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April 21, 2011

Digital Revolution

By Spear's

Looking at our panorama of the Middle East and North Africa in this issue, it may appear that you are peering not through a tightly-focused telescope but an ever-changing kaleidoscope.

LOOKING AT OUR panorama of the Middle East and North Africa in this issue, it may appear that you are peering not through a tightly-focused telescope but an ever-changing kaleidoscope. Colours, patterns, facets are shifting, and with pieces like Ben Lando’s dispatch on the HNWs of Baghdad  and Sophie McBain’s investigation of the recovery (or otherwise) of Dubai, we see the turmoil vividly. Needless to say, the Arab Spring — whose subtle connection with Marrakech’s luxury hotels Josh Spero tries to understand — is the greatest tumult of all.

Our cover, by Jerwood Prize-winner Adam Dant, embodies the same message of ceaseless change. Adam has adapted, as he often does, an existing masterpiece — in this case, David Roberts’ A View in Cairo (1840), which is in the Royal Collection — and brought it into the 21st century. With his figures reading Spear’s on their iPad (the app is coming later this year), there is also a nod to Ludwig Deutsch’s A Gathering Around the Morning News, Cairo (1885).

We hear a lot about the role of such technology in the Arab Spring: are these iRevolutions, created or inspired or enabled by Twitter, Facebook and the like, or is technology a mere adjunct to the burning social and economic issues? Does the spread of the digital make freedom more likely, or is e-censorship matching it device for device?

The information obtainable through these means has helped, but it is the communication they allow which has been key: those striving for freedom can talk to one another, support one another, arrange meetings and protests, but they can also convey to the outside world what is going on. In a state like Burma, when the military junta turned off the internet, its rebellion lost the world’s gaze.

Unlike with the Cold War, when the West flaunted Levi’s jeans and rock music to the Soviet bloc, we are not seeing a materialistic yearning for freedom in the youth; rather, mobile phones and the internet are the means, not the end. As for the end of the Arab Spring, no-one can tell.

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