Video: Media's role in changing Middle East

By Chief foreign affairs correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/9/2005 9:10:28 PM ET 2005-03-10T02:10:28

It could be the start of a political transformation, fueled by a high-tech revolution.

In Beirut, Lebanon, this week, demonstrators sent text messages urging friends to show up for pro-democracy rallies.

“This is the last card they are playing, and we are moving faster to freedom — be strong — no one should stay home Monday — please forward,” says Adel, reading a text message aloud.

“Please look to Aljazeera.net and vote Syria out and kindly forward this message,” reads another.

From Damascus, Syria, to Cairo, Egypt, satellite dishes are multiplying, beaming images of free speech to millions of people.

“Once we have the satellite, it's just rays of freedom, rays of democracy,” says one man.

Along with Internet cafes, Arab television is now transmitting new messages of protest and hope from one country to another. Even before the protests in Lebanon, people say they were inspired by last year's “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine.

In Beirut, 19-year-old Amanah Abraham says the word spreads instantly.

“One country is affected by the other,” he says. “It’s like a connection and people seeing what is happening in Beirut and Lebanon. They are affected by this.”

The flow of information is a growing threat to autocratic leaders in Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

"Immediately people can learn about what’s going on in other Arab countries: Elections in Iraq or Palestine or protests in Lebanon," says Dr. Gamal Abdel Gawad, a political analyst with Egypt's Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

Perhaps the greatest irony is images of democracy are now being spread by the very same Arab networks the White House once criticized for broadcasting threats from Osama bin Laden. Now, viewers are calling al-Jazeera and asking why they can't have free elections too.

"They sometimes give examples to our own coverage of the U.S. elections and the conventions, and ask how come we don't see something like that in the Arab world?" says al-Jazeera bureau chief Hafez al-Mirazi.

Satellite television, the Internet and even cell phones — helping to break down government censorship in the Arab world.

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