The Arab Spring And Other Propaganda

The Arab Spring is a term used to describe the uprisings which took place in the Middle East starting in 2011, and which came to a head sometime toward the end of 2013. The expression Arab Spring is a piece of propaganda by itself, with plenty of geopolitical implications in just two words. The period it describes was rife with other propaganda which is still being rampantly spread today. The reason this propaganda, which would typically die off after the end of a revolution, is still so widely consumed is due to the power of the internet. Propaganda featured heavily in the revolutions of countries such as Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Tunisia. Messages of anger, hope, freedom, oppression, and war have been more widely viewed during the Arab Spring than at any other time in history. Propaganda in the Arab Spring has been produced and consumed differently and more questionably than in any past revolutions because it harnessed the power of the internet and social media.

In my project I focus on giving an overview of propaganda used during the Arab Spring. I go over who used it, when, what the message was, and what tools were used to spread this information. For example, I have already discussed that the term Arab Spring is a piece of propaganda in itself. The phrase was first used in 2005 to refer to short lived pro democracy movements in the Middle East. It became mostly unused until 2011 when a political magazine used the term to discuss the growing civil unrest in the Arab world. Calling these revolutions the Arab Spring is very popular in the West because the phrase is meant to imply new beginnings and positive growth, because it sounds pleasant and uplifting. However, many Arab activists and intellectuals are uncomfortable with the term because they know the revolts could mean very rough times ahead for their nations.

From that jumping off point, I delve deeper into propaganda usage during that period. From the very beginning of the Arab uprisings, people were skeptical about what impact the internet and social media would have on the spread of political messages and misinformation. Some stories became viral and were used as fuel for the Arab Spring fire, but they sometimes had incorrect information tied in with them. For example, many people have heard the story of Mohammed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor who lit himself on fire after being repeatedly abused by government officials. While that general information is true, when the story was first spread, it was reported that he was a university graduate who could not find work. However, he had never even quite finished high school. While this doesn’t mean the story has no power, it is an example of how misinformation can be used as propaganda to enhance a message and how it can proliferate easily in the modern age.

In Syria, cyber warfare was in full swing during the revolution. People would spam others who had conflicting political views, the government would crack down on people who spoke out against them online, and news organizations’ accounts were hacked. The government even used phishing tactics by setting up fake internet portals to steal the accounts of average citizens. Elsewhere, like in Egypt, social media propaganda very successful in rallying the people. After 28 year old Khaled Said was beaten to death by policemen in June 2010, an image of his brutally mangled face went viral online. An internet activist, Wael Ghonim, created the Facebook page “We Are All Khaled Said” and it quickly became a hub to share information about the revolution and organize protests against the Egyptian government. It helped in the fight to finally end the 30 year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak.

Throughout history, street art and graffiti have been used to share opinions and criticize those in power. Before the Arab Spring, this type of political art was not commonly seen in the Middle East. During the revolutions it became prevalent in most major cities of those countries affected. Not only that, but thanks to the internet this propaganda which would normally have to be seen in person is readily available to view online. It is also worth noting that propaganda surrounding the Arab Spring is not only distributed and viewed in the Middle East. In fact, much of what we see on American and Western news programs could be considered propaganda. We typically only hear news about successful air and drone strikes, not those which miss targets or kill civilians. We hear about it whenever ISIS does something bad, but not when an allied or oil rich government commits atrocities against its own people. Just because we are not in the Middle East does not mean we as a people do not create and consume our own forms of Arab Spring propaganda.

With the world wide web, propaganda can now be created and spread anywhere with alarming speed. Even in Libya, the country with possibly the worst internet in the world, social media’s ability to carry shocking and informative messages and video footage in and out of the country is impressive. The phrase Arab Spring may be propaganda itself, but the use of such propaganda during this period has also ensured that the spread of information during times of conflict and uprising will never be the same again. I will end with my favorite uplifting, possibly propaganda rife video from the Arab Spring in Libya, brought to you by NATO.

8 thoughts on “The Arab Spring And Other Propaganda

  1. Matthew Ryan

    I also wrote about the influence of the internet in the Arab Spring. However, I was surprised by the direction you took this, in a good way of course. I never thought about how the revolutions would also produce “Arab Spring Propaganda”. I found it interesting how the term “Arab Spring” is a popular and very liked term by the western world because it promotes happy feelings and ideas, but many Activists in the Arab world don’t really like the term because they know there will be hard times to come because of the uprising. I also talked about how the Internet made it so the whole world could be a part of the revolution. However, I did not think about how other countries could view the uprisings in different ways, especially in a more positive light than many activists actually saw them. Im glad you brought that up!

    Reply
    1. Aaron Millet Post author

      I think a lot of what we see on American television could really be considered propaganda. We are always the good guys with young, handsome, heroic faces leading the charge. Additionally the language used has a huge effect on our impressions. If we had called this series of pro democracy movements that Arab Insurrection for example, it would still describe the situation approximately, but would have a very negative vibe. The world is definitely a different place now that everyone can see every event unfold, that’s for sure.

      Reply
  2. Tyler Coleman

    I totally agree about the propaganda usage in Syria and however one of the main catalyst was the street art that let the on-line propaganda bloom

    Reply
    1. Aaron Millet Post author

      I agree, street art has always played an important role in revolutionary activity, at least by my reckoning. I did mention in my project that it is particularly interesting that said street art can now be viewed world wide at any time instead of just in person or on the news.

      Reply
  3. Brian Letourneau

    Aaron this was a very interesting paper. I like how you bring up the point of the Arab Spring itself being propaganda because this is something I hadn’t though about before. It’s also interesting how you said the “term implies new beginnings and positive growth, because it sounds pleasant and uplifting.” The west until recently focused on Tunisia and Egypt which are countries were able to bring change. Now we are starting to really look at Syria with the increase of violence and the Islamic State, but there are other nations like Yemen who are falling into rough times themselves with the civil war. The Arab Spring hasn’t been pleasant and uplifting. In reality Arabs have gone through a tremendous amount to overthrow regimes and bring positive change, and many Arabs are still struggling and will continue to struggle.
    It’s also interesting the points your brought up about how social media helped spread and fuel the propaganda. The example of Mohamed Bouazizi being said to have been a university graduate unable to find work makes the already horrible situation look even worse. If it was just reported that an uneducated man was unable to find work and did this some might have said that he should have studied to get a degree and then a job. Regardless of what personal opinions people have on this situation his actions were able to start Arab Spring in Tunisia and bring positive change to his country.
    I also found the imagery you included with your piece very powerful and gave multiple perspectives I haven’t though about to events.

    Reply
    1. Aaron Millet Post author

      I think a lot of people don’t realize how very simple everyday news headlines can actually be propaganda in a sense. A phrase like The War On Christmas is very much inflammatory and incites anger amongst some, and I would definitely consider it propaganda speech. The Arab Spring may be meant to imply positivity, but that’s exactly what you have to consider, who that positivity is targeted at. Now that we can look at the awful results in Syria, Yemen, and Libya for example, we know the Arab Spring was not all positive new growth, at least not yet. It will take a very long time for Syria to recover even after the war there ends. I liked that story about Bouazizi because it showed how even a small piece of misinformation can really characterize a story in a different light. We have to be careful of all the stories and media we consume, and not be blind to potential inaccuracy, intentional or not.

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  4. Shane Queeney

    This is a very well written paper covering many of the aspects of propaganda. It is neat that we can see propaganda from all sides of a conflict. I looked at a piece of state sponsored propaganda in Box Office Borderlands that could have really only spread in our internet age. It was a song and music video supporting Iran in it’s nuclear deal posted on Youtube, spread over social media, and targeting the tech savvy youth of the nation. This is similar to the spread of propaganda during the Arab Spring as social media was a huge part in the spread of information and the main protest group consisted of the youth of the nation. It is interesting to see how much propaganda was created for the revolutionaries cause, even twisting the truth with Mohammed Bouazizi’s past to gain more support. I guess it’s unavoidable with all parties wanting as much support as they can.

    Reply
    1. Aaron Millet Post author

      Isn’t that just crazy that there are now songs, popular worldwide, which have a voice in topics such as nuclear deals with Middle Eastern countries? That didn’t have to be performed by U2? If you think about it, it’s sort of similar to protest songs from the 1960’s about the Vietnam war, but even most of those were made and performed by big name groups. Now someone with no internet following can create a YouTube account and share their voice internationally.

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