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I. Background

The history of Bangladesh is often described as a history of conflicts, power shifts, and disasters. In its more modern history, in 1947 India and Pakistan were created.  West Pakistan and East Bengal constituted the new country of Pakistan. East Bengal became East Pakistan in 1955, but the large economic disparities between East and West Pakistan fuelled resentment among the citizens in the east. The eastern province split off after a bloody war with the Pakistani military in 1971. It was renamed Bangladesh, a secular nation.

In the four decades since, Bangladesh has slipped into military dictatorship three times. Democracy was reinstated after mass street protests in 1990 and the first free, fair, and credible parliamentary election was held in 1991. Currently, the country is a parliamentary democracy whose legal system is a hybrid of mostly English common law and Islamic law.

There are two main political parties: the Bangladesh Nationalists Party (BNP), which ruled from 2001 to 2008, and Awami League, which has been the ruling party since 2008. The current prime minister is Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of assassinated president and founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Hasina previously served as prime minister from 1996 to 2001.

The current leader of the opposition (BNP) is Begum Khaleda Zia, the widow of assassinated president Ziaur Rahman. She served as prime minister from 1991 to 1996, and again from 2001 to 2006.

These two rival political families have governed the nation for the last two decades. Neither family has respected good governance or freedom of expression, and both have intimidated the opposition, no matter which party was in power.

Strength of civil society institutions

Civil society in Bangladesh plays an important role particularly with respect to reaching the poor at the grassroots level. Although Bangladeshi civil society is vibrant, it is not necessarily vigilant. Civil society does not play a strong role in advocacy or research, often failing to link its actions to qualitative political transformation that would ensure good governance and consolidate democracy. Civil society institutions are dominated by the leaders of donor-funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which largely limits the scope of their activities because they are unable to critique donor-driven prescriptions for development. As the government is aware of these limitations, it often dismisses civil society demands as part of a "foreign agenda" and hamper their activities by imposing policy and legal restrictions.

Internet and mobile connectivity

Growth in Internet use has been rapid since 1996, when the country was connected via the submarine cable SEA-ME-WE 4. Nonetheless, the growth of this sector is impeded by the government's high Internet tariffs.

The most recent official figures indicate there were 5,570,535 Internet users as of December 2011 (or a penetration rate of 3.5%) and 1,735,020 Facebook users as of June 2011. The number of users began to climb in mid-2000, and it is still rising.

However, users are mostly concentrated in high-density urban areas. The number of users in rural areas is insignificant.

As of August 2011, the country's five mobile network operators provided phone and wireless Internet connectivity to 79.677 million people.