…from beneath the crooked bough, witness 230 years of brutal tyranny by the al Khalifas come to an end
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“Web Can Forment Openness As Corrupt Regimes Fall”

Media: “Web Can Forment Openness As Corrupt Regimes Fall” – WSJ
Ben Rooney – Wall Street Journal – 28 June, 2012

Throughout the short history of the Web plenty of commentators have spouted some pretty good nonsense about it. Nicholas Negroponte, the then head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Laboratory, predicted that the Net would bring world peace by breaking down national borders.

Speaking at a conference in Brussels in 1997 he told the credulous audience, in 20 years time children “are not going to know what nationalism is.”

To be fair to the utopian Mr. Negroponte he was following in a long, and inglorious, tradition of over-imbuing technology with near mystical properties. A century earlier the transoceanic cable was seen as an equal harbinger of fraternal love. “It unites distant nations, making them feel that they are members of one great family… By such strong ties does it tend to bind the human race in unity, peace, and concord,” wrote one commentator in 1880.

But was Mr. Negroponte as wrong as all that? For while the Internet may not have brought world peace, what it can do is help countries emerging from conflict build the sort of institutions that build new democracies.

One of the things that the Internet is good at is bringing a measure of transparency and sunlight to historically dark places.

Dark places like prerevolution Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. How were billions of dollars of net worth able to be accumulated by Moammar Gadhafi, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and Hosni Mubarak? It is because of the lack of transparency within financial systems, within government tenders, within significant sectors of the Libyan, Tunisian and Egyptian governments.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia, a country that has very successfully made the transition from Soviet vassal to Western democracy partly through huge investment in technology, said he believes e-government can help root out corruption.

“The big problem is not toppling the dictator and going home from the city square,” he said. “It is what do you do after that. Do you have effective institutions? You get rid of one dictator and if you don’t build the institutions you pretty soon have another.

“One of the ways of building institutions is through e-governance, where you can implement transparency, reduce all the rent-seeking behavior of people who come into power, because however noble they may be, suddenly they realize ‘I can handle this tender…’.”

Mr. Ilves wants to use the experiences of his country to help others, particularly those in North Africa attempting to make the transition. He is working on plans to establish a center in Estonia to help emerging democracies embrace open government and technology. …more

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