Open Networks, Closed Regimes

Open Networks, Closed Regimes: The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule

Shanthi Kalathil
Taylor C. Boas
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 218
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  • Book Info
    Open Networks, Closed Regimes
    Book Description:

    As the Internet diffuses across the globe, many have come to believe that the technology poses an insurmountable threat to authoritarian rule. Grounded in the Internet's early libertarian culture and predicated on anecdotes pulled from diverse political climates, this conventional wisdom has informed the views of policymakers, business leaders, and media pundits alike. Yet few studies have sought to systematically analyze the exact ways in which Internet use may lay the basis for political change. In Open Networks, Closed Regimes,the authors take a comprehensive look at how a broad range of societal and political actors in eight authoritarian and semi-authoritarian countries employ the Internet. Based on methodical assessment of evidence from these cases -China, Cuba, Singapore, Vietnam, Burma, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt -the study contends that the Internet is not necessarily a threat to authoritarian regimes.

    eISBN: 978-0-87003-331-5
    Subjects: Technology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Jessica T. Mathews

    As the information revolution rapidly unfolds, Internet use is profoundly affecting governments, corporations, and societies around the world. Many of these effects, while widely assumed to be significant, have yet to be fully explored.

    In the absence of thorough analysis, unexamined assumptions about the Internet’s likely impact have become conventional wisdom. Tales of wired dissidents toppling strong-armed leaders, along with long-held beliefs about the medium’s inherently democratic nature, have lent credibility to the idea that the Internet inexorably undermines authoritarian regimes. Having outlasted the initial euphoria surrounding the information age, this notion has now solidified into a truism. It is...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acronyms
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. CHAPTER ONE The Conventional Wisdom: What Lies Beneath?
    (pp. 1-12)

    The world has changed a great deal since Ronald Reagan spoke these words in 1989. To many, subsequent events have borne witness to the truth of his prediction: authoritarian regimes have fallen around the world, while the power of the microchip has risen. The connection between these two phenomena has taken on a powerful, implicit veracity, even when it has not been explicitly detailed.

    A link between technological advance and democratization remains a powerful assumption in popular thinking, even amid a decline in the general “information age” optimism that characterized much of the 1990s. Specifically, there is now a widespread...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Wired for Modernization in China
    (pp. 13-42)

    Most followers of international affairs are now familiar with assertions of the Internet’s potential to change China drastically. Certainly, access has grown exponentially since the country’s first connection to the Internet in 1993. Domains and web sites have proliferated, while growing millions access the Internet from personal computers at home and the office. In major cities, cafeteria-sized Internet cafés host a generation accustomed more to cell phones and consumerism than to communist dogma. Chinese Internet companies seek and attain listings on U.S. stock markets, while foreign investors hail China’s entry to the World Trade Organization. Beijing’s municipal government boasts a...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Channeling a “Limited” Resource in Cuba
    (pp. 43-69)

    More than a decade after Cuba first began to experiment with computer networking, the spotlight has begun to shine on the country’s experience with the Internet. Internet-industry publications have highlighted the efforts of foreign entrepreneurs developing e-commerce applications for the country’s tourist industry.¹ Newspapers and broadcast media from theWashington Postto the BBC have reported on the government’s Internet access restrictions and on those enterprising Cubans who circumvent the rules to obtain unofficial connections.² Cuba has responded to less-than-favorable coverage of its Internet policies with scathing editorials in the state media while also publicizing its own efforts to extend...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Catching Up and Cracking Down in Singapore, Vietnam, and Burma
    (pp. 70-102)

    As thousands of new Asian users log on every week, many predict that the region’s authoritarian regimes will soon buckle under the weight of the Internet. Expectations about the Internet and political change in Southeast Asia stem from highly publicized anecdotes about the technology’s use in places like Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, where such use did help to empower grassroots movements and in some cases to transform them into legitimate political opposition.¹ At the same time, highprofile arrests and draconian ICT laws contribute to the impression that governments in Southeast Asia are merely reacting to technology, not proactively engaging...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Technology and Tradition in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt
    (pp. 103-134)

    As the Internet diffuses throughout the countries of the Middle East, observers have begun to speculate that this technology will spread democracy in a region where authoritarian rule has long been predominant.¹ Optimistic sentiment of this sort builds upon a long-standing belief that new ICTs will encourage political change in the Middle East. Daniel Lerner’s classic,The Passing of Traditional Society,considered the role of newspapers and the mass media as drivers of political modernization in the region. More recent studies have looked at the challenges that videocassettes and satellite television pose to existing political dynamics.² With the Internet taking...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Beyond Blind Optimism
    (pp. 135-154)

    Throughout history, every form of technological advance has provoked a maelstrom of speculation about its societal impacts. Modern information and communication technologies are no exception. Long before the Internet became a global phenomenon, innovations in ICTs were expected to bring myriad social, economic, and political changes. During the 1980s, for instance, Western analysts pondered the ways in which ICTs could be employed to break the Soviet Union’s stranglehold on information. The subsequent fall of communism at the end of the decade helped to cement enthusiasm about the technology’s promise and policy uses, particularly in regard to toppling authoritarian regimes.


  12. Notes
    (pp. 155-178)
  13. Glossary
    (pp. 179-182)
  14. Works Cited
    (pp. 183-200)
  15. Index
    (pp. 201-216)
  16. About the Authors
    (pp. 217-217)
  17. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
    (pp. 218-218)