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Latest update : 2011-02-28

TECH 24: The Internet, the Libyan uprising, hip-hop, and the Arab world

In this edition of TECH 24, hosts Rebecca Bowring and Eric Olander explore the role the internet is playing in the Libyan uprising. Also, every revolution has a soundtrack and this one is set to a hip-hop beat. Finally, the verdict on the movie industry's latest digital efforts to get you to actually pay for their content.

In sharp contrast to the internet-fueled uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the current turmoil in Libya is considerably more 'analog.'  Even before anti-government rebels took to the streets to rally against President Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan government imposed far stricter control over its communications networks than in its North African neighbours. Access to Arab-language satellite channels is regularly jammed.

The country is far less communications savvy than others struck by this latest wind of defiance. Internet penetration is much lower than its neighbours and control of the country's major telecom operators was in the firm grip of the president's eldest son, Muhammed Gaddafi.  

Furthermore, when the anti-government demonstrations first began in eastern Libya, there were no foreign correspondents from any international media reporting from inside the country. However, in both Egypt and Tunisia, networks like FRANCE 24, Al Jazeera and others were on the ground in both countries.

The Dictator's Dilemma

The Libyan leader, like his counterparts across North Africa, has been confronted with a phenomenon known as the "Dictator's Dilemma." Twice so far, Tripoli followed Egypt's precedent and shut down access to the internet and phone communcations.

However, it did not take long before the networks were back up again, suggesting that there may be more at play here than just the leadership's wish to appease public opinion. 

Instead, a growing number of academics believe that autocratic families like those of Gaddafi, Ben Ali and Mubarak, have much of their personal fortunes tied up in companies that depend on the same information networks that are being used to subvert their authority.

Their dilemma: keep the networks on to preserve their financial interests while at the same time risk having those same digital technologies used to help overthrow their regimes.

Scholar Evgeny Morozov explains the "Dictator's Dilema"

The Soundtrack of a Revolution

With over 50 percent of the population across North Africa under the age of 30, this demographic bulge is far more comfortable assimilating digital technology into their daily lives than that of their parents' generation.

It is not just the text, images and videos that have been the staples of the 24-hour news coverage of the past few weeks. Music, specifically hip-hop, is also serving as a vital communications channel among the under-30s that have, to a large extent, gone unnoticed by much of the international news media.

The anger, frustrations and passions that have fueled the rage on the streets are all central themes of Arabic-language rap and hip-hop. Just as emails and text messages are exchanged across the network, so are the music files that have become the soundtrack of these recent uprisings.

Arabic language hip-hop artist Ibn Thabit

 

 

 

 

 

By Eric Olander

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