After the Arab Spring: How the Media Trashed the Transitions

Issue Date October 2015
Volume 26
Issue 4
Page Numbers 90-99
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The media played a key role in mobilizing the Arab uprisings of 2010–11, but played a far more negative role in the transitions which ensued. Rather than constituting new public spheres for the negotiation of new identities and institutions, or acting as watchdogs on the emergent regimes, the media in most Arab states contributed to social polarization, popular discontent, and the resurgence of old regimes. While the potentially destructive role of media can be found in all attempted democratic transitions, the Arab cases had several unique characteristics, including the prominent role of transnational broadcasting, the new social media environment, and divisive questions about Islamist movements. This article traces the role of the media in the Arab transitions across three distinct levels: transnational broadcasting, domestic public and private broadcasting, and social media. All three played destructive roles, with transnational television becoming a weapon for proxy wars by regional powers, national media being captured by old elites and private interests, and social media encouraging polarization and informational clustering. Very similar patterns emerge in Egypt and Tunisia, the two key potential democratic transitions following the Arab uprisings.

About the Author

Marc Lynch is professor of political science and international affairs and director of the Project on Middle East Political Science at George Washington University.

View all work by Marc Lynch