The uprisings which swept across the Arab world beginning in December 2010 pose a serious challenge to many of the core findings of the political science literature focused on the durability of the authoritarian Middle Eastern state. The impact of social media on contentious politics represents one of the many areas which will require significant new thinking. The dramatic change in the information environment over the last decade has changed individual competencies, the ability to organize for collective action, and the transmission of information from the local to the international level. It has also strengthened some of the core competencies of authoritarian states even as it has undermined others. The long term evolution of a new kind of public sphere may matter more than immediate political outcomes, however. Rigorous testing of competing hypotheses about the impact of the new social media will require not only conceptual development but also the use of new kinds of data analysis not traditionally adopted in Middle East area studies.
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