Part II: WikiLeaks pushed Arab unrest, Assange says

July 3, 2011

By Gianluca Mezzofiore

WikiLeaks had a prominent role in the Arab Spring, acting as a catalyst and pushing global information to a point where the US and other Western countries could not prop up Arab dictatorships anymore, according to WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange.

Speaking at a Frontline Club event in East London, alongside renowned Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek and investigative journalist Amy Goodman, Assange said he had lived in Egypt in 2007 and was familiar with Mubarak regime.

“The economic basis and the technological basis of Cairo seems pretty much the same as London," he said. "If we say that it is democracy that rules and manages the United States, or it is electoral democracy that rules and manages London, then this is completely ridiculous. Because when we look at countries that are dictatorships – or soft dictatorships – the day to day life for most people is exactly the same."

Assange also claimed that the Tunisian government had blocked the website of Lebanese news organisation Al-Akhbar website shortly after prohibiting access to Wikileaks.

“Tahrir square was important because people could see many others had similar views while the media suggested they were a minority,” Assange said.

Talking about his recent decision to sue Mastercard and Visa after they had cut off services to the secret-spreading website last December, Assange dubbed the two companies as “instruments of
Washington’s patronage policy”.

He also claimed that Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg had told him the New York Times had 1,000 pages of the Papers for one month before Ellsberg gave them to the American newspaper.

The Australian publisher also conversed candidly about Bradley Manning, the US soldier who was arrested in 2010 in Iraq over allegations of leaking secreted material to WikiLeaks.

“When people of high moral character like Bradley Manning are pressured by power, they
become stronger,” he said, adding that between 19 to 23 people are on the Wikileaks Grand Jury in Virginia.

“If there’s anybody who deserves a Nobel Peace Prize, it’s Bradley Manning,” said Žižek to applause.

“I call this an ethical miracle: there are people who still care. We should not leave dignifying morality to agencies like the Catholic Chruch.”

Later, the Slovenian philosopher spoke about human rights, claiming that torture “even if
conducted out of despair” should never be “legalistic and therefore normalised”. The truth, according
to Žižek, needs to be “contextualized, rationalised and confronted”.

“WikiLeaks is not only telling the truth, but telling it in a precise way,” he said. “You’re here because you think change is possible, and probably you’re right. Most internet-educated young people see new values of spread of new information and get their hands on the machinery.”

Referring to the fact that the original venue had cancelled the booking because WikiLeaks was deemed ‘too controversial’, Assange said that there wouldn’t have been such problems five years ago, but it was unlikely also that 2000 people would be prepared to pay £25 to attend.

When asked about the allegations of rape made against him and the possibility that he could face extradition to Sweden, Assange was critical of the European Arrest Warrant system.

“Extradition without charge is Kafkaesque,” agreed Žižek, who concluded that WikiLeaks “pushes us to the point that we can no longer pretend not to know.

“Even if you ignore WikiLeaks, it has changed the field,” he said. “Nobody can pretend that WikiLeaks didn’t happen.”

Part I of our reports on the event can be found here. Full video of the event can be watched here and read our live blog of the event here.