Some of the strongmen of the Middle East are no longer in the picture, but who, and what, will come to replace them?
Yesterday’s parliamentary elections in Egypt is a case in point. Certainly, there was a sense of hope written on the faces of Egyptians who voted, as perhaps a first step in reclaiming their country. But who did they vote for? Undoubtedly, the Muslim Brotherhood will garner a strong position in the new government. But does that necessarily mean an end to democracy even before it starts?
It came as a surprise to some to find out that in recent months, the Muslim Brotherhood has advocated strongly on behalf of foreign investment in Egypt, and on behalf of job creation. Even though there are fears in the air that women’s rights are in danger, and that a return to religious fundamentalism is in the offing, still, the Brotherhood, at least for now, doesn’t seem to dwell on such things, but focuses its rhetoric on jobs. Is this just a ploy to win elections, or is it the real deal?
There is no doubt that ordinary people on the streets of Cairo, and throughout the region, yearn for many of the same things that are sought after the world over, like freedom, dignity and economic security. It would seem to make sense, therefore, that these causes should be at the heart of any successful political campaign, even campaigns conducted by those with leanings toward religious fundamentalism. In other words, to the extent that the people on the street are deeply committed to such things as freedom, democracy and jobs, then to that extent, any political party, regardless of its ideological inclinations, will have no choice but to speak about, and deliver on, the causes which are most important to the people, in order to win elections, and most importantly, to win hearts and minds.
That, at least, is the hope for the revolution that some call the Arab Awakening.
Of course, there are no guarantees, especially when you’re talking about political revolutions. In fact, most times things go badly, before getting any better. But there are things, three things in particular, that may help to move a revolution in the right direction, in a direction that is in line with the aspirations of the people.
The first thing that can help bring success to a revolution is to embrace a vision, a vision of hope, that calls for change which is positive, realistic and attainable. For example, if it is freedom and jobs you want, then advocate on behalf of these, because they are within the realm of possibility. And in fact, personal freedom and job creation go hand in hand. Any regime which strives for economic growth and job creation in this globalized world of ours, will have no choice but to allow some measure of freedom, as a way of instilling a sense of trust among prospective investors. These freedoms may be limited somewhat, as in the case of China, but greater openness is indispensable to economic growth.
The second factor that helps to bring success to a revolution is to bring life to a vision of hope using the right tactics, and this involves a strategy of non-violence. You don’t want to demonize certain individuals, or certain groups, because this will cause such groups to retreat into their own corners, in preparation for civil war. You want to be inclusive of all people, and advocate on behalf of a vision which is welcoming to all, and which inspires everyone to come together in common purpose. And you want your voice to be heard throughout the land, while shying away from violence, even in the face of violent attacks by the opposition, which for the most part has been the case in places like Egypt and Tunisia. Syria is another matter, but the violence there by the government is so overwhelming, that some violent resistance is inevitable.
The third, and perhaps paramount aspect of a successful revolution is to pick leaders in the mold of visionaries like Gandhi, King and Mandela, who inspired their people, and who used non-violence to give substance to the aspirations of the people. They were not motivated by revenge. Gandhi could have turned the people against the British, but he didn’t. King had reason to turn against his country, but he didn’t. And Mandela could have launched a campaign to turn against the whites, and confiscate their property, but he didn’t. Instead, these leaders chose a different path: to advocate on behalf a vision of hope, to give substance to their vision using non-violent means, to be all-inclusive in their approach, and to deliver on promises made so as to give hope for a better future.
The Arab Awakening is at a crossroads. We can become entrenched ideologically, and consolidate political power by demonizing one another. Or we can choose instead to embrace a vision of hope, and deliver on that promise with real change, change that capture hearts and minds, and that gives life to the aspirations of the people. The choice is ours and everything we love and hold dear hangs in the balance.
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