The state has a significant influence over the dynamic of the political agenda. Depending upon the nature and type of government, its basis for legitimacy, and the historical trends of the nation, the state’s ability to impose a political agenda varies from slight to nearly omnipotent. There are, however, countervailing forces in any society that limit the state’s capacity to achieve goals in setting as well as framing the agenda. More recently, as exhibited in the Egyptian and Tunisian case studies, newfound technologies empower citizens to counterbalance such attempts by the state.
A critical element in this dynamic is the effect of institutions that are considered to be independent of the state-a noteworthy example of which may be the media. The institution of free press in the United States is a product of a highly developed outline embodying the values of American democracy. The media in this case fulfills a role as a check on the government, and an instrument for the general public’s ability to hold their government accountable. This, however, may not be the circumstance within another nation-state. York communicates such a scenario through Morocco: “Its press is considerably freer than that of its neighbors in the region…(York)” Despite this potential, journalists do not address ‘hot’ topics, or issues that are significant for the public to be aware of in determining what attitudes to hold towards the behavior of their state. In this situation, the government is able to maintain a relatively effective control over information dissemination to the public, without the use of force or command of such institutions. This pattern is conceivable in similar institutions-such as interest groups, political movements, and NGO’s-to the degree that leaders are able to align interests that may or may not be congruent with that of the public.
Central to our discussion is the recent development of countervailing forces in the form of technology-specifically the Internet. The case studies of the Tunisian Revolution and the regime change in Egypt provide concrete examples of such instruments; specifically, in the use of Facebook and blogs. In spite of the efforts of many states, a populace with access to Internet communication infrastructure has the potential to utilize such a form of communication to undermine the state’s ability to control the political agenda. York emphasizes this in her assertion regarding blogs and social networking by way of Iskandar (2007): they provide the “only regional venue for consistently non-hierarchical, socially-concerned, counter-hegemonic information, thereby making it the region’s most appropriate ‘alternative medium’ (York).” This condition was especially apparent in the Tunisian case, in which the state was extensively committed to censoring information.
Therefore, such implements were exploited by organizers of the political movements in Tunisia and Egypt. Nivien Selah sketches the particulars of this application in “Egypt’s digital activism and the Dictator’s Dilemma: an evaluation”. The author identifies Facebook as an instrument which enabled activists to reach non-political Egyptians (Selah). This use of technology allowed organizers to network Egypt’s “computer-literate but largely unpolitical youth in a transparent way that allowed for manipulation by activists;” thereby standardizing a political agenda designed to compete with that of the state. Integral to this manifestation of dissent is the youthful demographics of the populace-who have a higher propensity for rebellion as well as tech-literacy (CIA: Egypt). This was true in the case of Tunisia’s Revolution as well. In these instance, a state that exhibited relatively effective influence over the political agenda, was overtaken by the public’s use of innovation.
In summary, states influence the political agenda to varying degrees. In the circumstances of Egypt and Tunisia, the political agenda was dictated to a substantial measure by the state until the instruments offered by the Internet empowered the general public to challenge such a virtual monopoly. Additionally, the enhanced capabilities for communication allowed groups of advocates to activate and recruit non-participants; thereby evolving the countervailing forces in the development of the political agenda.
York J. The Revolutionary Force of Facebook and Twitter. Nieman Reports [serial online]. Fall 2011 2011;65(3):49-50
Saleh, Nivien. Telecommunications Policy: Egypt’s Digital Activism and the Dictator’s Dilemma-an Evaluation
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook: Egypt. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/eg.html