Revolution gets an image update in Northeastern Africa

At least once every generation something profound happens that changes the tide of history. And by profound I mean even those of us nose deep in books and elbows deep in pizza look up to pay attention.

What we’ve been watching transpire in northeastern Africa and in the Middle East over the last few weeks has added another notch in the belt of a most familiar word: revolution.

Originally meaning “to revolve,” as in what the planets do, the term revolution has come to mean something else entirely. Something inspiring. Something powerful. Something consequential. And while we proudly carry that badge of honor, protesters across the planet are earning it now. Their revolution will also be listed in the history books.

Beyond the politics, there are some specific and particularly fascinating aspects to this revolution.

Probably the most phenomenal aspect of this revolution is way the protests have spread.  Although historians argue protests and revolutions have often been spread in similar fashion, this particular revolution has its own, unique story to tell.

Beginning in Tunisia last year after a businessman set himself on fire to protest police confiscation of his vegetable cart, the revolution spread to Egypt, Algeria and Yemen. Syria and Jordan are some of the most recent additions. Sure, the results remain questionable, but in many countries entire cabinets have been removed and several presidents have vowed not to seek reelection.

Another important part in the spread of this revolution is how it has been communicated.  From the beginning we saw how social media and the Internet were involved in this revolution. Many experts rightly argue that revolutions and protests happened before the Internet (Google Tiananmen Square for more information). Yet that comparison fails to see the true magic technology has created in the midst of these protests.

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Twitter was a faster communicator than CNN. Pictures from smart phones let the entire world experience what was happening, unedited, raw and honest.  And even after the government shut down Internet service providers and phone companies, these desperate people found a way to communicate. The government cannot shut down this revolution; the people will be heard.  And read.  And Tweeted.  And YouTubed.

Finally, this revolution began in a relatively peaceful manner. Though not immune to the horrors of riot and revolution (ask Anderson Cooper for one), especially as of late, this particular event has shown amazing restraint from violence. Photos from Egypt flooded in showing citizens greeting army soldiers and even climbing on board tanks with them. Although they were not entirely successful, citizens and soldiers did their best to protect the Egyptian National Museum, a showing of extraordinary restraint and consideration in the midst of revolution. And in Bejaia, Algeria 10,000 protesters came, protested and left peacefully.

Of course, those images are relative to the numerous copy-cat instances of protesters setting themselves on fire throughout the region as well as the police officers who allegedly dressed as civilians and joined the riots.

So while the entire situation is much more complex and much less idealized than this short article can explain, a macro look demonstrates the very impressive and defining factors in this particular revolution.