I would like to begin by saying that I enjoyed hearing Khalid Albaih speak last Tuesday. His discussion gave me a new perspective on revolutions and how the modern revolution is very different to some of the historical revolutions that we learn about in school. His discussion about the use of social media in the Arab Spring, as well as his personal use of cartoons as a means to inspire revolution, is quite contrary to everything that I have learned about revolutions to this point.
For me, when I hear about a country having a revolution, I immediately think of one place- Cuba. Since I studied abroad there last fall, the Cuban revolution automatically serves as my reference point for any other revolution. Listening to Khalid Albaih speak about his experience as a “revolutionary” in the Arab Spring in 2013 showed me firsthand how much revolutions have evolved as time has passed.
During my time in Cuba, I studied the Cuban Revolution as a part of my Cuban history class. We learned about Fidel Castro and Che Guevara slowly making their way across Cuba from east to west and convincing people slowly about their movement and building momentum for their revolution that way. Eventually, after years of building their revolution (in front of the Cuban government at the time), they eventually succeeded in rolling into Havana and taking the capital.
From Khalid Albaih’s discussion, I learned just how much the model for a revolution has changed since the 1950s. He described how he and others involved in the revolutions used social media as a vehicle to transmit information about the revolution to others. By using Facebook as a means of communication, Arab revolutionaries were able to give each other information under the nose of the current government regimes. This is the complete opposite of how Fidel and Che operated during their overthrow of Fulgencio Batista in 1959.
This comparison between the Arab Spring and the Cuban Revolution also prompted me to think about a particular question that was asked of Khalid Albaih during the discussion. “Do revolutions start with a democratic movement?” This is a particularly interesting question to reflect on when thinking about these two revolutions in particular. In the case of the Cuban Revolution, the answer is most likely no. While Batista was initially fairly elected as the President of Cuba, he later became the dictator before being overthrown by the Cuban Revolution. While Che and Fidel did not promise a democratic movement, they did inspire a complete shift to another political system.
It is this complete shift of political systems that I believe is critical when starting a revolution, and I think we saw it as well during the Arab Spring. In the case of these revolutions, people wanted intellect and freedom within the system. By using social media, Arab revolutionaries were able to appeal to the youth and again change completely their political system.