It is incredible to observe the speed of revolutions in these Internet days. Just a generation ago, pent-up anger once it was finally released into street protests and mass demonstrations did not translate into actual change for months or even years.
The delay in getting results was matched by the delay in getting international attention and thereby international public support. The 1979 Iranian Revolution actually began in 1978. It took almost exactly one year from the time several thousand people poured into the streets to demonstrate against the Shah in early January 1978 until the Shah departed Iran forever in mid-January 1979.
The French Revolution took nearly 10 years, starting from the discontent of May 1798 that led to the storming of the Bastille prison in July of 1798, even through to the executions by guillotine of the last king of France, Louis XVI, (by then referred to as citizen Louis) and his wife Queen Marie Antoinette in 1793, till finally a short-statured army general named Napoleon Bonaparte took over the chain of command in the country.
Tunisia however, happened in just 28 days. Mohamed Bouazizi, the 26-year-old who self-immolated thus lighting the fires of his nations revolution, committed the public act of suicide on December 17, 2010. The Tunisian public took to the streets from then on, further fueled by Bouazizis death on January 4, 2011. Exactly 28 days after Bouazizis act, the long-presiding President Zine el Abedine Ben Ali took flight.
In Egypt, the mass demonstrations have only been taking place since January 25 the day of rage set aside in honor of Khaled Saeed, the 28-year-old whose death was chosen by rights activists to represent the many others who lost their lives in extrajudicial killings in Egypt. Already, though it has been just over a week, Egypts President of nearly 30 years, Hosni Mubarak, has realised his very precarious situation. He has sent his son Gamal the successor to the Mubarak throne, so to speak to London. He has also sent away his wife, Suzanne Mubarak. He has made a feeble and poorly-received attempt at speaking to the nation but for reasons that are still unexplained, the speech was recorded rather than delivered live. He has been completely invisible to the public in his hour of reckoning and more than anything, even his most powerful allies are finding themselves cornered into distancing themselves from him in a way that can only foreshadow an end to his rule.
All revolutions are rooted in a desperate need to address basic needs such as poverty, unemployment, injustice and all the hopelessness those things beget. But the method with which the peoples anger is communicated has changed dramatically over the centuries, with none being faster than the Internet. During the French revolution the publication and distribution of pamphlets against the monarchy were used to flare the publics anger and assure the public of an organized and united front for change. In Iran, the effective printing and distribution of similar anti-government literature was boosted by the use of anti-government audio cassette tapes which were easily copied and disseminated throughout the nation.
But starting most prominently with the 2009 post-election demonstrations in Iran, through to the first complete Internet revolution in Tunisia, the Internet with its instant, pervasive, and extensive reach, has left past revolutions in its wake. More than just organizing protest events and accumulating supporters, the Internets intensity has been critical to the momentum of already commenced protests because of its voluminous and rapid dissemination of reporting. In short, those sensitive first days of public protest are given the much-needed boost and attention including international attention which they need to survive through to the moment of change.
While the Internet does not start revolutions poor governing which fails to address a publics basic human needs can be credited for that it seems very much to be involved in completing them, at least nominally. Whatever happens to Egypt in the next days and weeks, the precedent of Tunisia, no matter how unique its exact circumstances were, will endure in the memories of people in other nations. People everywhere now know that in this Internet age, revolutions are possible. What still remains to be seen is whether the Internet can be as effective in assisting with concrete economic and social change as it has been in ousting the leaders who personified such profound societal ills.
The writer is a US-based political analyst and a fomer Producer for BBC and Al-Jazeera. Follow her on Twitter @ShirinSadeghi