Monday, February 14, 2011

Cuba, Egypt, and the Booming Blogosphere (Cyber-Roundup)

Commentaries, contrasts, analogies, and comparisons between Egypt and Cuba continue to pour forth across the blogosphere.  This post will highlight a number of them and attempt to summarize the most interesting.

  • Miriam Celaya at her blog SinEVAsion, "Fantasies and Realities of Virtual 'Rebellion'": "In Cuba there is practically no access to the Internet nor do many Cubans have access to social networks. This makes it almost impossible for a democratic liberation to grow out of cyberspace, whether it be via the computers or perhaps simply via the cellphones of our combative cyber-activists of the moment. [At the same time] it is certain that in Cuba there exist practically all the necessary conditions to produce a social uprising. [...] Paradoxically, on our island the absence of a manifestation of mass protest is not due to the conditions that currently exist, but to those that DO NOT EXIST and prove determinant."
  • At her blog Mala Letra, Regina Coyula largely agrees with Celaya in a much more succinct post, but ends her commentary with this note of hope: "If as they say, each country has the government it deserves, then this is the government we get through our ration booklet. But we should not forget that our veteran ration card is on the road to elimination."
  • A response to Celaya and Coyula is at Punt de Vista.
Two enlightening posts on China, Egypt, Cuba, and the "Dictator's Dilemma":

  • First, this from Larry Press, a professor of information systems and an old hand at studying the Cuban Internet going back to the mid-1990s: "While there is some degree of access or content control in every nation, those with relatively free political systems, tend to be more open. Dictatorial governments seek to control access to political information. At the same time, they recognize that the Internet can be a source of economic productivity and improved health care, education, and quality of life. This presents a 'dictator's dilemma' -- the desire to have the benefits of the Internet without the threat of political instability. How do you give people access to information for health care, education, and commerce while blocking political information?"
  • And this from Zeynep Tufekci, "Seven Theses on Dictator’s Dilemma": Egypt’s apparent move to shut off Internet has called for revisiting the so-called “dictator’s dilemma,” i.e. the idea that authoritarian governments cannot have their Internet cake and eat it, too. The dilemma is often framed as this: “If they allow Internet to spread within the country, it poses a threat to their regime. If they don’t, they are cut off from the world–economically and socially.”  China’s successful and widespread filtering of the Internet has caused many people to revaluate whether it was possible to allow the non-politically threatening parts of the Internet through while filtering out material that a regime finds objectionable.  I would like to argue that the dictator’s dilemma is alive and well but, as with many other aspects of this debate, the reality does not lend itself well to simplistic analysis.  1- The capacities of the Internet that are most threatening to authoritarian regimes are not necessarily those pertaining to spreading of censored information but rather its ability to support the formation of a counter-public that is outside the control of the state. It is not that people are waiting for that key piece of information to start their revolt, but that they are isolated, unsure of the power of the regime, unsure of their position and potential.  2- Dissent is not just about knowing what you think but about the formation of a public. [click above to read all seven of her theses]
CubaEncuentro holds a Q&A with various academics, writers, and Cuba experts each of whom answer the question: "¿Podría el descontento popular lograr la caída de la cúpula gobernante en la Isla?" [Could popular discontent lead to the fall of the governing power in Cuba?] (also see hereherehere, and here for articles about what high-speed Internet might (and might not) mean for for web access for the cubano de a pie.

  • Nick Miroff has a good summary of these and other "Cyber-War" events up at the Global Post.

  • The Nuevo Herald chimes in as does an editorial at the Miami Herald: "Cuba is No Egypt": "The flip side of this officially sanctioned terror [in Egypt] was the attempt to create a kind of fictional democracy to give the state the appearance of legitimacy. Thus, Egypt’s citizens had access to the Internet. Opposition (closely watched and within strict limits) was allowed in the media. The anti-regime Muslim Brotherhood was officially banned, but its underground survival tolerated. Rival political parties exist, at least on paper. Until now, foreign reporters have operated freely and with little fear of harassment. Uncensored TV news from sources like Al-Jazeera was widely seen. Cuba is a different place..."

  • A variety of conflicting opinions on the "Cyber-police" video are up at Penultimos Dias.

  • Fidel, an expert on revolt and revolution if there ever was one, chimes in (without of course directly mentioning today's Cuba): "The people don't defy repression and death or remain entire nights protesting forcefully over simply formal issues. They do so when their legal and material rights are sacrificed mercilessly to the insatiable demands of corrupt politicians and to the national and international circles that loot the country. [...] We support the Egyptian people and their valiant struggle for their political rights and social justice." (H/T translation Cuban Colada)

1 comment:

  1. Wow -- I didn't think anyone read those old reports on Cuba.

    I've got a more nuanced view of the "dictator's dilemma" these days. For a recent post on the dictator's dilemma in Cuba, see: