What a start to 2011! Everywhere a surfeit of revolutionary energy prevails. A mixture course; some good, some bad. The world is feeling the turbulence and minds are aghast. Decades of leadership thrown to the winds or about to be. Yes the people are rampant and regimes are under fire. Is this the 21st century speaking?
It is spreading like an epidemic; the domino effect as a friend tweeted. And as embroiled in fantasy as leaders get, their initial reaction is one of disbelief. They swat at flies not realising that this time its a locust swarm, destroying their very base. The perseverance of the people has been amazing. From Tunisia to Egypt, they have stood steadfast. They know they have their target cornered. Go is their clarion call. And this is not a bloodthirsty mob, some omissions disregarded.
Then come the minimum concessions from despots who over the years have attempted to destroy the will of the people and ended the lives of would-be competitors, politically and some even in the real sense. It is too little, too late.
When change is imminent, to make an offer of not contesting an election due in some years, perhaps months, is asking for the moon. When protestors become a mob and tanks and armored vehicles are surrounded by hundreds of thousands, not only does this concession fall on deaf ears but if heard is treated with contempt.
When the wave of protests sweeps the land it carries with it an incredible energy. It is a tornado and leaves little to be salvaged. Resisting it is only delaying the inevitable. Leaders must realise that popular will must prevail. Deaths that form part of the resistance are, ironically, the very fuel needed to fire the flames. Tasting blood, the people know the time is near, many governments will fall but unfortunately the circumstances preceding the event ensure neither smooth transition nor stability.
True democracy, however much it may be criticised or abhorred in this part of the world for very selfish reasons, does ensure alternate leadership and provides the template for stable government. The hard fact is that the despotic regimes are supported and funded by democratic superpowers to create a level of instability in the region that suits them. And they tout democratic norms while promoting exactly the opposite.
Why when, against all democratic norms, people like Ben Ali, Mubarak, Musharraf and others were strengthening their rule, did their ally stand by and watch? Proactive intervention, which they are famous for when it suits them, would have created alternative leadership and stability. But no, the world watched as potential leadership was decimated. It suited them.
So what is going to happen next? It appears that new regimes will come to being in Tunisia and Egypt for now. Others will follow. But they will not be, at least on the face of it, able to continue as in the past. Major reforms will be needed and the demands of the people will grow. Perhaps there may even be quick changes of government in the initial period. Until the structures demanding renewal are addressed and revised.
The fascination for a new order can end very quickly. Expectations after a long period of suppression and denial are extremely high. Even to the point of being completely unreasonable and illogical. A government that succeeds one of these marathon regimes is always in a bind. They inherit a severely depleted resource base, a bureaucracy that is deeply tainted and challenges that have hitherto been confined to the backrooms.
Serious questions and choices confront one. Is there need for a dynamic leader or dynamic collective leadership? What quality of leadership has developed over the last 30 years? Is it more important to understand the mood of the people or convince them of the real need of the State? Can the criticisms of the previous regime be converted into constructive criticism or are they just false negatives and not real alternatives? Is idealism good or bad? Does pragmatic idealism defeat the spirit of the revolution?
There is no single correct answer. One has to find a compromise that is acceptable to a majority that is willing to harness the revolutionary trend. Important is the fact that the recent rise of religious extremism be contained. New regimes will be faced with the inherent hatred that has, rightly or wrongly, developed for American policies in these regions. The role this provides for the extreme right cannot be ignored and must be combatted.
Tragically lessons are never learnt. Succession plans that go beyond the immediate families of despots are considered a curse. The Yemen president had the audacity to announce to parliament that neither would he stand in the next election nor entertain his sons desires. And the nation and the people continue to suffer. The answer lies in changing the things you can while you can. Else you will be swept away.
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