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3 Reasons Why the Social Media Movement Wont Come to Cambodia

By: Phatry Derek Pan Posted: February-22-2011 in
Phatry Derek Pan

BROOKLYN, NY – If only Egypt’s Mubarak government was as strong as its iconic pyramids, the administration might withstand the ‘million-man march.’ But these were built by the pharaohs and Mubarak is far from godly through the eyes of the general populace. So as the inevitable nears, voices are emerging throughout cyberspace on how the role of social media, namely Twitter and Facebook have aided in the movement that will likely see a new Egypt in the coming days. Can revolutions be televised through these new unconventional forms of medias? We have seen it through Neda’s Iran (RIP) last year and recently in Tunisia. But can ‘tweets’ and ‘likes’ unravel another long serving ruler, Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia?

In a recent telephone interview via Candlelight Radio Program, outspoken government critic and leader of the opposition party, Sam Rainsy, believes Cambodia has all the same ingredients for the next Egypt uprising. He cites five sources as the root: 1) extreme poverty 2) social injustice 3) inflation 4) unemployment and 5) corruption. Many observers will agree to these realities, which are a common set of problems found in most developing nations, but to allude of a similar fate like Egypt is premature and unrealistic.

In my view there are three reasons why the social media movement will not come to Cambodia.

According to Google Data, there were only 74,000 Internet users in the Kingdom in 2008. Looking at the percentage ratio between users and the overall population, that figure is a microscopic atom at 0.005%. Now compared that to Iran (31%), Egypt (17%), and Tunisia (27%), respectively, Cambodia’s majority rural population has a long way before they can utilize social medias to create social changes to their local and national governments. And it doesn’t help when the country has one of the highest Internet rates in all of ASEAN.

When was the last time you received a tweet from a Cambodia-based journalist, human rights activist, or university student? No, I am not talking about a retweet of an article from sources like Phnom Penh Post or KI-Media. The Khmer Twitter community is almost non-existent; and there are probably more Khmer celebrities fan page accounts on Facebook than anything else. This is critical because its these individuals who are on the ground that served as the first line of information when countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Iran first reached our television and newspapers.

Despite having the reputation of one of the most free and open press countries in the region, Cambodia still has a culture of fear. Perhaps its root was inherited through the Khmer Rouge genocidal regime of the mid-1970s, then later affirmed through Hun Sen’s strong arm tactics. But try dispersing informational leaflets of the 1997 grenade attack, January 7th Liberation Day or even sharing a Global Witness report through e-mail, the government’s specially created Press and Quick Reaction Unit will be on your tail faster than Looney Tune’s coyote and road runner. But instead of the regular script, Wile E (the government) will get you. Case in point: Seng Kunakar. In order for similar movements to occur in Cambodia, the government must be able to have a higher tolerability to the criticisms from its people.

The opinions expressed by the author( s ) and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of any current or past employer( s ) and affiliates. Phatry Derek Pan is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by its contributors.

Republished with the kind permission of Phatry Derek Pan

PDP is a nationally recognized community leader and commentator on Khmer American pop culture and politics. Originally from Seattle, Washington, Pan first received local praise in April 2000 for coordinating a nationally televised candlelight vigil to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Fall of Phnom Penh.


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