The five cardinal rules of Arab Revolution 2011 - Abdulkhaleq Abdullah - April 26, 2011

Syria is the latest freedom chapter in the Arab Revolution of 2011 (AR11). Without the current popular demand for reform in Syria, the AR11 would not have been complete.
The Syrian regime is highly repressive. The country has been ruled exclusively by one party, the Arab Socialist Baath party, for nearly half a century. The Al Assad family has monopolised power in Syria since 1970.
Hence it was a surprise that the AR11 took so long to finally reach Damascus. Typically, the regime's reaction to the peaceful uprising has been brutal. More than 200 people have been killed and 18,000 others have been detained by the security forces in five weeks of unrest.
Of the 22 Arab countries, only Qatar and the UAE have managed so far to avoid the revolutionary avalanche of 2011. These two states are relatively small, extraordinarily rich, and are the only two Arab states that committed themselves militarily to the UN authorised and Western-led no-fly zone over Libya.
Winds of change
The two states of Qatar and the UAE notwithstanding, the first cardinal rule of revolutions is in full display: revolutions everywhere and throughout history are contagious. Once they occur, winds of change tend to travel in their geographic proximities and beyond.
However, due to technology, social media and the ultimate impact of 24 hours news channels such as Al Jazeera, the AR11 has travelled at great velocity. This revolution is bound to go into the Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest travelling revolution in history.
Sometimes decades pass by without any noticeable changes, but sometimes one week of revolutionary unrest changes a whole decade. Much has already changed in Tunisia and Egypt and throughout the region in the first quarter of 2011. The immensity of the epochal changes that are taking place in the Arab world and their domestic and regional ramifications are yet to be fully digested and understood.
What is clear at this early stage however is that the Arab world has been ready for revolutionary change all along. Indeed, the AR11 can be easily characterised as a delayed revolution.
The symptoms and the conditions for making revolutions were there. For decades the Arab world has been pregnant with changes, and was waiting for this revolutionary moment. It took too long for the delivery to happen. The challenging question is why did it take so long to come about?
Clearly no one could have predicted the timing of the AR11. There is no science of revolution. The second cardinal rule of revolution is that revolutions are an art form. They are mostly spontaneous. If there was a way to predict revolutions they would never occur to start with. The timing and the tipping point is always a surprise even to the most knowledgeable observer. And so it was with AR11.
But if timing is the most unknown factor in revolutions, the underlying causes are nearly always crystal clear. But they need triggers. This is the third cardinal rule of revolutions. The root causes of the AR11 are decades of frustration, humiliation and disillusionment with the 50-year-old socio-political status quo.
It is the product of decades upon decades of legitimate grievances against prolonged repression, corruption, poverty, unemployment, and a one-man, one-party and one-family regime that failed to provide even a minimally decent life for millions of Arabs. All that the Arabs had was failed states, fragile states, frozen states, and very few prosperous states.
However, these underlying causes are important but not enough to ignite revolutions. Revolutions as a rule need triggers which are usually case specific. In Tunisia, it was the 26-year-old Mohammad Bouazizi. In Egypt it was Wael Ghonim and 26-year-old Asma Mahfouz's Facebook campaign. In Libya, a group of 30-year-old lawyers started a Facebook page calling for protest against Muammar Gaddafi. In Syria, amazingly, it was a group of school children writing anti-government graffiti, in Daraa.
These relatively young men and women were anything but agitators. They never thought of themselves as the human seeds of the AR11 who would eventually overthrow the Bin Alis and the Mubaraks of the Arab world.
Invariably, people start out with the most modest of demands. That is the fourth cardinal rule of revolutions. They need jobs, dignity, end to corruption, but soon enough they up the ante and call for freedom and regime change.
The AR11 finally found its own slogan: "The people want the downfall of the regime". This is shouted by millions upon millions in Tunisia, Cairo, Sana'a and other Arab capitals. This same slogan is now heard loud and clear in Damascus and some 110 other cities and towns in Syria.
Yet there is the fifth cardinal rule of revolution: it is much easier for the forces of change to overthrow the old corrupt regime than to build the new system and agree upon the post-revolutionary agenda. That is why the real work for the AR11 is yet to come.
Dr Abdulkhaleq Abdullah is Professor of Political Science, Emirates University.

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