A remarkable event happened last week. After 23 years of ruling Tunisia with an iron fist, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled the country, seeking refuge in Saudi Arabia. It was the dramatic culmination to a month of street protests across the North African nation.
The fuse was lit when an unemployed university graduate doused himself with gasoline, lighting himself on fire. Fueled by anger over growing unemployment (one-third of college graduates have no work) and rampant corruption, Tunisians took to the streets, confronting the repressive regime.
It’s no state secret that the government is corrupt. Relatives of the president and his wife have reaped vast fortunes and live in opulence. But documents revealed by Wikileaks added evidence to the simmering outrage.
Remember the secret U.S. diplomatic cables released late last year? Here’s one from 2008 written by an American diplomat in Tunis: “Corruption in Tunisia is getting worse. Whether it’s cash, services, land, property, or yes, even your yacht, President Ben Ali’s family is rumored to covet it and reportedly gets what it wants.”
And there’s more: “The numerous stories of familial corruption are certainly galling to many Tunisians, but beyond the rumors of money-grabbing is a frustration that the well-connected can live outside the law. One Tunisian lamented that Tunisia was no longer a police state, it had become a state run by the mafia. ”
You can read the dirty details on Tunileaks, a site created by dissidents to expose state corruption. Although the government tried to take down the site, the juicy details have already circulated widely in the Arab world.
Tunisia, a former French colony, has a large middle class and an educated, technology savvy population. Since the protests began, organizers have used Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and blogs to spread the word.
The government applied its formidable censorship apparatus to block these channels with limited success. The key to the regime’s longevity was its ability to suppress information. Those days are over. The new interim government has pledged to dismantled state control of the media.
While it’s tempting to credit the Internet for the overthrow of the government, as one writer tweeted, “The Internet facilitates communication, but it alone doesn’t keep people in the streets for four weeks.” The courage of the Tunisian people deserves full credit.
As word of the uprising spreads, fear has rippled across the Arab world. Which dictator will be next? Protests have now erupted in Egypt, ruled by another iron-fisted despot. The revolution will not be televised; it will be tweeted.
There’s no doubt that YouTube has had a profound effect on life as we know it. It started as the simplest of ideas–a way to easily share video clips online. YouTube now provides a global platform for millions of people to share their world. We upload twenty-four hours of video to the site every minute and watch one billion videos each day. Viewership exceeds the prime-time audience of the three U.S. networks–a remarkable achievement.
Who could have foreseen this explosive and game-changing growth when the first YouTube video went online? It’s an unremarkable 19 second clip shot at the San Diego zoo. As of this post, it’s been viewed more that 2.6 million times. From this humble beginning, YouTube has hosted a CNN presidential primary debate and given Iranian protesters a powerful platform to show their struggle against a repressive regime.
From its humble beginnings as an Internet start-up in 2005, barely a year later, YouTube was bought by Google for $1.65 billion. The search giant’s deep pockets and engineering prowess has fueled the site’s explosive growth, if not its bottom line. YouTube management claims the site has not turned a profit, although it expects to soon. I can only imagine the cost of storing and serving all that video data. The electricity alone for the server farm can power a small nation.
To celebrate its fifth birthday, YouTube has launched a channel with some of the more memorable clips. It’s also encouraging fans to submit videos about how the site has changed their lives. For more on the social media features of YouTube, here’s a timely article for your reading enjoyment.