The winds of change are blowing throughout the Middle East, from north-west Africa to the Arabian Peninsula and beyond. Democratic forces in the region are barrelling ahead with their so-called “Jasmine Revolution,” calling for individual freedoms, human rights, free and fair elections, and social supports for the poor, working class and unemployed.
From this come the memories of Paris, Prague and Chicago in 1968 and Eastern Europe and Beijing in 1989. It seems that democratic revolutions occur every twenty years or so. The difference with the Middle East is how completely unexpected it was – to both the dictators and the masses alike.
After decades of dictatorship, government corruption, rising unemployment and poverty, the people of the Middle East have had enough and are willing to risk their lives to build a better future for themselves and their children.
It what seemed like a roller coaster where even the media and western officials couldn’t keep up with events, the first spark began in Tunisia and the overthrow of its autocratic dictator Ben Ali in mid-January. The revolution then spread to Egypt, where the totalitarian regime of Hosni Mubarak and ousted a month later.
Other major uprisings are now taking place in Algeria, Iraq, Iran and Oman, and it seemed for a while that Yemen was teetering on a full-scale revolution, something which may very well still occur in the near future. Other demonstrations are taking place in Mauritania, Morocco, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
Not to mention the vitally important January referendum vote in Sudan, where the southern part of the country overwhelmingly supported independence from the brutal, Khartoum-based dictatorship in the North.
At this moment, Libya is rising up against dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule. The situation there is quite different, and the country may be on the brink of civil war. The rebels are now gaining forces in the east and north and heading for the capital of Tripoli.
With the exception of Libya, the protesters and revolutionaries have been overwhelmingly peaceful. Yet they did have to defend themselves when being attacked by government-hired thugs and other militia gangs backed by the dictators.
The struggle for freedom and democracy has not come without a cost. Media reports have stated that the minimum number of deaths stands at approximately 1,700, with some estimates as high as 6,700. It’s really impossible to say.
Another important factor in the revolutions, of course, is the vitally important role played by youth. With an estimated 65% of the population of the Middle East and North Africa under the age of 30 (and in Libya, with half the population under the age of 20), it is no wonder that young people – along with their smartphones and laptop computers in hand – are playing a leading role in the revolutions.
Even Time Magazine took notice, with a February 2011 issue cover page featuring a group of young Arabs with a caption reading “The Generation Changing the World.” Indeed, this is their moment in history.
It’s almost funny to think that no more than a few years ago, the belief that democracy was a “foreign” or “alien” ideal to Islam and the people of the Middle East was actually taken seriously in Western academic and intellectual circles.
In a time span of about a month, this theory was unceremoniously dumped into the wastebasket of history by millions of people in the region who have had enough of dictatorship and oppression.
Democracy doesn’t have a colour, a religion, a gender, a language or an accent, or even a place to call its home. Freedom and human rights belong to all of us, wherever we live in the world.
No matter what the so-called experts say, when people work together for a good cause, they really can do anything and change the world.
“Together We Can Make A Difference”