Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Political Progress and the Protests in Egypt

In my lecture last night we covered Kant's "What is Enlightenment?" and his argument that political progress needs communication that is both made public as well as publicizable.

The publicity requirement concerns the number of people communication can reach, and the publicizability requirement means the communication must be interpretable by others.

Given the recent developments in Egypt over the past week I thought it would be useful to consider how Kant's insights might relate to current events.

The week of protests in Egypt were sparked by a number of factors- high unemployment (9.4%), allegations of political brutality and other human rights violations. Egypt has been under martial law since 1981 when the President was assassinated.

The following video from Al Jazeera illustrates a number of things: part of the rationale for the current protests (i.e. police brutality), but also the power new technologies (like facebook) have to convey messages quickly to people all over the world. Here is a news item from last summer that helps provide some background context for these protests:

If political progress is to be made in Egypt then the push for change must be somethings others can understand. Concerns about economic hardships and human rights violations would meet these requirements. However, there are many different groups pushing for change (including religious extremists), and so it is still unclear exactly what form change would take.

Today's "March of Millions" may help stoke political progress in the Middle East if it can convey a message others can understand and if it can reach large numbers of people. Regarding the latter, CNN reports that Egypt has shut down the internet, though The Guardian reports that Google and Twitter have launched a service to allow people in Egypt to send Twitter messages via voicemail. The influence of communication technologies on these developments might prove to be the biggest part of this story. And they relate in interesting ways to Kant's concern for the publicity of communication.

At this stage it is unclear what direction things will go in if President Mubarak does step down. The rest of the world, along with Egypt, is anxiously watching to see how things unfold.