Though Arabs cannot be blamed for seeking social change, they should accept that this is a long and, almost always, painful process.
When Hosni Mubarak had not yet been ousted from office, he addressed the Egyptians in a speech wherein he called himself the father of all Egyptians, and showed evident discontent and disappointment at what the people, his alleged children, were doing at the time. He spoke from his office, which had been seen for decades as an impenetrable throne by many Egyptians. And from this evidently protected and privileged stand he pledged with the Egyptian people to cease hostilities and resume peaceful living.
To this, the people refused. Eventually, Mubarak was removed from power and sent to be tried for his crimes, even being dragged to court whilst confined to a hospital bed.
As I read the story on the news, I remembered Roger Waters´ comment about his work "The Wall" when asked about the reasons why he had chosen to implicitly (or rather clearly) blame Pink´s dilemma on his mother. He said: "If you can level one accusation at mothers it is that they tend to protect their children too much. Too much and for too long". I immediately recalled the image of young Pink following his mother´s instructions to the utmost detail and never fathoming deviating from such course of action. In his mind, there was nothing else: only what Mother said.
Mother. A powerful and compelling word. In his plea with the Egyptians, Mubarak used the male equivalent of the honored title. But, just as it happened with Pink at the end of the rock opera, the Egyptian people united against tyranny and overthrew the Mubarak regime.
The process was truly the same for both Pink and the Egyptians. While young and unable to act independently, the opinion of the elders seemed to them the only reliable truth. Yet once they grew up and became aware of the facts of life they wanted to break free, and as tradition kicks in so does violence. Such violent approaches do accomplish much... in the short term. But just as fast as they accomplish a change in the status quo, they also create a false sense of triumph and invincibility that trumps the best efforts of those involved.
What many Arab nations have been deprived of, and therefore are incapable of understanding as a whole, is that social change is possible, but slow. And for a people who have gained incredible momentum, strength and created great expectations, it could be painfully stagnant.
The dictatorships that have dominated the Arab world for so long have had two reasons for their continuous success:
- Traditional wide-spread support
- Exercise of violence to remain in power
Arab societies have been for centuries conglomerates deeply rooted in family values and their ensuing respect for the elders. In such a way, we now have families who have run not only governments but companies and business units for years, unchallenged. Arabs believe in the family hierarchy, and observe it religiously. Thus, a president can be respected and even supported in the light of human rights violations accusations based solely on being perceived as the leader, or the father, of the nation. As long as this tradition is maintained, there is little need to legitimize rule.
However, little need does not mean no need. Eventually, dissident cells emerge and oppositional thought is thereby fostered, usually resulting in violent outbursts against the government. The latter must then respond, and does so categorically, forcing leftists and separatists to call their revolts off. The effects of this are natural: vengeful sentiments, repressive feelings, inflammatory literature, and with the passing of time, all out revolution.
This is the natural consequence of oppression. People get tired and soon enough there will be blood on the streets claiming for change. When politically motivated violence and oppression cause people to fight and die, it is no wonder that their relatives will humanly want social change to take effect as quickly as possible. Yet, returning to the point at hand, Arab nations do not know any different than to obey and be killed if they oppose. Therefore due, Western political process is unknown to them. The transition is difficult, but it is possible.
May I propose an example from my country. In 1953, General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla led a coup d´etat and seized power himself, much as a dictator. During his tenure he ruled the country the only way a seasoned military commander could. Nonetheless, it must be said that under his presidency Colombian women were granted the right to vote, the capital´s airport was built and many other scientific advances were made with the government´s support. In 1954, a mere year after the coup, he was popularly elected to serve as President of Colombia, which he did until 1957, when the people enacted a massive protest which eventually ousted him from office and gave power to a junta of generals who ruled only for a year and three months, when power was given back to civilian rule by means of what was then known as theFrente Nacional (National Front). This model contemplated the two traditional political parties alternating power for the following sixteen years. In a way, this process, however painful, helped ease the turmoil that Rojas´ dictatorship had caused, and allowed Colombia to resume popular elections. After this, my country has never again been ruled by means of dictatorship.
Now, please don´t think the mention of the West will go unnoticed here. It won´t. We have criticized and felt horrified at the scenes of what happens in Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Libya, willfully without understanding what these peoples are going through. In our perspective, we think that what they are doing is brutal and ought not to happen from any perspective whatsoever. Here is a video to show how we see this from the West.
However, what we must understand is that the Arab world has not been allowed, or has not wanted to, to undergo its own self-determination process, and thus does not know how to function under civilian rule because it has never had the chance. Of course, the answer is not military rule, but it is not necessarily democratic process either. As stated above, Arab societies function mostly as big families, and that means that, if any transition into democracy is to occur, it will do so slowly. Yet this will not necessarily be the end of this tale. To this fact can testify several things: The military junta which took over the Egyptian government is already being the target of the next wave (or just Mayhem: Phase Two) of protests demanding its stepping down. The Libyan CNT is also becoming the target of many attacks and criticism. These two countries just managed to overthrow two of the longest, cruelest dictatorships the world has ever played host to, and apparently it was not enough. The people have become emboldened to the point of feeling they can overthrow governments within months, taking great pride in their newfound power. But this begs the obvious question: Is constant revolt the answer? Moreover, are these new revolts an expression of fear of the unknown? Is Pink Floyd´s Wall being built all over again?
Whatever time brings for the seemingly endless Arab Spring, it will certainly show its enthusiastic leaders that after a major shakedown, it becomes necessary to take some time and regroup before undertaking another revolutionary endeavor.
Or maybe not.