On the 17th of December 2010, the place was Tunisia, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire to put an end to a life of deprivation and exploitation. A life that the majority of humans in the Middle East and North Africa know very well. This sparked the wave of rage that we all will know as The Arab Spring.
The term “Arab Spring” was an oversimplified and a generalized description of the uprisings stormed the area aimed to alter change. Yes, the uprisings marked the end of a phase and the beginning of another, but its results are still under process. Nothing is finite in nations’ lives. Bouazizi couldn’t handle being dehumanized, and so did thousands of his citizens, and other Arab citizens in the region. Under the iron fist of dictators, people were marginalized and their humanity was exploited. They were walking dead, ghosts in their own societies. The Arab Spring came as the first cry after birth of awareness that the status quo will not be tolerated anymore, and a human without dignity is no human at all.
Today, after 3 years of revolutions we are hearing sighs of disappointment and despair. We all expect that what will come might be far worse than what we are witnessing right now. Syria is officially a wreck under proxy religious war, Egypt was regained by the same army rulers, Libya is dangerously fragile, Yemen soars under drones and divisions, and Tunisia which seems doing better than the rest is facing a political ordeal. Some started to say: We used to live in stability, things were ok, and we wish that we remained as we were. Other secular activists started to withdraw from the scene leaving behind a dream hijacked by extremists from all religious sects and political affiliations.
Let us ask the following question: Where we allowed to change the social-economic-political patterns after decades of constructing them in this current way? Where the revolutions in a number Arab countries would be allowed to succeed and set an example to the rest, not only in the region, but also in the world? Are we allowed to threaten powerful interests in the area?
The answer is: Of course not. The Arab dictators, worked for so long to divide and rule. They worked on economic divisions covered by religious ones. They reinforced their hegemony by controlling the army, kept close loyalists who controlled economy, and kept society hypnotized with divisions between secularists and Islamists, Islamist sects, Islamists and non-Islamists, sometimes Arabs and racial minorities, and keeping entire communities obsessed with obedience to deity and piety. As a result of emptying the society from political and economic participation, cultural diversity, demoralizing and distorting the authenticity of the human soul, the Arab tyrants used religion to fill this void. Even the regimes (like Assad regime in Syria) claimed to be secular, but they heavily played the extremists game; on one hand keeping a coterie of secular followers to face Islamists, and on the other, using certain “Islamists” to subdue society. The rulers themselves were not religious, their only craved for more dominance and power.
It is no wonder to see extremists flourishing in a number of Arab Spring countries, and the restoration of the old Egyptian military rule. The most powerful pillars of any Arab totalitarian country are: Army and Intelligence, and Religion Institution. Recently terrorism was employed heavily as a Trojan horse in the area to terrorize the masses, heading back to the same old game. The game also includes dichotomy of Sunni and Shiite sects. Decades of eliminating any other political alternatives is producing the chaos and the void we are witnessing today, this void is filled by special-designed religious men with no clear or logic agenda for shaping a new state. The only mission of these special-designed religious men is to bring legitimacy for the dictator regime that is presenting itself internally and externally as the only option for the people.
A while ago, one intellectual writer and journalist told me that he supports a small step of change rather than a large stride. I answered: Would the ruling tyrants allow us to do that? Any positive step in any direction is a step toward their diminish. But we agreed on one thing: The Arab dictators are the sources of all evils. They are responsible for keeping the cycle of injustice, ignorance, poverty and terrorism. The Arab nations proved that they are ready to enter the age of the democratic state when they started their uprisings with peaceful protests, unlike their rulers who wanted to keep their nations in the colonization era by using aggression and manipulation policies.
Many people said: enough. They decided to take a leap of faith. The Arab Spring is not a single happening, it is naïve to expect that battling totalitarian regimes and their back up allies, as a breezy spring. It is a long painful process that needed the first kick to rediscover our dignity again. Part of protecting our dignity after 3 years is to stand in solidarity and continue the struggle, especially when a huge price has already been paid. Souls have been paid for change. Though the present seems not promising, not the one we dreamt of, but we must not despair as new ways of thinking started to appear in the society, new debates sparked, and there is a redefinition of what we used to take for granted. The rooted tyranny will turn over the soil when it is plucked out which brings forth new challenges that the people need to deal with. Exhaustion is not an option.
One thing that the Arab Spring did for sure: taking off masks. The fallen masks exposed governments, societies and international community, and for the first time for decades, the Arab societies saw the reflection of their real image in the mirror of Arab Spring.