The Uprising in Tunis (Al-intifada): Time of change in the Arab world

As everything in life is in motion and mobility and thus subject to alteration, words in all languages constantly change their meanings by acquiring new values relevant to the era and the level of human progress. Proceeding from simple to complex they gradually take the meaning of concept. The word Al-Intifada, which means uprising, in Arabic, has developed from ‘stone throwing’ by Palestinian youngsters in the face of Israeli brutal beating army, to more profound meaning than mere ‘throwing stone’ and contains the concept of revolution to reflect situations favorable for radical change, which explains the need to shift in social and political life of the peoples. The Intifada in Tunis which overthrow one of the most ruthless totalitarian man in the Arab world is a vibrant expression of new era of change. The eruption of Intifada and its range of influence are far from being a passing incident or just an Arab style emotional declamation, but rather is a comprehensible expression of accumulated indignation and fury. It signifies the beginning of outbreak of radical movements, the common denominator of which (as recent events have shown) has expressed itself in suicidal acts of a different type, which though awful and uncalled, yet shown courage and commitment. Unlike terrorist acts of killing innocent folks, people here demonstrated readiness to sacrifice the most precious thing they own, their lives, by burning themselves. This kind of extra ordinary protest which sparked the Intifada in Tunis is now taking place in other parts of the Arab world to indicate the extent of despair and precipitancy at the grass-root level in many Arab countries. Why in the Arab world?. In the sub-Saharan Africa significant up-bottom attempts and initiatives towards democratization are evidently in place, though in a slow pace, and thus step by step evolutionary democratic transformation is still possible. In contrast, the Arab world is experiencing profound contradictory realities that exist side by side with multitude of secondary level of conflicting interests and cultures. Fundamental contradiction here resides in the gap between modern-day mode of life dictated by the era of globalization, on one side and on the other, medieval-like political structures and systems, in one zone and military and civilian bureaucratic regimes in another zone. In both cases the rulers claim to have Absolute Wisdom, and therefore asserting to rule forever. On general terms, the socio-economic and political situation in the Arab world is one that is charged with revolutionary flames, and as a result facing historical conflict between status quos and aspirations of the people, where the gap between haves and have-not reached at a point where solutions from above have run out of time as cumulated problems became irresolvable and gradual democratic reforms are long overdue. Moreover, the social classes in power are no more capable to maintain social contract with the public by which they pledged jobs, education, and social welfare for lower and lower middle classes. In view of these conditions, objective realities in the Arab world highlight the fact that revolutionary change is a matter of conformity to the truth that emerged out of darkness, and although its consequences are unpredictable and could be dangerous, but inevitable, because the ruling classes are unable to rule as before and the masses of the people there are unable to wait further. This stalemate outcome reflects the letter and spirit of ‘Failed State’ situation. Six centuries ago, the renowned Islamic Scholar Bin Khaldoun described state of affairs of Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphate dynasty’s practices, by saying “The fact that Rulers deeply indulged into luxurious life led them unwise imposition of overtax on markets as their expenses increased…And this led to dullness and depression, which in turn led to starvation…The Decay of the state began”, (Preface, page 219, Arabic version). The point however, is whether subjective factors (representing the political forces in the opposition camp, such as political parties, Trade Unions and civil society organizations) are developed and ready to act as mature, conscious, united and responsible to be up to the level of challenges. And to be able to properly address complicated political issues, if and when dictatorship is overthrown. This is where things turn out to be much more complex, a task that can be done only through painstaking efforts and tolerance. Tunisian paradigm is also important when looked from this perspective. One has to realize the fact that the heroic Intifada poses more questions than answers with regard to which direction from here things will be moving, and where the protest march is going to end up?. Neither uprising nor revolution is the end but the means, and the way to changing societies to the better can’t be realized by raising radical slogans only. In this respect the following points might be useful to mark out the future prospects of the Tunisian Intifada and its possible impact on the Arab world as a whole, where historical circumstances and cultural characteristics are much similar but not identical: 1-The uprising in Tunis was spontaneous impulsive act with no virtual leading role by none of the opposition organized political force. That means the uprising lacked leadership, and the unity of action shown hitherto by the demonstrators that continuing till today is apparently because of the common aim to overthrow the dictator; 2- Political parties and civil society organizations, such as Trade unions and professionals remain awfully weak, organizationally and financially, as a result of over half a century of one party dictatorship, under which they had suffered all kinds of political repression, economic and financial marginalization as well as policy of containment by the previous regime’s security apparatus in both Bourkiba and Bin Ali era; 3-As a result of these factories combined possibility of forming all inclusive broad based national alliance capable of obtaining transitional government seem to be extremely a tough task. In conclusion, I would like to say this: there are two short messages to be sent to the both sides of the conflict in the Arab world: First message: the heroic Intifada has gained important achievement, the landmark of which was the overthrow of Bin Ali. This has made the Intifada able to put the ball close by the aim, but not yet realized the final victory. It is now just on the edge of cross-roads towards making new democratic history. The situation in Tunis now looks like the one in Somalia in 1991, when the dictator had fled out of Mogadishu, two options were open at that time to follow, either the path of reconciliation and forgiveness (Somaliland experience) or continuation of cycle of unrest and civil wars. Which way Tunis is going to follow would be important, not only for Tunis, but for the entire peoples of the Arab and Africa in general. Second message: The ongoing railway of the Tunisian Intifada, the last stopping station of which is not yet known, sends a clear message to the Arab ruling classes, that in the event Tunisian-like uprising takes place and with lack of united action led by highly prepared and responsible opposition, the eruption of unrest and instability would inevitably remains an open option. In such circumstance, the most probable scenario would be disagreement amongst different groups in the opposition camp as soon as the perceived common enemy disappears, conflict and chaos could easily prevail and develop into epidemic. At this stage Somalia’s experience can no way be ruled out. To avoid this impasse, there is a historical task for the Arab ruling classes, and that is to take preventive measures: To bring about realistic but immediate political, economic and social changes, based on new thinking, new vision, and new historical initiative towards democratic reformation pertinent to the pressing challenges and compatible with the spirit of the present times. An immediate response to the wakeup call message sent by the Intifada is needed. And the sooner, the better. Adam Musse Jibril is the Ex-Somaliland Representative in UK And can be reached through: