hours for voice calls and four or five days for SMS. SMS is what they considered the threat.”

Governments and operators alike will take a lesson from Egypt’s failed shutdown tactic. Inside the country, it mobilized masses, and outside, it enraged the

international community. Within days of the shutdown, external companies and activists had developed alternative ways for Egyptian citizens to connect again, albeit patchily. A Paris-based nonprofit,

French Data Network, opened up Internet access through dial-up connections (available to anyone with an international landline), while Google launched a

tweet-by-phone service called

Speak2Tweet, which allowed callers to dial one of three numbers and leave a voice mail, which would then be posted as a tweet.

Vittorio Colao told us that after the events in Egypt, major telecom carriers came together to discuss how to prevent such a thing from happening again, and how to take a common position in case it does. Ultimately, he said, “

We decided that this has to be discussed within the International Telecommunication Union”—the

United Nations special agency for global telecommunications—“to exactly define the rules of engagement.” In the future, other governments will surely look to the Egyptian shutdown episode and reevaluate their own odds of survival if they disrupt the

connectivity of their populations. Moreover, with

peer-to-peer and other connection platforms that operate without a traditional network gaining in popularity, the impact of shutting down communications networks is drastically reduced. Irrational governments, or regimes in a panic, might still consider the extreme step of literally severing the connections at the borders: disconnecting

fiber cables, destroying cell towers. But this step would incur such serious economic damage to the country—all financial markets, currency markets and businesses that use external data to operate would fail—that it’s very unlikely any regime would take it.

Repressive governments, though, are nothing if not resourceful, and they will find ways to create leverage and exploit loopholes in the face of restive populations and

revolutionary challenges. States will develop new methods that are more subtle and insidious. One strategy that many will employ is the if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em plan, whereby instead of trying to limit the Internet, they infiltrate it. As we discussed earlier, states stand to gain a significant edge over citizens in the data

revolution because of how much of citizens’ information they’ll have access to. If a government is worried about an uprising, it could ramp up its Internet-monitoring efforts by trawling social-media networks to look for vocal activists; impersonating dissidents to lure in and capture others; hacking into and adding misinformation to prominent mobilization websites; commandeering the webcam on a laptop or tablet to listen to and watch a dissident’s actions without his knowledge; and paying close attention to the inflows of money over electronic platforms to identify outside support. Early-stage infiltration might make the difference between a small demonstration and a national rebellion.

Even if the nature of virtual crackdowns changes, however, physical crackdowns will remain a constant in the repressive-state security playbook. Technology is no match for ground-level brutality, as the horrific examples in

Syria’s multiyear crackdown have shown. Impossible as it seems in the beginning, the international community can become desensitized to violent and graphic content, even when the flow of nightmarish images on videos and photographs actually increases over time. All told, for those governments that are still trying to protect their credibility and deny such crimes, brutal crackdowns will become a much riskier endeavor in the digital age. Increased visibility through global online platforms does protect citizens, and this will, we hope, become even more the case as tools like facial-recognition software improve. For an army officer, the knowledge that one well-timed picture from a citizen’s handset could identify and shame him internationally—or lead his own government to throw him under the bus—might encourage him to show restraint or even defect. The same could be said for informal civilian militias that engage in violence on behalf of a regime, like the

Zimbabwean gangs that fight for

Robert Mugabe’s

ZANU-PF party.

Instead of infiltration (or at least in addition to it), we expect that many states will adopt a strategy we’ll call virtual containment. To relieve the pressure of an agitated, informed public, states will calculate that rather than deny services altogether, it’s better to crack a window to allow citizens to vent their grievances in public on the Internet—but, more important, only to a certain degree. Regimes in the future will allow some online dissent, whether by reforming the law or simply not prosecuting the speech, but only on their terms, through specific channels they control. After all, giving a Bolivian environmental activist space to complain about the risks of deforestation is unlikely to substantively threaten the strength of the government.

At first glance, the creation of virtual “venting” spaces will seem like a win-win: Citizens will feel a deeper sense of engagement and perhaps a new degree of freedom, while the government will win points for embracing reform (while avoiding or at least stalling an outright rebellion). Perhaps some repressive states will sincerely see the value in reform and offer policy changes without guile. Many won’t; not only would the gestures not be genuine (those governments would be uninterested in citizen feedback), but the state would view such spaces as opportunities for intelligence-gathering. Regimes already understand the strategic value of allowing online activity that can lead to arrests. A decade ago, the

Egyptian police’s vice squad would troll chat rooms and Internet forums with false identities to entrap gay citizens, then lure them to a McDonald’s in Cairo to ambush and arrest them.


In 2011, following the Tunisian revolution, several Chinese dissidents responded to an online call for a Chinese version of the protests in front of popular American chains like Starbucks. The mobilization calls spread throughout Chinese social media and microblogs, at which point the police became aware of them. When activists arrived at the prescribed date and time, they were met with an overwhelming police force that arrested many of them. Had the government crushed this online activity immediately after noticing it, the police would not have been able to follow the virtual activity to find the physical dissidents.

As part of their virtual containment strategies, states will undertake a series of transparency gestures, releasing crumbs but withholding the bulk of information they possess. These states will be congratulated for exposing their own institutions and even their own past crimes. Perhaps a government known for its internal corruption will want to appear to turn over a new leaf by publicly disclosing the graft of its judiciary or of a former leader. Or a regime in a single-party state will release some information that is accurate but not particularly damning or useful, like its health ministry’s budget statements. Designated straw men will emerge to take responsibility and bear the brunt of public anger, and the regime will survive intact. Manufacturing transparent-looking documents and records will not be difficult for these regimes—in the absence of contradictory information (such as leaked original documents), there’s little hope of proving them false.

The real challenge for states that adopt the virtual containment approach will be distinguishing between public venting and real opposition

online. Computer engineers use the term “
noise” to describe data that can be very loud but does not convey a useful signal. Authoritarian governments will encounter a political version of this as they begin to allow freer online discussion. In open societies, laws regarding freedom of speech and hate speech largely define the boundaries for citizens, but in closed countries that lack legal precedents for allowable speech, the government is operating somewhat blindly. It will be very difficult for states to determine the intent behind people’s words online—if they’re not known dissidents, have no ties to opposition groups and don’t stick out in any particular way, how does a government newly committed to open dialogue respond without going too far? This unknowable quality will make digital noise the big wild card for authorities as they struggle to first assess and then react. Getting it wrong, by overreaction or underreaction, could be lethal for a regime. Neglect of an online swell could turn it into an off-line storm, and harshly cracking down on online banter could give a nascent online movement with no real momentum something to rally around.

There are a number of present-day examples of state overreaction to online content, though none have yet resulted in revolution. Two examples from

Saudi Arabia in 2011 stand out, and they suggest a model for the escalation path we will see in the future. The first involved a group of conservative clerics who, angered by the Saudi king’s decision to grant

women the right to vote in the 2015 municipal elections, immediately retaliated against a group of women who had participated in a

Women2Drive Campaign (during which several women openly defied Saudi law and got behind the wheel). The clerics decided to make an example of one of the women and sentenced her to ten lashes. As news of her sentence spread, ordinary Saudis took to the Internet to protest and stand up for her, sharing the news far beyond the country’s borders. The virtual retaliation of hundreds of thousands of people both in and outside of Saudi Arabia led the government to

revoke the decision less than twenty-four hours later. In this instance, the Saudi king’s quick reaction stemmed a rising tide, but his very responsiveness suggests a genuine state concern about the threat posed by clamorous online mobs.

The second example comes from a decision to ban a satirical short film about Saudi Arabia’s expensive housing market. As with most officially prohibited material throughout history, there is no surer way to drive public interest and demand than by government ban, and this case is no different. The film,

Monopoly, appeared on

YouTube within an hour of the ban, and in just a few weeks had accumulated more than a million views. If the flogging story highlights the importance of swift action to reverse mistakes, this one speaks to the importance of regimes’ picking the right battles. They will never be able to predict the trigger that transforms online venting into street protest, so every decision to react or ignore is a gamble. Saudi Arabia has not seen large-scale public protests to date, but as a country with one of the most active social-media populations in the region (with one of the highest rates of YouTube playbacks of any country in the world, no less), it will surely encounter more small battles like those described above, and a miscalculation on any one of them could lead to a much larger problem.

No More “Springs”

As more societies come online, people will look for signs of regional revolutionary epidemics. Some argue that

Latin America will be next, because of its serious economic disparities, weak governments, aging leaders and large populations that speak the same language. Others make the case for

Africa, where state fragility is the highest in the world, while mobile-phone adoption is skyrocketing and creating the fastest growing mobile market anywhere. Or perhaps it would be

Asia, which has the largest number of people living under autocratic rule, runaway economic growth and myriad widespread social, economic and political tensions. There have already been nascent attempts to organize mass protests and demonstrations in



Malaysia and Singapore, and surely this will continue to build with time.

But even though these regions are becoming more connected and their populations are increasingly exposed to events and the shared grievances of other nationalities, we don’t yet have evidence that there will be another iteration of the contagion effect the world saw in the

Arab Spring. (It is worth noting, though, that a contagion of protests and demonstrations will be easier to achieve, as illustrated by the September 2012 reactions to the infamous video Innocenceof

Muslims in several dozen countries throughout the world.) The Arab world has a unique regional identity not shared by other regions, which has been solidified by historical attempts at unification and pan-Arab sentiments over the decades. And, of course, shared language, culture and similar political systems contributed. As we said earlier, modern communication technologies did not invent the networks that activists and protesters in the

Middle East made use of—they amplified them.

In addition, there were established religious networks, which, in the absence of a strong civil society under autocratic rule, were by default the most organized and often most beneficial nongovernmental entity for citizens. All of the Arab leaders who lost power in this wave of revolutions—

Ben Ali,




Gadhafi and

Ali Abdullah Saleh in

Yemen—built and operated political systems that stifled the development of institutions, so religious houses and organizations often filled that void (in doing so, they earned the enmity of these dictators; the most prominent groups, like the

Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Islamist

Ennahda party in Tunisia, were either banned outright or mercilessly persecuted by the state because they constituted such a threat). Over the course of the recent revolutions, mosques became gathering points, imams and other clerics lent legitimacy to the protesters’ cause in some cases, and religious solidarity for many people was an important motivation for mobilization.

In other regions, these components are missing.


Latin America and Asia are far too heterogeneous and diverse in culture, language, religion and economics to mirror the Arab model. Regional identity does not exist to the extent that it does in the Middle East, and social, business and political networks are more localized.

However, it’s impossible not to see changes on the horizon in all of these regions. They might be country-specific and include a broader range of outcomes than regime change, but nonetheless they will be profound on a political and psychological level. Every country in the world will experience more revolutionary triggers, but most states will weather the storm, not least because they will have the opportunity to watch and learn from other countries’ mistakes. A collection of best practices will emerge among states to deflect, diffuse and respond to the charges presented by newly connected publics. (This is a reasonable assumption since the interior ministers in repressive states, responsible for policing and national security, visit with each other to share knowledge and techniques.) Issues like income inequality, unemployment, high food prices and police brutality exist everywhere, and governments will have to make preemptive adjustments to their policies and messages to address public demand more responsively than in earlier times. Even in comparably stable societies, leaders are feeling the pressure of a connected citizenry and recognizing the need for reform or adaptation in the new digital age because no government is invulnerable to these looming threats.

Nobody understands this combination of political pressures and technological challenges better than

Singapore’s prime minister,

Lee Hsien Loong, who is both a regional leader and a computer scientist by training. “

The Internet is good for letting off steam,” he told us, “but it can also be used to create new fires. The danger we face in the future is that it will be far easier to be against something than for it.” Young people everywhere, he explained, always want to be part of something cool, and “this social experience of being against authority means young people no longer need a plan. It has become far too easy for very minor events to escalate into lots of online activity that is exploited by opposition groups.”

Lee pointed to a recent event in his own country, known colloquially as “
Currygate.” “


Chinese immigrant and a Singaporean of Indian descent quarreled over the right to cook curry, given that the aroma seeps through the walls,” Lee said. The Chinese man considered his neighbor’s constant curry cooking inconsiderate, and, “in typical Singaporean fashion,” the two brought in a mediator to resolve the dispute. An agreement was reached: The Indian would cook curry only when his neighbor was out of town. That was the end of it until, years later, the mediator went public with his story. The Indian community in Singapore was outraged, incensed by the idea that the Chinese could dictate when people did or did not cook curry, and the situation escalated quickly. According to Lee, “What began as the declaration of a national curry-cooking day led to thousands of ‘likes’ and posts and a viral movement that captured the attention of the entire country.” Luckily for Lee, the online agitation around curry didn’t lead to massive protests in the streets, even though the rhetoric was highly charged at the time.

The protests in Singapore had little to do with curry and everything to do with the growing concerns about foreigners (particularly mainland Chinese) coming in and taking jobs. Unsurprisingly, opposition groups keen to push this agenda found Currygate an easy episode to exploit. For a country like Singapore, which prides itself on stability, efficiency and the rule of law, the broadcasting of such anger from so many citizens revealed a vulnerability in its system: Even in as tightly controlled a space as Singapore, government restrictions and social codes have limited leverage in the online world. For Lee, the episode foreshadowed a tide of online expression that the Singaporean leadership acknowledges will be impossible to roll back. If even the authorities in Singapore are feeling the heat of a newly connected civil society, imagine how nervous more fragile governments in other parts of the world must feel.

We asked Lee how he thought China would handle this transition, given that, in a decade, almost a billion Chinese citizens will become connected in a heavily censored society. “

What happens in China is beyond anyone’s full control, even the Chinese government,” he said. “China will have a difficult time accommodating all of these new voices, and the transition from a minority of the population online to the majority is going to be difficult for the leaders.” Concerning the subject of leadership, he added, “Successive generations of Chinese leaders will not have the charisma or communications skills to generate momentum among the population. In this sense, the virtual world will become far cooler and far more relevant to the Chinese people than the physical world.” Change, he said, would not just come from people outside the system: “It is people inside the system, the cadres of the Chinese establishment, who are influenced by the [street] chatter and who also have skeptical views of the legitimacy of the government.”

We agree with Lee and other regional experts that China’s future will not necessarily be bright. Some interpret projections of declining economic growth, an aging population and technology-driven change as indications that the Chinese state will soon be fighting for survival in its current form, while others suggest instead that these impending challenges will ultimately spur even more innovation and problem-solving from China. But ultimately it is difficult for us to imagine how a closed system with 1.3 billion people, huge socioeconomic challenges, internal ethnic issues and robust censorship will survive the transition to the new digital age in its current form. With greater connectivity will come greater expectations, demands and accountability that even the world’s largest surveillance state will not be able to control fully. In instances where law enforcement goes too far or cronies of the regime engage in reckless behavior that causes physical harm to Chinese citizens, we will see more public movements demanding accountability. Because ministers loathe embarrassment, pressure from weibos and other online forums can result in more pressure and change, eventually curbing the excesses of one-party rule.

So while the

Internet may not democratize China overnight, increased public accountability will put at least some pressure on the regime to act on the public’s demands for justice. And if economic growth should noticeably slow down, it could create a revolutionary opening for some elements of the population. China will experience some kind of revolution in the coming decades, but how widespread and effective it is will come down to the willingness of the population to take risks both online and in the streets.

Future revolutions, wherever they happen and whatever form they take, may change regimes, but they will not necessarily produce democratic outcomes. As
Henry Kissinger told us, “

The history of revolutions is a confluence of resentment that reaches an explosive point and it then sweeps away the existing structure. After that, there is either chaos or a restoration of authority which varies in inverse proportion to the destruction of previous authority.” In other words, following a successful revolution, “the more authority is destroyed, the more absolute the authority that follows is,” Kissinger said. Having experienced successful and failed revolutions over more than forty years, he has deep knowledge of their designs and character. The

United States and

Eastern Europe are the only cases, according to him, in which the destruction of the existing structure led to the creation of a genuine democracy. “In Eastern Europe,” he explained, “the revolutions succeeded because the experience of dictatorship was so bad, and there was a record of being Western and part of the democratic tradition, even if they were never democracies.”

While Kissinger’s point about the distinctness of Eastern Europe is well taken, we cannot dismiss the role that incentives play in the success of revolutions. We would be remiss to leave out the incredibly important incentive of being able to join the

European Union (E.U.). If E.U. membership had not been available as a political motive for liberal elites and populations as a whole and also as a stabilizing factor, we would likely have seen much more backsliding and counterrevolution in a number of different countries. This is why the Western powers had to expand

NATO and offer E.U. membership.

The absence of this democratic culture is part of the reason the overthrow of dictatorships during the

Arab Spring produced, in the eyes of some, merely watered-down versions of autocracies instead of pure Jeffersonian democracies. “Instead of having all power consolidated under one dictator,” Kissinger said, “they split themselves into various parties—secular and non-secular—but ultimately find themselves dominated by one Muslim party running a token coalition government.” The result will be coalition governments, which “The
NewYorkTimes will welcome as an expression of great democracy,” he joked, but really, “at the end of that process stands a government without opposition, even if it comes into being in a one-off election.”

Autocratic-leaning coalition governments, Kissinger predicts, will often be the form new governments produced by digital revolutions assume in the coming decades, less because of technology than because of the lack of strong, singular leaders. Without a dominant leader and vision, power-sharing governments emerge as the most viable option to pacify most participants, yet they’ll always run the risk of not distancing themselves sufficiently from the previous regime or the older generation of political actors.

Revolutions are but one manifestation of discontent. They stick out in our memories because they can often adopt romantic overtones, and be easily woven into human narratives about freedom, liberty and self-determination. With more technology come more anecdotes that capture our imagination and make nice headlines. Even when unsuccessful, revolutionaries occupy a particular position in our collective history that confers a certain respect, if begrudgingly so. These are

highly important components in human political development, central to our understanding of citizenship and

social contracts, and the next generation of technologies will not change this.

But while revolutions are how some pursue change within the system or express their discontent with the status quo, there will always be people and groups who pursue the same objectives through the most devastating and violent means. Terrorists and violent extremists will be as much a part of our future as they are our present. The next chapter will delve into the radicalization hotbeds of our future—both in the physical world and online—and explain how an extended battlefield will change the nature of

terrorism and what tools we have to fight it.


Feature extraction automatically identifies the presence, absence or status of important characteristics of a data set. In this case, key features might include the grade level of the writing, the frequency of emotionally charged words and the number of people cited in contexts, thereby indicating mentorship.


The post, by the Internet research firm

Renesys, displayed stunning data charts that showed the near-immediate disconnection of Egypt’s ISPs from the global network.


There was one exception to this all-ISP block:

Noor Group, which provided service to several prominent institutions like the

Egyptian Stock Exchange and the

Egyptian Credit Bureau, was left unrestricted until three days later.


The Egyptian regime was notoriously harsh on its underground gay community; on one infamous occasion, the Cairo vice squad raided a floating nightclub called the

Queen Boat and arrested fifty-five men, dozens of whom were convicted of debauchery and sent to prison.

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