Friday, January 13, 2012

Arab Spring or Eruption?

I don’t think it would be possible to identify a true start date for what has been described as Arab Spring. Yes, it is quite evident that one vendor in Tunisia had helped the uprising to take a dramatic turn, but there is no questioning that a massive grudge had been brewing slowly in the Arab world for a while, owing to issues from economic inequality to widespread suppression lead by autocratic governments in some cases for decades after decades. Let's take a quick look:

Syria – Since 1963 (Hafiz Al Asad and then Bashar Al Asad)
Yemen - Ali Abdullah Saleh - 22 years
Libya - Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar Gaddafi - 41 years
Tunisia -  Abidine Bin Ali - 24 years
Egypt - Muhammad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak - 30 years
Jordan – Constitutional Monarchy
Saudi Arabia – Absolute Monarchy
Bahrain – Constitutional Monarchy
Kuwait - Constitutional Monarchy
Morocco – Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy
Algeria – Presidential Republic
Oman – Absolute Monarchy

To understand the origin of the spark that seemingly started the still ongoing upheaval in the Middle East I wanted to know the 26 year old Tunisian man Mohammed Bouazizi from the rural town of Sidi Bouzid with estimated unemployment of 30%, who poured a can of gasoline on his body and set himself alight – around noon – right in front of the governor’s office. A vegetable vendor throughout his youth he was constantly at the receiving end of harassment by the local law and order, possibly for bribes, something he simply couldn’t afford to give. 

On December 17 2010 after being humiliated and his electronic weight machine being confiscated by the local police Mohammed rushed to the governor’s office in a failed attempt to get his equipment back. Within one hour of the police incident, the young man who has been supporting his younger siblings and his mother ended up engulfed in fire, from which he never recovered. He died after 18 days on 4th January 2011.

The demonstrations that began in Sidi Bouzid as a result of his unusual death eventually spread to the capital Tunis, thanks to the secretly shot videos posted on social medias which inspired youths across the country to take to the road. Soon tens of thousands braved tear gas and battled police. After the army refused to shoot protesters Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia with his family, just after 14 days of Bouazizi’s death.

Not even three weeks later, Egypt's army too refused to shoot at the protesters and 82-year-old Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled Egypt for almost three decades had little choice but to resign.

Soon the protesters hit the streets in Benghazi, Libya's second largest city. Months later the struggle ends with Muammar Gaddafi killed while trying to escape. The wave of Arab awakening continued its rage through countries after countries in the Middle East – from Yemen to Morocco to Syria -- a nation infamous for its repression. Eventually a majority of the 22 Arab nations felt the heat of the erupting Arab fire that may soon burn all the disparity in that region and start a true democratic, not theocratic, process to develop. 
Since Bouazizi many others, equally desperate and absolutely frustrated, in the region have followed his path and set themselves on fire. Some of the names:
Mohsen Bouterfif, a 37-year-old father of two, Maamir Lotfi, a 36-year-old unemployed father of six, Abdelhafid Boudechicha, a 29-year-old day laborer who lived with his parents and five siblings, Abdou Abdel-Moneim Jaafar, a 49-year-old restaurant owner of Egypt and many more. Along with them died thousands in the process of demonstrations and armed struggle.  

A notable point:

On 7 October, the Nobel Committee announced that Yemeni protest leader Tawakel Karman would share the Nobel Peace Prize with two others. Karman was the first Yemeni citizen and first Arab woman to win a Nobel Prize.

Regretfully the time for this Arab eruption may have not yet come to a point that it can subside. One cannot stop but wonder about Syria’s fate. The unimaginable cruelty that the Syrian government have unleashed on its own citizens is hard to fathom. As I read the story of the 13 year old baby-faced boy Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb who was killed brutally by the government forces for graffiti against Bashar Al Asad my mind just cringed in total disbelief and disgust.  On April 29, 2011, he was detained during a protest in Dara. On May 25, 2011, his dead body was delivered to his family, tortured, burnt, shot three times, and his genitals cut off.A peak at his image and one must stop to wonder what monstrosity one needs to have to mutilate such an innocent life. The worst part of it is that Hamza wasn’t alone. There have been several other kids killed brutally by the Syrian army. I don’t even want to mention about the thousands of adults who perished.

Will this Arab eruption have enough lava to bury all the wrong and bring a new dawn in Syria? Time will tell. 

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