Since November 2001, we've spent trillions of dollars in our failed attempts to bring more "democracy" to the Middle East and Afghanistan than already existed there. At the same time, we pumped scores and scores of billions into Egypt, hoping to shore up an authoritarian regime to whom we sent selected people, many of them innocent, to be tortured - some of them tortured to death.
Now, in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, Jordan, Syria and Iran, as people observe what appear to be huge advances in peoples' democracy in the area, radical changes seem to be underway. The three countries most worried about this are Saudi Arabia, Israel and the U.S.
We won't know whether or not the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings have successfully bought democracy to their people for some time. Meanwhile, though, the world can compare our costly, ineffectual efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq to other templates.
Al Jazeera appears to have come of age. Already, their coverage of the 2008-2009 Israeli incursion and crimes in Gaza, and of the Israeli interceptions of humanitarian relief convoys to Gaza were degrees of scale beyond what Americans got. But those events weren't nearly as important as is the Egyptian revolt.
Here's Al Jazeera's report on some of the background of the Egyptian upheaval:
Here's a plot of the twitter hive mind at work in Egypt over the past few days, done by Kovas Boguta. He describes the graphic:
The map is arranged to place individuals near the individuals they influence, and factions near the factions they influence. The color is based on the language they tweet in -- a choice that itself can be meaningful, and clearly separates different strata of society.
Many fascinating structures can be seen. Wael Ghonim, a pivotal figure in this self-organzing system who instigated the initial protests on January 25th, is prominently located near the bottom of the network, straddling two factions as well as two languages. The size of his node reflects his influence on the entire network.
The lump on the left is dominated by journalists, NGO and foreign policy types; it seems nearly gafted on, and goes through an intermediary buffer layer before making contact with the true Egyptian activists on the ground. However, this process of translation and aggregation is key; it is how those in Egypt are finally getting a voice in Western society, and an insurance policy against regime violence. Many of the prominent nodes in this network were at some point arrested, but their deep connectivity help ensure they were not "dissapeared".
Most of those in this network speak both English and Arabic, and their choice of language says a lot about both the movement and about Twitter. Some may choose to primarily communicate with their friends, while others make an effort to be visible to the rest of the world on purpose. They want to reach out, and connect with, the rest of the global society. The structure on the bottom, near Ghonim, seems entirely composed of this free intermingling.
In a case of ironic symbolism, the far left-most satellites are the Whitehouse, State Department, and Wael Ghonim's employeer, Eric Schmidt, who is merely a speck on the map. And that's probably how everyone in the rest of the network would like this future to look.