Something miraculous is happening all across North Africa.
It started in December of last year, in Tunisia. A fruit and vegetable seller, supporting his family on a pittance, in an act of ultimate frustration with the oppressive regime immolated himself . And that might have been the end of it, but for new social media picking it up, and transmuting that literal fire into a fire of revolution.
It all sounds very grand. But the fact is that in less than a month, the people had risen up and put an end to Ben Ali’s brutal 23 year reign. Tunisia might be on the precipice of chaos, but it’s clawing itself back from the brink, and the people seem clear that they won’t accept another repressive, oppressive regime in its place.
But the truly amazing thing is that it didn’t stop there. The Tunisian people have shown that corrupt leaders can be overthrown, that the power of the people trumps that of the state. And the rest of North Africa, under a range of dictators, was apparently watching.
In Yemen there is rioting in the street. The Egyptian people are in all out revolution. And men such as Muammar Al-Gaddafi (Libya’s megalomaniac-in-chief) must be getting very worried.
And it is, I’m afraid, the response of the western world that has been most disappointing. At the height of the unrest in Tunisia, their former colonial masters France were offering police forces to prop up Ben Ali’s government. As the Egyptian people have been demonstrating in Cairo, the governments of the US and UK have been offering moral support for President Mubarak. For a people who claim to be civilised, for a people apparently willing to send armies into distant parts of the world in the name of democracy, we seem awfully keen to keep these oppressive dictators in place.
I guess the people in charge of western countries are worrying that a democracy there could lead to Islamic led states, but really that’s just the price you pay with democracy. In 2010, we elected a Tory government. I can’t put into words how much I disagree with them on multiple points. But in a democracy, that’s just the way it goes. And if you really believe that the people should choose their leaders, then this sort of attitude to revolutions is nothing but hypocrisy.
I’ve always been a bit sceptical of the idea of “We the People”. So often it seems to be used by a majority to excuse the discrimination against and oppression of a minority. But here, it genuinely seems to be the classic idea of people rising up against tyranny. North Africans are sick of being treated like slaves by their own government. And whilst I regret any loss of life that occurs in the riots, I can’t help but feel positive.
Mubarak is clinging onto power. He’s sacked his cabinet, and accused people of abusing the “freedoms” that he “gave” them. From where I’m sat, he’s clinging on by his fingertips only. The people won’t be satisfied until he stands down. And if this sort of democratic, popular movement idea spreads across all of Africa, then it might be the greatest hope the impoverished continent has had in hundreds of years. And shouldn’t that be something we all welcome?
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is growing late…