“Guns trump cellphones,” writes Thomas Friedman in his New York Times column today.
“Bang-bang beats tweet-tweet.” He was referring to the power of Iranian government to crush the protesters by simply bringing out the guns. The uprising in Iran is unique in that moderates, which have failed to gain power in recent elections in the Middle East, can for the first time mobilize support via the Internet. Previously whoever controlled the mosques controlled the state. Twitter and YouTube have changed that equation in Iran.
Friedman rightly fears for the ultimate longevity of the Twitter Revolution on the streets of Tehran. “I doubt Ahmadinejad will go peacefully,” he writes. However, even if the Twitter Revolution succeeds in installing Mir Hussein Moussavi in the presidency, the political economy of Iran could remain essentially intact. Moussavi, remember, has refused to renounce Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
In other words, technological change, by itself, isn’t enough to bring about social and political change, especially if the economic order remains intact. No one owns the Internet, but vested interests own the network. Already the Revolutionary Guards are making noises about shutting down all digital online media that many
Iranians use to communicate among themselves and to send news of their
protests overseas. If the Guards succeed in shutting down the cellphone networks–and they’ve been nearly successful at least once before–no more Tweets with be heard from Iran.