Traducción: Annchen Doherty
It’ll take months or perhaps years before we can consider that the revolts, which began taking shape in the streets in mid-December 2010 in Tunisia and which spread across the Arab world after the dictator Ben Ali’s flight to Saudi Arabia on 14 January 2011, have completed their first stage.
So, we have passed from winter to spring, to summer, to autumn and now, once again, to winter in a region which is more alive every day, with more energy to reach the end and implement, without qualms, the enormous change which was its objective.
One tries to follow what is happening in the Golf countries, lead by the movements and different internal conflicts in Yemen and Bahrain, but also the not so incipient reactions of the population or some political sectors which have been taking place in Saudi Arabia, Oman, the Arab Emirates, Kuwait and even in Qatar, despite the scant attention paid to these countries by the powerful television Al-Jazeera, with its own definition of objective information.
Using a thermometer in the countries where the first stage of change has already happened, in which the dictator no longer forms part of the present, one detects how the problems have taken on different shapes, sometimes even more dangerous, because now transparency, without masks, is demanded; and decisions are being forced to be made in exchange for human lives. Because during the start of the Arab revolutions, over the last 12 months, in addition to the determination and, as we explained in the first analysis, the loss of fear, what has also become apparent is the scant value which the lives of the citizens demonstrating in the Arab streets continue to have.
I have just visited the three “liberated” countries. Tunisia, Egypt and Libya started their revolutions thanks to Mohamed Bouaziz’s impulsive action, which, coinciding with a series of circumstances, converted it into the precise moment in which everything exploded, because in 2010, two other young Tunisians, Monastir on 3 March and Metlaui on 20 November, also took their lives for justice and dignity. Even so, shortly afterwards, we would witness how the reality of every country would lead to the development of very different events.
In the demonstrations, the Tunisians invented terms such as “Dégage” (Lárgate) which succeeded in uniting the hatred towards the oppressors, something which spread rapidly. Tunisia finally managed to get the international community to understand that behind the tourist leaflets, of the apparent normality of a more open and allegedly liberal country (because of its advanced Family statute which postulated equality between men and women or because of the compliance to references considered “Western” such as the banning of the use of the veil or hijab in universities), it was the most feared police system in the Maghreb, and the country, with its citizens, belonged to the Ben Ali-Trabelsi clan. The administration that the Islamists of Nahda (who came to power through the elections of 23 October) have started to elucidate, as well as the serious economic crisis, marked by a high unemployment rate, has resulted in the streets being occupied once again by indignant citizens. The headquarters of the Ministry of Interior and the Kasbah, the Prime Minister’s office, continue to be heavily guarded by Army tanks and surrounded by a double wire fence, but the Tunisians, the miners of the south and the upper middle-class of the capital, are now shouting in front of the Constituent Assembly, now in Bardo, to ensure that they are not robbed of the revolution.
Scarcely a few days before the electoral process, which concludes in March, started, the Egyptians occupied Tahrir Square again, setting up tents, recovering the banners. Although now, instead of the ex President Hosni Mubarak hanging from one of the traffic lights of the symbolic square, there is a life-size doll of a soldier. The performance of the military junta, in charge of the country since 11 February, is being questioned more than ever. The military trial of civilians, arbitrary arrests, tortures and disappearances denounced by human rights organizations, bloggers and activists, make many believe that little has changed in reality. And there are many who add insecurity to the serious situation of stagnation. In the last few weeks it has been possible to verify, in cities like Cairo, Alexandria or Port Said, that mistrust has increased and the opposing sides appear to be more important than the genuine revolution of 25 January.
Everything is still to be done in Libya. The government appointed by the National Transitional Council was scarcely able to explain why Benghazi deserved the official ceremony to welcome the birth of the new Libya. In fact, disputes between the revolutionaries of Tripoli, Zawiya, Misrata and Benghazi are common. Citizens who had been oppressed for more than 40 years watch with suspicion the technocrats who have just returned from exile, wary of the negotiation agreements to exploit the country’s natural resources, although they are aware that they have to pay a price to NATO for helping them with their liberation.
Sirte, the city in which Muammar Gaddafi was born and died, executed, at the end of October, will be one of the most difficult to readapt to the new structure of the country. The houses, destroyed by disproportionate bombing, but most of all the number of victims that nobody knows for sure, will make reconciliation almost impossible in the next few years.
It was pleasant not to have to run into the proud and haughty looks of Ben Ail, Mubarak and Gaddafi when visiting the three countries in December 2011. It’s comforting to witness heated debates in which everyone can participate, in cafés and headquarters of political parties and in which it appears that they are learning to listen; it’s even comforting to sense the desperation and anguish of those demonstrating, demanding freedom and basic rights again in the streets. Everything has changed, it is not that the citizens of the Maghreb and the Mashreq have decided that nothing would be the same after the last twelve months of fighting, rather that now, without the established black beast of decades to fight against, they appear more human, they are allowing themselves to doubt, to make mistakes and even to correct mistakes.
The degree of the development of social discontent varies completely if we concentrate on Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, although in the three countries violence and oppression is being used to try to dilute the inevitable change. The stories of the journalists risking their lives entering the north and east of the country clandestinely to check how the militants organize the Local Coordinators, to speak to the Army deserters or to witness the mass demonstrations which, ten months later, continue to fill the streets of Syria, are an indication of the present social turmoil. In the silenced Bahrain revolution, where the international community has even accepted the sentences in military courts of doctors and nurses for complying with their code of ethics and attending to people injured in the demonstrations, they continue searching for opportunities for their cries to reach outside, so that they are not relegated to another sectarian problem (although the Shiite citizens are considered second- class by the minority Sunni which governs them).
It’s difficult to imagine with precision and rigor that, in fact, there is a highly qualified dialogue in Yemen and a developed need for change. I had the opportunity to speak with disillusioned young people, frustrated by the lack of means (they have an hour of electricity a day to upload videos onto YouTube, tweet and explain that is happening in the country; or they have to organize themselves to buy a generator which can often not be fed because of the shortage of gasoline), but totally convinced that they will not allow their country to continue to be run by corrupt family clans. As has happened in other countries in the process of change, there are politicians, business people and Yemini intellectuals who have been working for weeks on the system that they want to create when, in February next year, elections will be held and the Saleh era will pass definitively into history. The assumption of responsibilities by the former regime remains, in this case, in the background, perhaps because the citizens desperately need to start building, putting into place the sectors of their economy (such as tourism or industry) which will allow them to leave behind as soon possible the deep crisis affecting most of the population.
Several times this year, Arab analysts pointed to the common mistakes of the rulers, asking how it was possible that the dictators committed the same mistakes, followed step by step, as if there were a “Bad Leader Guide”, until coming to the end of the path which forced Ben Ali to flee, Mubarak to resign and led to the capture and execution of Gaddafi. All eyes are on the leaders that remain, who have to apply reforms or give up power if they are unable to change. None of the present Arab leaders is reacting in an effective way, anticipating a questioning of their capacity to rule the country. The timid signs of those supposedly listening to the shouts in the streets of Morocco, Jordan and Algeria or in the occupied Palestinian territories, have not only failed to quench the desire for renewal, but have provoked a strange reaction of union between sectors and opposing ideologies which is expected to evolve in the next months into a social and political system which is much more dangerous that the old system, anchored to homage, submission and the excesses of power.
The fate of the Arab leaders is written. Twelve months have passed in which the citizens of the Maghreb and the Mashreq have had time to practice methods of mobilization and social organization and have verified that it is possible to reach the end. The lives of the millions of people who participated in the demonstrations not only begin to make sense but are worth much more than they would have dreamt.