VIEW: Uprising virus —Andleeb Abbas - Sunday, February 06, 2011

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Hosni Mubarak is a special personal assistant to the US in obeying their commands on Israel’s peace pretence with Palestine. In return, he has been gifted with generous aid dole outs that, like all other dictators, have enriched him and his family and have impoverished the country

Tunisia took the lead, Egypt came along and Yemen followed, with Algeria, Jordan and Sudan not far behind in the queue. The rise of nations long suppressed under autocratic regimes has taken a strange global turn. Helped by the instant news feed all across the world, both electronically and through the virtual world, countries are taking cues from each other on how to counter and combat leaders who have long been thought of as invincible. The power of the media to educate, instigate and propagate behaviour across boundaries, cultures and nationalities has never been more poignant. The fact that they are all Muslim countries and have had a long history of being run by enforced leadership is a story that has implications much deeper than just a few restive societies running out of patience.

It all started with the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia. Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, ruling the country since 1987, finally flew out as protests became bloody and dangerous to his own life. The protests were a manifestation of a rage against the political atrocities of the leader who had led the country to mass unemployment, inflation and corruption. That it started with one man, Mohammad Bouazizi, setting himself on fire after the police took his produce cart away speaks volumes of the volcanic eruption of emotions bottled up for decades by the people of this country. The protests were so powerful that they not only cost the ouster of the dictator but also encouraged people in Egypt, Algeria and Yemen to try the same strategy of getting rid of leaders who either use force on others or only react to force put on themselves. Algeria and Tunisia share a border and are ruled by secular, authoritarian governments. Both Algeria and Tunisia witnessed an unprecedented wave of riots and fatal clashes between protesters and the police. Protests were fuelled in Algeria due to high unemployment and rising cost of food and other basic goods. The Algerian President, Abdel Aziz Bouteflika, has been in power since 1999 and has brought the country to a state of unemployment and misery also witnessed in Tunisia and other countries that have self-serving autocrats. Not to be left behind, Yemen started its Pink Revolution with protesters wearing pink bandanas and carrying pink protest placards and demanding that President Ali Abdullah Saleh leave a position he has occupied for the last three decades. Again, the country has suffered extreme deprivation and deterioration under a stifling rule that has made Yemen the poorest of the poor in the Middle East region. Sudan, despite being the largest country in Africa, equals this low ranking in the continent with a history of civil war from 1983 to 2005. The Sudanese people have, in recent times, expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the way things have been in the country for some time. The recent referendum showed the division in the country as 99 percent of the people voted in favour of the south being separated from the north. Encouraged by this result and boosted by Tunisia’s example, the Sudanese have come out onto the streets against President Oman al-Bashir, demanding for him to quit after subjecting the country to the humiliation of a killing spree that took millions of innocent lives.

What is common in this eruption of protests? The political economy of these countries, the demographics of the protestors and the means of communication used to spread the protest virus around. These are all autocratic regimes that have ruled their countries with force and the blessings of the west for decades. Hosni Mubarak is a special personal assistant to the US in obeying their commands on Israel’s peace pretence with Palestine. In return, he has been gifted with generous aid dole outs that, like all other dictators, have enriched him and his family and have impoverished the country. The American hypocrisy and Obama’s diplomacy have been badly shattered by the “please listen to your people” imbecile-like statements to those very leaders whom they have nourished for so long. Obama’s interpretation of change means a change of names and faces but not of policies, especially those that have served American designs of controlling the Middle East through appointing these autocratic commission agents in return for services rendered.

Being illegally appointed, these leaders are insecure and ensure that there is a leadership vacuum so great that even if they go away the country descends into chaos due to the absence of alternative leadership. The other godfather for these dictators is Saudi Arabia, which provides a safe haven for all criminals who have plundered their country and then run into exile, be it Idi Amin of Uganda, Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan or Ben Ali of Tunisia.

The other commonality in all these protests is the dominant demographics of the protestors. They are young, they are angry and they are tech savvy. It was a youth singing a rap song on YouTube that instigated the Tunisian revolution to reach a level where it forced its dictator to flee the country. The rap song was viewed and heard so many times that it became a protest anthem during the rallies, creating waves of emotional outpouring of the suppressed and the frustrated. The fact that the governments of these countries are busy blocking Facebook, Twitter and mobile phone access shows the panic in their ranks as it is too late to prevent the flood of viral and virtual messaging engulfing these countries, where street power is already unstoppable and uncontrollable. The repeated breaking news being relayed on cable TV has created mirror image reactions of the people who are suffering from leaders whose megalomaniac desire for perpetuation of their power has created a united hatred against them not only in their countrymen but in viewers all across the world.

It is a moment of anxiety for all countries that have time and again failed to address the needs of their public, have failed to live up to their commitments, promoted inequity, bred injustice, boosted corruption and relished power accumulation. Pakistani leaders, beware of the march of protestors. Democracy that is deaf and blind to the wailing of its deprived public is autocracy incognito. With no relief in the misery of the masses, it is but a matter of time that the uprising virus infects countries like Pakistan. The time for fake promises and false commitments has run out — the time for a radical change is just a protest away.

The writer is a consultant and can be reached at

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