There are many things that can be said about the internet, not all of them positive: It has become a forum where truth takes second place to traffic, and where rebellion for its own sake, almost Anarchy, has its own intrinsic value. There is one aspect of the Internet, however, that is unchallenged...The Internet has expanded access to information (good an bad, true and false) in ways that no prior medium ever managed.
Here is the conundrum faced by Arab leaders: if they want to improve the living conditions of their people, they need to improve their education, but if they improve their education, they will most likely gain access to the internet, thus gaining access to information that does not originate with the government...
Arab governments have in the past resorted to information control as a way to keep their hold on power. From presenting their people with an alternate version of news (remember that in 67' the Arabs in the street were convinced that Egypt had entered Tel Aviv) to Historical revisionism. With the advent of the Internet, all of that is far more difficult if not impossible.
As the Arab Middle Class gains access to the Internet, they become a challenge to the official version of reality. They can also see how people live in other countries and that raises the inevitable question: Why do people with the same level of education and similar jobs live so much better in the West than they do here? Growing discontent and simmering opposition grew beneat the surface long before it erupted in Tunisia.
Having said clearly that this movement sweeping the Arab world originates with the best educated segments of Arab society, it is not to deny that it spread fast and wide encompassing the masses, as witnessed by the recent strikes spreading through Egypt in opposition to the government. So it stands to reason that whatever new regime comes out of this crisis will definitely be more democratic and eager to embrace the principles of Modernity, opening the way for a modern, industrialized society with separation of religion of politics. Right?
Not necessarily. One other problem with the internet is that it makes individualism a supreme value, and organization and structure within virtual groups is tenuous at the best. The idea of disciplined action through internet community organizing is not one that can be easily accepted in an environment that predicates decentralization as a value. From the reports received from Egypt, it looks that there is hardly any (or none) consensus on where the country should go. The stepping down of the Mubarak regime at this point would therefore mean anarchy, out of which only those who can organize fast and impose discipline within their ranks will benefit. And the most organized and disciplined movement in Egypt right now is the Muslim Brotherhood, for they accept no dissent within their ranks. They did not start this movement, but they are the ones in the best position to take advantage of it.
When Saddam Hussein was removed from power in Iraq, Iraqi society descended into chaos and anarchy, forcing a continuous presence of allied troops to prevent a complete social collapse and civil war. Even the presence of troops did not completely control the chaos and might have even fanned the flames. Something similar could happen in Egypt.
Arab societies are paying the price of decades (in some cases centuries) of despotic governments controlling societies through brutal means. You can keep the lid down on people only for a while...sooner or later, the prospect of living under tyranny is less attractive than the prospect of dying while trying to overthrow it. Our own Declaration of Independence states:
...But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states...
The current situation has the potential of liberating the Arab people and allowing them to take their destiny in their own hands, but it also has the potential to pave the way for the Muslim Brotherhood and similar movements (Hamas comes to mind) to usurp the movement and take over, establishing a new tyranny that could be even worse than the current one. Events on the ground are still fluid and it is too early to know which way Egypt will go, but make no mistake: wherever Egypt goes, much of the Arab world will follow. We are living a pivotal time in Human history that can take us to a bright future of to a dark age of war and confrontation. And as Jews we also know very well that in the middle of all of it, the future of the Jewish State of Israel hangs in the balance...