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Post Partisan
Posted at 05:31 PM ET, 03/31/2011

Learning how to topple a tyrant

Dobson is guest-blogging for The Post.


Last week I wrote a post asking whether the dramatic events sweeping across the Arab world might herald the beginning of a new democratic wave. If that is the case, I argued, the central element propelling this wave — which is moving incredibly fast — would be what are called “demonstration effects” — in essence, groups in one country witnessing events in another and then trying to replicate the results. So, for example, Egyptians watch events in Tunisia, and seeing their success, are emboldened to rise up against their own dictator. It is almost a domino theory for democracy promotion.

An underpinning of this argument is that the groups in one country are learning from the groups in another. When I traveled to Egypt a year ago, I met with members of the April 6th Movement, one of the youth groups which is believed to have played a key role in deposing Mubarak. In my conversations with them — and with other youth groups in other authoritarian countries — I often was told how these young activists were studying the example of Otpor, the Serbian youth group that toppled Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.

So let me show you just one example of this learning by youth groups across borders. The members of Otpor often thought about their struggle against Milosevic and his regime as a battle of brands. In their brand war, they created a sophisticated communication strategy aimed at getting Serbs to reconsider the man who was ruling their country. Here is a short commercial that Otpor created targeting Milosevic.

Now, here is a recent ad posted by a Sudanese youth group called Girifna that aims to end Omar al-Bashir’s dictatorial rule.

Do you think democratic youth groups in one country are studying the methods of those in another country? You bet.

 This morning I spoke with Srdja Popovic, one of the former leaders of Otpor. He originally had no idea that the young people in Girifna had made an ad that so closely replicated Otpor’s from more than a decade ago. A friend of his pointed it out. But neither was Popovic entirely surprised that it happened. “Things have become so much faster and cheaper, even in the last 10 years. We had to pay for pamphlets and stickers and what-have-you. The drop in the cost in labor time alone is huge,” says Popovic. “Now you create a Facebook page in 30 seconds and it costs you 15 cents for the Internet connection. These forces conquer state media.”

So, why are the revolutions in the Arab world moving so fast? Technology is part of the answer. But so is the speed with which young people can learn from each other. And they are clearly students of revolution.

By William J. Dobson  |  05:31 PM ET, 03/31/2011

 
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