In North Africa they are fighting for freedom
“Give me Liberty, or give me Death!”
These infamous words of Patrick Henry resonated throughout the Western world and described in a nutshell man’s yearning for freedom.
This is also true in Tunisia, where Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26 year old university graduate who could not find work nor feed his family, sparked ‘The Jasmine Revolution’ by setting himself alight in protest to the now former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s regime. This protest sparked action in Egypt, which is now facing its largest uprising in three decades. There are reports of dozens of deaths.
This act has now been mimicked to spur revolution across North Africa, with eight Algerians in the past fortnight setting themselves on fire and further protestors on the Arab Peninsula in Yemen, all crediting Tunisian protestors as inspiration and waving the Tunisian flag while protesting across universities and city streets.
Unfortunately modern history tends to suggest that this cry will fall on deaf ears. While one leader is gone, another, more maniacal one, takes their place.
While Tunisia may have gotten over the first hurdle, the challenges that lie ahead are endless. Protestors continue to struggle with many members of the former regime still holding positions of power in the countries new government, clearing house is easier said than done when leaders still have the loyalty of the military and police who have killed students in the past month.
Algerian protests have lead to violent suppression with batons and tear gas used to subdue demonstrators. The fact that marches in Algeria are illegal under its state of emergency, which has been enforced since 1992, makes it no easier to form substantial support.
In Yemen the likelihood of revolution is even smaller. The country’s leadership, having held power for the past 32 years, has had no qualms in demolishing any form of dissent and with the backing of US military aid it seems a near impossible task for a civilian uprising.
In Egypt, anti-government protestors brought together through the world of social networking, with sites like Twitter being a prominent site for rallying before thousands took to the streets. But in response Egypt’s government has blocked Twitter and the internet and the police broke up protests with tear gas, water cannons and physical force. The military and the US (of whom Egypt is one of their key allies) still remain behind the current regime, quelling any real chance of change.
Populist democratic movements, while passionate, often fail due to one thing. Money. Simply put, money is power, and money buys military force.
Tunisian, Algerian, Yemenite and Egyptian civilians have been pushed into protest due to the poorest of living conditions, huge numbers of unemployment and the ever-rising cost of living.
Yemen in October 2010 exceeded US$2.25 billion from oil revenue yet nearly half the population live on less than US$2 a day and many do not have access to proper sanitation, while more than 80 million people across Egypt live in the same conditions.
We in Australia could not dream of such dire conditions, so revolt is not surprising. But Yemen’s regime is funded by oil, a formidable foe against democracy.
Parallels can be drawn with Burma, while many people believed the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi would lead to great changes in the country, the controlling military junta remains firmly in control after signing a US$40 billion deal to supply South Korean company Daewoo with natural gas.
But despite the many huge obstacles that remain in the way, there is hope. The so called ‘martyrs of the revolution’ have sparked inspiration like no other in the history of the region, in a trans-border movement of protest and ultimately sacrifice for what many of us in the Western world take for granted.
Most of these struggling countries also face a vacuum of power; as we are now seeing in Tunisia, many members of the Ben Ali’s regime have now stepped down, but there is no organised opposition force who can fairly, in the eyes of civilians and protestors, oversee a new government or even free elections. If these voids cannot be filled it will not be long until another dictator steps in to fill the hole.
In Tunisia, protestors remain diligent, camping outside the Prime Minister’s office, demanding resignation of any officials from the ousted regime.
In Yemen, income tax has already been slashed in half and the president has ordered control of cost of living prices in response to the riots and in Algeria protesting has risen amongst young people with 15 million of the 36 million strong population, under 30.
Indonesia’s fledgling democracy formed under similar conditions of economic hardship and lack of individual freedoms. With the help of prominent religious groups, students overthrew the brutal Suharto regime during the Asian economic crisis and the military withdrew support for the General.
The power of the human spirit is strong, but only time will tell if ‘The Jasmine Revolution’ will be in vain or one of the greatest leaps forward in North African history.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…