Nov 1, 2009

Estrada, Karzai, Ahmadinejad and the Mobile Phone

In his piece about the new 'mobile public sphere,' Castellls uses Filipino President, Joseph Estrada, and the People Power II mobile protests as a case study for the phenomenon mobile technology aided political movements. In fact, Castells points to it as the first time a sitting President was ousted by a movement largely organized around mobile technology.

Castells also points to weak state, with highly corruptable governments as nations where mobile technology really takes hold among the population looking to find a communication method that is somehow removed from the government and their corruption. The Philippines under Estrada serves as one example, as does Iran during the Green Revolution, Afghanistan - where nearly 25% of the population is mobile enabled.

In all three nations, mobile technology was used to varying degrees in major political events.

In the case of the the Philippines, the 'People Power II' movement was successful because as Castells points out, Estrada was a movie star who felt sure of his star status and had no real political experience on a national level. In Iran however, since the time of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the nation was run under the grasp of a single leader with a very defined character as the leader of the nation. Though, since the Revolution of '79 there have been semblances of 'democracy' in Iran - a Parliament, a judiciary, elections, etc. the great majority of the power is still in the hands of the Supreme Leader. Unlike in Estrada's case, even if the President of Iran is not seen as particularly effective given their platform (Khatami), the people still know that there is a Supreme Leader with the characteristics usually associated with a national leader (regardless of popularity). In spite of this, government media blackouts, and government mobile spying technology, the Green Revolution was effective in that it was able to give the people of the world a glimpse into what was happening on the ground in Iran even as the government was cracking down and expelling foreign media outlets.

During the August 20th elections in Afghanistan, however, there was a much smaller mobile movement. Even though the Afghan election was just as contested (if not more) than the Iranian election of two months prior, unlike the Filipinos and Iranians, the people of Afghanistan today are largely illiterate and impoverished. The people of Afghanistan may have considered Karzai to be ineffective, illegitimate, and corrupt, but the Taliban threats coupled with lack of education kept the people from engaging in the election and its aftermath the way their Iranian brothers did. What little mobile reporting did come from the Afghan election either came from foreign media outlets and NGOs in Afghanistan or Afghan media moguls like Saad Mohseni.

Therefore, though all three nations were in the midst of unpopular regimes, the purported public opinions of the rulers, literacy, and security all worked to complicate the notion of the 'mobile public sphere' and its power.

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