Rioting

“There Must Be Some Kinda Way Outta Here”, Said Mubarak to Ben Ali


Will Hosni Mubarak be the next African dictator to fall? Will he be the second of them in a long line to fall in coming months?

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…

An Open Letter to Students


My fellow students,

 

Those who attacked Millbank Tower were thugs and cowards, who took advantage of students' anger, and who have damaged the cause that they claim to believe in.

Yesterday I marched with you in London, protesting against the Coalition plans to cut the Higher Education budget by 40%, treble tuition fees, abolish EMA, and a host of other ill-advised and regressive policies. For the most part it was a pleasure to be a part of. We marched from LSE down towards Parliament, shouting slogans (and general verbal abuse of Lib Dems/Conservatives) and waving placards (some of which were a bit mental, but hey, it’s a protest- you’re allowed to be a little mental).

Then, after about 2pm, it all went wrong. The attack on Millbank Tower (regardless of whether it was or wasn’t Tory HQ) was a stupid move. It turned what was a respectful, peaceful demonstration, into a riot. And maybe some of you are looking at today’s headlines and realising what a mistake it really was.

The fact is, that most of the 50,000 students gathered behaved completely respectably, and didn’t engage in stupid acts of aggression and violence. The ones who attacked Millbank Tower and tried to occupy it were a minority, hailing from certain factions of the left and of the student community. I won’t specify who, but I’m sure that all of you who know anything about this are aware of who I mean. And I suspect that a good deal of that minority went to the demonstration spoiling for a fight.

I can understand the anger and frustration that led to it. Everyone there was passionately against the unfair moves being taken by the government, and in particular at the broken promises of the Liberal Democrats. I’m sure that if Lib Dem HQ wasn’t hidden down an anonymous sidestreet they would have seen much more aggression than they actually did. In the end, students were angry about policies that would disproportionately hit the poor, and that anger both boiled over and was taken advantage of by certain elements.

The end result is that the protest has been sullied. The focus is on the minority of violent individuals who acted unacceptably, not the overwhelming majority who behaved more reasonably. I think it’s exemplified by the fact that David Cameron was able to give a statement on the performance of the police and the unacceptability of rioting, and completely ignore the issues that we were protesting against.

And the worst part, for me, was that we had the moral high ground. For the most part, we weren’t protesting for ourselves. The impact of these cuts and policies on present students will be minimal. It’s the future generations who will be disadvantaged, and it was for them who we were marching for.

Please understand that my criticisms were aimed at those who perpetrated the attacks on Millbank Tower, and not to the rest of the students. In particular, those who broke windows, tried to occupy the building, and unbelievably dropped things off the top of the building. I am a student. I am a left winger. But I like to think I’m not an idiot. This hasn’t helped anyone, and has hurt our movement and our aims.

Those who gave in to violence, vandalism and thuggery make me ashamed to have been there. However, all of you who didn’t disgrace yourselves, who peacefully demonstrated to make our voices heard. All of you make me proud to be a student, and to have been on the march which will unfortunately be remembered for the idiocy of a few.

 

Sincerely

Matthew S. Dent

(3rd year LLB student, University of Sussex)