21/2/11 Peter Clifford –
ARAB WORLD IN REVOLT
I was going to write my next post on something completely different from politics but the pro-democracy protests across the muslim world have continued to dominate the headlines and I feel compelled to comment further on what looks like (potentially) the most significant and powerful revolutionary movement seen in decades.
Firstly, congratulations to the people of Egypt, who not only got rid of Mubarak but succeeded in what has been, so far, a relatively peaceful transition towards democracy, with minimal deaths and injuries (though no less painful for the families and friends involved).
Whether the full transition to free and fair parliamentary elections and a true democracy with an independent judiciary, police and army continues, remains to be seen.
At the moment, the government of Egypt is in the hands of an army council, who to their credit enabled the revolution by refusing to be heavyhanded with protesters. However, governing army generals have a habit of developing a thirst for power, once tasted, and frequently annoint one of their number as the next president. Let’s hope better sense and justice prevails in Cairo.
Another interesting sideline to the Egyptian revolution is that the London Telegraph reports that the Mubarak family spent the 18 days preceding the President’s resignation moving vast amounts of money around the world and into safer havens where they continue to have access. Estimates vary from $7 billion to £70 billion.
Even if its the lower figure, this is an obscene amount of money to be accumulated by one family and undoubtedly obtained through corruption and the misuse of power. I hope that the new Egptian authorities go to great lengths to recover it and return it to where it belongs – in the service of widespread social welfare and reform in a country that badly needs it.
In my previous article on these extraordinary events (Democracy On The March) I asked the question – where next? Almost everywhere across North Africa and the Middle East and even further afield to East Africa and China, it appears that people are taking up the flame of courage from those in Tunisia and Egypt and carrying it forward, realising, perhaps for the first time, that there is enormous power in the scaling up of numbers.
Vast hordes of angry citizens, even if unarmed, terrify suppressive authorities it seems. And rightly so. The moment you suppress anyone you create the seed of anger and resistance that given the right nutrients will grow and expand into an unstoppable force, in the same way that fragile plants force themselves millisecond by millisecond, relentlessly, through concrete.
Clearly the most significant “nutrient” in the current political “soup” is the widespread use and access to, the Internet and the mobile phone network. The more these come into common usage and integrate themselves, one system with another, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, the Web itself, smartphones etc, the more difficult it becomes for repressive governments to control the information coming into and going out of their countries.
This is as it should be. The whole point of democratic systems is the protection of the rights of its citizens to freedom of expression and free access to information.
It is the young everywhere which have realised the potential and taken rapidly to the advantages of mobile communication. You may not have a job or much of a future under the prevailing system, but if you can talk to thousands of people about it there is the opportunity for creative change. The older generations, including myself, have been slow to realise this.
Watching celebrities making fatuous remarks on Twitter seemed like a huge waste of everyone’s time to me. Using Twitter to rapidly promote interest in this blog has been far more interesting and effective.
Clearly, it is how you use modern technology that makes a difference. The fact that in Libya for example the median age is 24.2 and the literacy rate is 88% adds power to the process.
Unsurprisingly, this electronic freedom to communicate scares repressive authorities half to death. Egypt tried shutting down the Internet, but then discovered it shut down business as well. Colonel Gaddafi in Libya is trying the same thing, in a country notorious for its lack of access to independent reporting.
Yesterday, the Chinese President Hu Jintao called for “stricter government management of the internet”. China’s Twitter website equivalent,”Weibo”, run by Sina.com, blocked discussion of Egypt and over the weekend, message chains using the Chinese word for “Jasmine” – as in the Jasmine Revolutions in the Middle East – were blocked as well.
This will not do gentlemen, the seeds against repression have already germinated and are growing fast.
If you would like to support freedom of communication in the circumstances described above, link with AVAAZ in their latest campaign to supply independent broadcasting equipment to pro-democracy groups worldwide ( I have supported previous AVAAZ campaigns on saving Sakineh Mohammedi Astiani from death by stoning and helping to bring about democratic change in the Ivory Coast)
Meanwhile, protests continue in Benghazi and elsewhere in Libya, in Algeria, in Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Syria,Yemen, Iran, China and the former French colony of Djibouti, just across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen. Former President Gorbachev of the Soviet Union has even suggested it could happen there.
There have also been further deaths and demonstrations in the Ivory Coast where the losing presidential candidate Laurent Gbagbo refuses to stand down after three months.
Interesting times, which I will continue to watch closely. Particularly as it all may have significant messages for Western governments as well.
My support of Emmanuel Jal’s charity Gua Africa continues throughout February and by using any of my Amazon links I will ensure that 10% of any commission I earn goes to support Emmauel’s work with the child victims of war (your Amazon prices remain as normal). Thank you to all of you who have supported us so far.
Incidentally, southern Sudan which is where Emmanual Jal originates from (see previous posts South Sudan Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) has decided simply on the name South Sudan when it moves to full independence on July 9th, following on from the referendum last month.
The road to freedom is still not without serious problems as 200 people were killed this month in an attack by rebel leader George Athor in Jonglei State. Hopefully, peaceful solutions can still be found to end Athor’s conflict with the government.
Until the next time,
Peter Clifford: www.petercliffordonline.com
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