streaming from cities in three countries in our region — countries that,
tellingly, had sat out the 2011 Arab Spring — spell it out: Demonstrators are
out in the streets and town squares protesting against the miserable social,
political and economic conditions that have long bedevilled their lives.
are not only giving vent to a national psyche choked by perennial hardships and
thwarted dreams, but they are also asking their governments, as much as they
are asking themselves, why it is that they have to live destitute, truncated
lives while their political elite, imbued with a smug sense of entitlement are
seemingly answerable to no one.
demonstrators, to be sure, are from different countries, facing different
obstacles, poll them and you will find that, at a seminal level, they are
seeking the same basic — very basic — rights: The provision of job
opportunities for qualified, able-bodied men and women; decent public services,
such as electricity, water health care and education; an end to corruption,
including kleptocracy and nepotism in high places; and the freedom for ordinary
people to express their views in public, including in public squares, without
fear of retribution by agents of the state.
It is sad
that it has come to this in Iraq, Algeria and Lebanon, the three countries
where the demonstrations are taking place. These are countries, let’s face it,
whose ample resources should have endowed citizens with aplenty.
Opec’s second largest producer, with 12 per cent of the world’s oil reserves.
protests began there on October 1, security forces have killed close to 300
protesters and injured thousands. Algeria, which possesses the African
continent’s largest hydro-carbon reserves, has failed, since independence in
1962, to meet both the challenges of modernity and its people’s demands for
equity. Peaceful demonstrations there, dubbed the Revolution of Smiles, will
soon mark their 40th consecutive week.
Lebanon, whose denizens are considered the most enterprising in the Levant,
with a high literacy rate, took to their streets on October 17 in order to
siphon off the discontent — perhaps it is the utter rage — they feel at seeing
their country hollowed out by sectarianism and shattered by corruption, which
explains the gathering together of Lebanese protesters in Martyrs’ Square in
downtown Beirut, and elsewhere, of Muslims and Christians, conservatives and
radicals, middle class and working class, young and old, all waving the
Lebanese flag. An eloquent statement about national unity, I say.
these countries, you ask, gifted with abundant material resources and/or social
capita, be rendered bereft, and their people denied the right to an
emancipatory movement, expressed in the streets, demanding the overthrow of
elites that have ran their societies ragged, reducing them, effectively, to
is plain: These folks’ right to protest is not just a cornerstone of democracy
and civil society, it is a universal human right enshrined in article 28 of the
UN Universal Declaration of Human rights. And, no, they should not be made to
put their lives on the line to exercise it, as they appear to be doing today in
political philosophy, especially in John Lock’s treatises, the right to revolt
(“the right of revolution”) is understood to refer to the right, indeed the obligation,
of citizens to call for the overthrow of a government that acts against the
common interest. In the US constitution, for example, we read this: “When a
long train of abuses and usurpation [occurs], it is [the people’s] right, it is
their duty, to throw off such government”.
A new — and
not just another — generation of young “have been to the mountaintop”, as
Martin Luther King would’ve put it, and, since 2011, they have been challenging
their culture to live up to their ideals. There is no going back. The genie is
Tocqueville, the French diplomat, social critic and historian, said it best
when, in his commentary on the French Revolution, he wrote: “Endured so long as
it seemed beyond redress, a grievance comes to appear intolerable once the
possibility of removing it crosses men’s minds”.
It may take
time, but, rhetoric aside, the mass sentiment of the people, imbued as it is by
the will- to- meaning, will prevail, given the fact that historical imperatives
are on its side.
Fawaz Turki is a writer and lecturer who lives in
Washington and the author of several books, including the Disinherited: Journal
of a Palestinian Exile.
Headline: Arab protests a call for social justice
Source: The Gulf News