The Realist Prism: In Egypt and Russia, a Tale of Two Elections

The Realist Prism: In Egypt and Russia, a Tale of Two Elections

The recent elections in Egypt and Russia have important lessons for both Washington and Beijing about the contour of politics in the 21st century -- and the limits of both authoritarianism and Western-style liberalism.

For the past 12 years, as part of its campaign to modernize Russia, the Kremlin has encouraged the spread of new communications technology. However, over the course of his time first as president and then as prime minister, Vladimir Putin’s concern with mass communications focused primarily on shaping television coverage. Meanwhile, the growth in Russians’ mobile phone usage, in particular, has been quite dramatic. If less than a quarter of the Russian population had a cell phone early on in the Putin era, now more than 60 percent of Russians own at least one mobile device, and more than two-thirds of Russians now “text” on a regular basis. And as communications technology have become more affordable and accessible, even in a developing economy like Egypt, more and more people have been able to narrow the “digital divide.”

The theory was that these developments would aid in economic growth and productivity, as well as in providing new avenues for popular entertainment. But the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square earlier this year and the outbreak of protests in Russia following Sunday’s Duma elections have also demonstrated how the new technologies make it far easier to organize people quickly for mass actions without the need for long and complex organizational structures -- thereby depriving the state of the advanced warning needed to interrupt the planning process.

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