Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Arab Berlin Wall

By Elias Harfoush
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 22/02/2011
Facebook, Twitter and other modern communication means have proven their ability to accomplish, in the Arab world, what the fall of the Berlin Wall had accomplished in Eastern Europe. Regimes are being shaken - not as a result of the opposition parties that traditionally call for confronting the ruling party, and that have been doing that for decades to no avail – but rather as a result of the calls of the youth who inhabit the internet and who have called for communicating and for assembling in specific places and squares in a way that makes it difficult for the Authority’s services to separate the protestors and to oppress them without drowning, along with the entire country, in a sea of blood.

The same scenario took place in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and now Libya. After television stations, radio networks and news agencies used to be the real sources that were sought after by those who wanted to learn about the current events, all these have fallen today under the mercy of YouTube - which receives footage of the protests and killings via the cameras of cell phones – and they expect it [i.e. YouTube] to broadcast the reality of what is taking place on the ground.

This is the first popular intifada that uses the telecommunication revolution to its benefit in this day and age and it has forced us, the older people, to keep up with this intractable world of modern technology, in order to try and learn about the current events as well. The future Arab generations will be quite grateful for Bill Gates and his partners who have opened to them new horizons of communication that facilitated the fall of regimes, which seemed eternal even to us, who claim to know our region.

Twitter and Facebook are capable of causing the fall of a regime, but they are incapable of installing another regime instead. The communication websites can call on millions to take to the streets, and they can bet on the fact that the regime does not wish to carry out massacres and spill blood, except for the Gaddafi regime and his actions in the streets of the Libyan cities. However, these websites cannot finish off the job by implementing the democratic alternative and the modern civil rule that the youth protesting in the squares are dreaming off.

Therefore, the experience of the Tunisian and Egyptian youth has so far shown that the post-change phase is no less difficult than the change itself. The two ousted presidents have succeeded in blocking the road for any alternative political state that permits a peaceful transfer of power, and for the presence of any organized partisan institutions that are capable of taking the power over. This is the reason for the current void prevailing in Tunisia and Egypt; and this why, those Libyans who are asked about the post-Gaddafi phase are replying: we don’t know. We will see after the failure of the regime!

Since void is not naturally liked, the capable and organized powers in both countries are bracing to fill it. In both Tunisia and Egypt, an implicit alliance is being formed between the remnants of the former regime and the most organized Islamist forces in the society, which have made a strong come back to the Tunisian arena, and have reappeared on the Egyptian political scene, in a way that has stirred the concern of the religious and partisan minorities, which had [mistakenly] thought that their share of the gains of the so-called revolution will be equal to the share of the others.

It is not a mere coincidence that the personal, civil, and religious freedoms are currently being the most prone to nuisance at this point. The news that we are getting from Tunisia concerning this nuisance call for concern in regards to the identity of the future regime that is being formed in this country. The same goes for Egypt, with the ongoing debate concerning the amendment of the second clause of the constitution, and as we have seen some figures - that are not known for their civil culture - on the celebration platform, one week after Mubarak stepped down, while other figures - that could have conferred more trust in the future of this country – were excluded.

If truth be told, respecting personal freedom is no less important than respecting political freedoms. Anyone who fails to respect the first kind of freedom - be it civil or religious- cannot be possibly entrusted with the second. This raises many questions about the upcoming phase and the direction of the Arab world ruling systems, which have been brought down by the telecommunication revolution.

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