Source: Japan Times
The internet and social media were once hailed for creating new opportunities to spread democracy and freedom. And Twitter, Facebook and other social media did indeed play a key role in popular uprisings in Iran in 2009, in the Arab world in 2011 and in Ukraine in 2013-2014. Back then, the tweet did at times seem mightier than the sword. But authoritarian regimes soon began cracking down on internet freedom. They feared the brave new digital world, because it was beyond the reach of their analogue security establishments. Their fears proved unfounded. In the event, most social media-enabled popular uprisings failed for want of effective leadership, and traditional political and military organizations retained the upper hand.
In fact, these regimes have begun to wield social media for their own ends. We have all heard the allegations that Russia covertly used social media to influence electoral outcomes in Ukraine, France, Germany and, most famously, in the United States. Facebook has estimated that Russian content on its network, including posts and paid ads, reached 126 million Americans, around 40 percent of the nation’s population. We should recall earlier accusations by Russia of the West’s role in fomenting the “color revolutions” in Ukraine and Georgia. The internet and social media provide another battlefield, it seems, for the surreptitious manipulation of public opinion.
If even the most technologically advanced countries cannot protect the integrity of the electoral process, one can imagine the challenges facing countries with less know-how. In other words, the threat is global. In the absence of facts and data, the mere possibility of manipulation fuels conspiracy theories and undermines faith in democracy and elections at a time when public trust is already low. READ MORE…
A fter the announcement of a complete victory over terrorism in Iraq, many countries have already indicated their interest in bolstering economic cooperation with Baghdad, Fallah al-Lami, the UN adviser on the Iraqi economy, told Sputnik. Al-Lami recalled that in the past few months, “many delegations from government and private companies in Europe and the US have visited Iraq.” In particular, he referred to a recent meeting between Iraqi Central Bank officials and representatives of Airbus and Total as well as a visit by UK Prime Minister Theresa May and a spate of American companies. “All this points to the revival of Iraq. After announcing a final victory over terrorism, many have indicated that they want to invest in different areas of the Iraqi economy. Iraq is becoming a lucrative and attractive place for economic cooperation,” al-Lami pointed out.read more
After the liberation of Mosul, ISIS is unlikely to govern Iraq anytime soon; however, the ascendancy of Shiite militia groups leaves the country in a volatile state. These militia groups have multiple identities and complexities with differing degrees of integration into the Iraqi state, engagement with the international community, and cooperation with Iran. The plethora of groups has resulted in multiple clashes and rivalries among the militias, which further destabilizes Iraq.read more
The Arab Spring fostered hope for democratic reforms across the Middle East and North Africa region. Few of these hopes have come to fruition, with political violence, suppression of dissenting voices, and economic turmoil marking the region, rather than the political and economic reforms that had once seemed possible. In the realm of women’s rights, however, we are seeing slow progress.read more
Averting famine will require Saudi Arabia to permit the resumption of commercial shipping of food and fuel to the besieged country. Yemen is on course for a famine whose death toll could reach the millions, says Oxfam America’s Scott Paul, an expert on humanitarian policy. The country relies on imports for its fuel, food, and medicine, but shipments slowed to a trickle after Saudi Arabia began policing Yemeni ports in 2015 as part of a campaign to push Houthi rebels and their allies loyal to ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh out of Sana’a. After intercepting a missile fired at Riyadh from Yemen in early November, Saudi Arabia ratcheted up its blockade, sealing off rebel-held ports. Though it has since permitted some humanitarian aid, only a resumption of commercial shipments can avert famine, Paul says.read more
The Saudi elites have realized, perhaps for the first time, that they too can be subject to the same unjust, lawless prosecutions previously reserved mostly for political dissidents and terrorism. Saudi elites had long been immune to the worst failures of this brutal system. Their wealth and freedom to travel — sometimes by virtue of a handy second passport from a Western country — allowed them to flee the social, political and religious confines of their Riyadh homes. Now they know that no one is really safe when there are no laws or institutions to protect you.read more