Viva la revolution? Let's not get ahead of ourselves

Until the vast

    The events in Tunisia have taken the whole world by surprise. An Arab people demonstrating, rejecting repression, revolting en masse and overthrowing a corrupt, despotic dictator.

    And the best part of it, without any foreign help or intervention. Who would have thought?

    And although many members of Ben Ali's repressive regime remain in positions of authority and at large in Tunisia, this "revolution" has mesmerised the entire Middle East.

    Presidents and kings from Rabat to Riyadh are shaking in their thrones. What has happened to the Arab people? Who has taught them all of a sudden to demand their rights? Where has this unshakeable resolve to reject suppression come from?

    And don't be fooled by the insincere support for "the self determination of the Tunisian people" coming out of Western capitals.

    From Washington to Paris, leaders are asking themselves how did they not see this coming. Moreover, they'll be directing their ambassadors across the Arab world to give them the most detailed reports of the situation on the ground - updates on the health of ailing leaders, debriefs on the state and popularity of opposition movements, and above all, an assessment of how secure their "interests" (oil, gas, military bases, properties etc) are.

    Tunisia may not be the most significant Arab country, indeed its people represent less than 5 per cent of the region but their actions could potentially speak volumes.

    For this north African country was, and is, very similar to the rest of the Arab world. Governed by one man for decades and its wealth embezzled by an elite few as its people struggled with poverty.

    Its security forces used to repress citizens rather than protect them, and its foreign policies were subject to directives from Western countries. A continuation of colonialism in a "post-colonialist" world.

    But as much as we want to believe that this revolution against tyranny will quickly spread across the Middle East, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

    In the past few days I've had dozens of discussions with people who've asked me, "So do you think the same could happen in Egypt?"

    And the answer is no, at least not within the coming months.

    Yes, it is true that Egypt has been ruled by the same undemocratic, military, quasi-dictatorship for over three decades, yes, the vast majority of Egyptians despise the regime and want nothing more than to see its collapse.

    But the core difference between Egypt and Tunisia, is that wherein the people were the solution in the latter, they are actually part of the problem in the former.

    Indeed, the Egyptian people have actually been transformed (partly because of their repressive government, and partly due to their own fault) into their own enemy, at times, they are literally the stick used to beat themselves with.

    For example, roughly half of Egypt's population live in the big cities (Greater Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said, Tanta, Mahalla).

    If a revolution is to happen there would have to be widespread protests and demonstrations in at least two of these cities.

    The problem is, more than one million Egyptians work as policemen, soldiers, military police, state-security personnel (amn dawla), secret police (mukhabarat) in those cities.

    Their short-term livelihood is directly dependent on the government, making the current government the only guarantee that they'll be able to provide a meal for their families at the end of each day.

    And although there were thousands of Tunisians used to suppress the people, the number was far smaller than that in Egypt.

    I remember speaking to an Egyptian policeman just minutes before security services started beating innocent men and women attempting to watch votes being counted during November's elections.

    Without even asking him if he liked his job, he started telling me how much he despised what he did, how much he hated the regime, and how he would often be disgusted at what he would do to his fellow Egyptians.

    And when I asked him so why do you continue serving this repressive regime, "how else will I be able to put food on the table" was his answer.

    And I guarantee you'll get the same answer from an Algerian, Jordanian, Syrian or any other Arab, millions of who are in exactly the same position.

    This mentality is a manifestation of the success of the repressive Arab governments, they have immaculately conditioned their people to think like slaves.

    Subservient slaves, who believe their very survival depends on them remaining as slaves, convinced that they need their masters, petrified at the possibility of living without them.

    Yes, the ancestors of Sinan, Ibn Sina, Ibn Batuta, Aljaber, Alrumi, Salahuddin and some of the world's greatest innovators, artists, scientists and explorers, have been reduced to slaves.

    What makes the situation in Egypt more complex, is that the country's dictatorship is more advanced, more matured almost, than that of Ben Ali's Tunisia.

    Where Tunisia had literally no media freedoms, Egypt has some, where internet sites where blocked in Tunisia, the same is not true in the latter.

    As bizarre as this may sound, in Egypt many of the poor or unemployed actually don't realise they are.

    For example, you will find a young man earning $30 a month owning a top of the range mobile phone worth a whole year’s salary.

    He'll spend a year paying it off, but in that time, rather than thinking of ways to better his standard of living, or demand his rights, or change society he'll think of how to get better ring tones, or demand better network coverage, and he'll change the screen's display picture a million times.

    A father of five, who can barely provide for his family, will spend at least two hours a day (half a day each week) at a coffee shop, achieving nothing.

    He might talk about politics with his friends, he might exercise some sort of dissent by swearing at the government, but at the end of each day, he will return home, having literally not advanced one bit, whilst wasting two precious hours of his life.

    The professional who stays quiet about corruption because he wants the promotion so he can get married, the teacher who only teaches half the syllabus so his students are forced to pay him for private tuition so he can get the car he wants, the nurse who sells dodgy prescriptions ... there are millions of examples.

    The simple truth is that millions of Egyptians, and Arabs, live their lives unaware of how meaningless they are.

    And if they are aware, aside from the brave few who try and change things (often ending up dead or behind bars), they either busy themselves with unimportant things and the never-ending quest for materialistic "riches" or they're too scared to rock the boat.

    Where Tunisia was different was that Ben Ali's government killed people in broad daylight. It meant that Tunisians finally realised that they had nothing to lose. Had the government locked up the protesters, even if half the population was put behind bars, I doubt things would have changed, it was only through the realisation that their lives as they were, were not worth living, that revolution was achieved. As Malcolm X once said, "The most dangerous man on the planet is the man who has nothing to lose."

    Having said all this, I should make it clear that I believe there is a sizeable proportion of the Egyptian and Arab population who do reject the status quo, who are hungry for change, and who do want to revive their nations.

    The fact of the matter is, until they realise they have nothing to lose and literally everything to gain, the idea of a revolution will be nothing more than just that.


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