The Arab Spring was widely seen as a disappointment.
We all watched with awe as countless protestors rose up against unelected monarchs and dictators across the region in search of political freedom and better financial opportunities. Unfortunately, the only country that transitioned into an actual democracy was Tunisia, and the jury is still out on whether it will last.
Fast forward to today, and we are seeing a renewed and familiar sense of discontent manifesting itself in protests in places such as Hong Kong, Lebanon, Chile, Ecuador, and Iraq. The reasons are familiar to those who followed the Arab Spring: inequality, corruption, and a desire for political freedom.
Unfortunately, revolutions face long odds, and even when they succeed, they can turn into pyrrhic victories. Is there a reason why this time it could be different?
Yes, because unlike in 2011, crypto and blockchain have gone mainstream.
What Crypto and Blockchain Bring to the Table
If people know anything about this new technology, they are aware of two key properties:
- The protocols allow people to hold and protect their own wealth
- They are decentralized and peer-to-peer, meaning there is no controlling entity
How Crypto Changes Citizen Reliance on the State
According to famed international relations theorist Kenneth Waltz, one of the main roles of a state is to help its citizens self-actualize happiness. Consequently, if citizens feel that a government is not serving its interests or is actually corrupt, it could naturally lead to strife.
Or it could force them to look for an alternative.
Because it has long been accepted that the issuance of money is the purview of the state, citizens have had little recourse if their needs are not met. Unfortunately, people in these regions are often left wanting. Aside from fears of illegal search and seizure they also live in constant fear of unchecked inflation, capital controls, or bank runs.
Now, Bitcoin, Ethereum, and a host of other crypto assets allow individual people to collect, custody, and spend units of value with nothing more than an Internet connection.
What’s more, as the crypto ecosystem grows and use cases broaden to everything from online gaming to data storage and networking, individuals can truly be citizens of the world regardless of where they are physically located.
These are unbelievably powerful functions, and ones that short of cutting off an entire country from the world, are difficult to stop.
The Other Benefit – Offering a Way Out
Each time I hear about a new incident where a protester is arrested or injured it leads to a sense of melancholy. Why? Because I wonder what the endgame for these protests will be. Can there be a happy ending?
It is impossible to generalize across the world, as the protesters in Hong Kong are marching in different circumstances than the thousands of people in Chile that forced the country to forego hosting this year’s APEC and U.N. Climate summits. There is no one size fits all solution to these problems.
Yet, it is a universal truth that none of these protests will be solved unless each side, or sides, can find a way to trust each other.
This can seem like an impossible task when we are talking about decades, or centuries of antagonism and hostility. Fortunately, with blockchain technology they do not need to trust each other, they just need to trust the math.
Consider the following two examples:
- Assuming that the various functions of a state, especially its key financials and expenditures, are put on a blockchain an argument could be made that transparency would go up and corruption would go down. This could certainly reduce anger amongst the population, as they could verify their government’s performance themselves.
- Additionally, there are always concerns about voter fraud – a blockchain-based voting protocol could make it less likely that a particular group could believe that a given election was stolen and encourage them accept the legitimacy of a result even if they lose.
How does this help solve the conflicts? It can change the all-or-nothing calculus among competing sides that inevitably ends up in stalemate.
This would be a paradigm shift, and its closer than we think.
Turning Back to 2011, Yet Looking Ahead
The Arab Spring revolutions failed for a multitude of reasons, some generalized across the Middle East and others unique to a specific country. However, one primary culprit was that neither side could trust the other before or after the toppling of a dictator. This sense of vulnerability doomed these infant democracies from the start, giving them almost zero chance to mature.
Crypto and blockchain technology are not a panaceas or silver bullets, but they give today’s protestors a fighting chance and a realistic chance at a stable and positive outcome.