Archive for January, 2011

The Network, Democracy and Mubarak

January 29, 2011


The Internet plays a key role in the world’s democratic development. The Internet generation is no longer satisfied with using the web as a playhouse, recreation center, or marketplace. Now they want to change the world and the web is all they need to become a self-organizing system. Mass demonstrations can be organized quickly, without any dangerous physical meetings, and organizers may have secret identities.

When Wikileaks released the “Thanksgiving dump” in November 2010 Tunisia’s dissidents got the documents that showed that the government was corrupt. The regime’s main weapon was to keep people ignorant, but Wikileaks and Internet communication made it impossible. Tunisia’s Jasmine revolution started a wave of democratic activism that we’ve only seen the beginning of.

Next country to peacefully democratize is Egypt – but on the evening of January 26 Egyptian President Mubarak started a massive counterstrike. The government closed down four major ISP:s so that 70 million Egyptians lost touch with each other and with the outside world. The real-time monitoring company Renesys confirms this world-historical event. Never before has so much Internet traffic been cut off so abruptly. Thus, Mubarak reveals himself as an undemocratic and irresponsible president, defending the state against its own people.

Blocking the major social networks – Facebook, Twitter, and SMS – can be devastating to Egypt. Peaceful demonstrations require a network of interconnections that can work as a ‘brain’ in the human macro-organism. Without this network, there is only a crowd of nervous people that easily can lose their common sense and end up in chaos.

The fight for new democratic forms

January 18, 2011


A lot of people await the breakthrough of online democracy. In the municipality Vallentuna in the Northern greater Stockholm area, the traditional party system is challenged by Demoex.

Demoex is known as the world’s first direct democratic Internet party. Since 2002, Demoex has held a seat in the local parliament. It has arranged over 800 votes on political issues and passed on 44 citizen petitions to the municipality council.

Demoex has tried but failed, to create a platform for joint public political debate on the web. The elected representatives from the traditional parties have refused to participate in this democratic experiment. Instead, they have marginalized Demoex throughout the years.

The greatest obstacle is the party system’s hierarchical structure. Hierarchies in politics mean that power is concentrated on only a handful of people. None of them benefit from sacrificing party interests for the benefit of a greater good.

Competition between ideas is important in politics, but the hierarchical system harms competition between ideas by blocking the free flow of information in order to protect the party’s mandate. Two recent examples:

September 6th, 2010: Demoex submitted an interpellation to implement a democratic experiment that stretches across party lines. The majority of the City Council even prohibited the interpellation from being put forward. Further, Demoex inquired whether the municipality would be willing to publish politicians’ blogs on the municipality’s website before the election. The mayor then claimed, that he could not possibly answer the question due to lack of information, although he had three months to investigate.

September 13th, 2010: Remuneration Committee proposes a dramatic increase in fees for the upcoming term. The municipality council’s board did not mention the issue beforehand on the agenda. The board decided that the chairmen of municipality boards together with the opposition party leader will have a 65 percent increase in salaries. It seems like a deliberate strategy to keep voters unaware of the increase.

What Vallentuna faces is not the traditional clash of parties, but a struggle between democratic systems. Unlike many e-gov initiatives, Demoex is a grassroots movement. Our aim is to give concerned citizens the right to vote on local political issues and thereby increase the degree of democracy. It is urgent, we believe, to implement and evaluate a full-scale experiment in a relatively calm place. The less peaceful world cannot wait too long.

What is the least we can do to change our political system to reward cooperation instead of competition? It is important that the change is as small as possible because it is extremely difficult to disrupt a stable hierarchy. According to the ‘Shock Doctrine’ theory once launched by Naomi Klein, real change can take place only when the political system is in sway. Demoex wants to show that we do not have to wait for future disasters before we change our political climate and start to cooperate.