Monday, May 23, 2011

Arab Spring?

By Nermeen Murad
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 23/05/2011

What do politicians mean when they talk about the Arab Spring? Are they referring to the rising of the Arab masses from their deep political slumber? Are they referring to the change that has replaced dictatorial Arab leaders with participatory leaderships made up of semi-government, semi-democratic institutions and individuals? Is it a qualifying term promising hope or a logical framework limiting the change to a seasonal and temporary transformation?

I find the term quite irritating and even patronising. The colourful, optimistic and cool season of spring is logically followed by a hot, dry and quite irksome summer. Is it a premonition?

Being a journalist myself I recognise the need to coin terminologies that refer to political phenomena, if only for the sake of writing headlines and staying with the assigned word count, but honestly, couldn’t we have arrived at a term that exudes permanence and sustainability.

Don’t we want this “spring” to last, grow and prosper? Now, it just sounds like “ooooh the little Arab people are having a spring party… let them enjoy themselves”. I mean, after all, it does feel like a temporary party.

Committees have been formed into hives of “busy bee” buzz groups, civil society has broken into mind-mapping work groups and both are feeding their recommendations to an uncharacteristically embracing press and government, which in turn is enjoying its own apparently unlimited freedom to hand out valuable party giveaways and quite exciting raffle prizes. But can this party go on endlessly?

I am not a cynic, honestly. In fact, if anything, I am an optimist and have more faith in the transformational movement that has gripped the Arab world and expect it to be a signal of the advent of a better future: simple, straightforward, promising, sustainable, built on hard work, visionary, strategic, democratic, fair, equitable and escalating to improved status. Excellent values that definitely reflect the aspirations of the Arab people.

My spouse explained to me the associations with spring, which include happy little lambs and calves jumping in green pastures, flowers blooming, shoots of trees and buds forming, a carnival of natural happenings that collectively bring about a new birth.

That is great and who among us wouldn’t fall for that quite inspiring imagery, but it still is part of a one-year cycle that systematically and without fail goes through hot, cold and a great big fall (borrowing from the American terminology describing autumn).

Not exactly the images we want to associate with the aspirations of the Arab people who are, in some countries, giving up their lives to bring about permanent change.

So here we go. I am pleased that we are all witnesses to this era in our history. We will all remember where we were when the former Tunisian leader escaped his country’s wrath, when the Egyptian president succumbed to the million-person march and as other leaders scrambled and struggled to come to terms with the demands of this new age.

We are all witnessing history in the making, and I really hope that we don’t have to think back to these days and remember them only as a beautiful but temporary season, accompanied by an equally transient surge of energy and euphoria.

We need this to last and the first step towards ensuring its sustainability is to allocate it a name worthy of its historical significance.

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