Chants of liberty shake the world - Dr Qaisar Rashid - Saturday, February 26, 2011

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Perhaps, the first major impact Wikileaks produced on the world was the Tunisian upheaval – a disorder to give birth to an order. In that way, the Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was the first victim of Wikileaks revelations. The wave of liberty, as if it were contagious, is still unabated. It has the whole region astir. Monarchy after monarchy is falling before it. The attendant events, though violent in nature, betoken the kind of days coming ahead.

Wikileaks made public the way Ben Ali arrogated wealth to himself. In its wake, the act of self-immolation performed by a young Tunisian fruit and vegetable vendor, Mohammad Bouazizi, who was protesting against police oppression and unemployment actuated the demand of liberty in Tunisia and challenged Ben Ali’s hold on power. Consequently, Ben Ali had to abdicate the throne and flee from Tunisia to save his life.

The Tunisian turmoil was not adventitious but overdue as monarchy is considered an anachronism in present day society. Moreover, the upheaval revealed deep-seated animus of the Tunisian masses against the system rooted in antiquated pattern of governance.

The Tunisian upheaval has conveyed several messages to the world in general and the Arab world in particular. First, the rulers sticking to autocracy (or monarchy) under the garb of democracy are prone to be hit by the Tunisian sort of cataclysm. It is now difficult to silence the masses and keep them deprived of their due social, political and economic rights. Voices against political repression are getting louder in the world as the desire for liberty is universal.

Secondly, in the citizen-state relationship, the masses are clamouring to find their exact status vis-à-vis the state. In the Tunisian case, it was not only that the masses had grown intolerant of fiscal corruption but also that the masses had become aware of the role of the state: the state must consider them citizens and not subjects; the state should take care of them and stop oppressing them.

Thirdly, the masses have become aware of the importance of fair distribution of economic resources. In Tunisia, the uprising was not ideological but economic in nature. The revolt was pregnant with the aim of introducing a political system (or a mode of governance) guaranteeing economic equilibrium in society. Through the language of mayhem, the Tunisians demanded an equitable distribution of wealth between the ruling class and citizens.

Fourthly, a wave of democracy has swept the Arab world. The Tunisian upheaval heralded an era of democracy in the Arab world. In Tunisia, the surge of democracy was from the lower to upper echelons of society and not vice versa. Nevertheless, the true character of democracy – western or local – that the people of the region will introduce as an alternative system to monarchy has yet to unfold.

The picture of Tunisia has analogous implications for other Arab countries including Yemen whose monarchy has fallen prey to the public demand for liberty. In Libya, the masses are bristling with anger and indignation at the harsh treatment meted out by Colonel Muammar Qaddafi. Nevertheless, the case of Egypt is a bit different. Attached to Egypt is the (perceived) future of the Palestinian-Israel conflict.

Under former president, Hosni Mubarak, Egypt was instrumental in influencing Palestinians to promote the PLO (ruling the West Bank) and not Hamas (ruling the Gaza strip). Mubarak made the case in western capitals that if they didn’t support him, the right-wing religious party, the Muslim Brotherhood, would come to power. The west, in turn, remained scared of the phantom projected by Mubarak who stayed in power for 31 years. With the change of both system and regime in Egypt, Egypt’s new stance towards the Palestine-Israel issue is yet to be known. The chants of liberty are signaling a warning to those Arab rulers who are still obsessed with the Cold War mentality that siding with one bloc will ensure their survival at the helm of the affairs. And the rest of the world is bracing itself for the repercussions of the happenings in the Arab world. The delight of the west (including the US) at the waves of liberty ravaging the Arab world is alloyed by its concern for the nature of relationship expected to be fostered with the new Arab regimes. Presently, the west bears certain apprehensions about what next is going to happen in the Arab world. For instance, whether the ‘newly liberated’ Arab countries adopt Iran’s theocratic model or carve out a way to introduce a Turkish-style democracy, if not a western-style democracy.

Secondly, what will be the place of Islamic parties in the future political set up? Thirdly, will the status-quo on the Palestine-Israel peace process (as was being endorsed by Mubarak of Egypt) be respected? Fourthly, what will be the future of Al-Qaeda in the Arab world?

Prices of oil and its products are getting buoyed up thereby sending ripples of anxiety to the economies of western countries. The US is already beset by economic problems that ensued in the aftermath of Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Whether the US can maintain ascendancy over future Arab regimes or not must be the country’s immediate concern.

In short, guessing the end of this beginning is not easy despite the fact that the beginning has been welcomed by all.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email:

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