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November 22, 2019

A revolutionary wave

Opinion

November 22, 2019

The revolutionary wave of young workers, students and unemployed youth in many countries of Middle East and North Africa has once again posed a serious threat and challenge to authoritarian and dictatorial regimes.

Not only are prime ministers, presidents and governments targets of these revolutionary uprisings but the ruling classes and their political and economic orders are also being challenged.

Economic crises, falling living standards, corruption, worsening socio-economic conditions and continued repression are fueling anger and discontent. These social and economic conditions are forcing the people to resist and fight back. There is a strong sense that elite politicians, political parties and ruling classes have abandoned them.

They have been deprived of their basic economic and political rights. The sense of deprivation is getting stronger every passing day. The actions of the ruling classes and governments have further strengthened this sense and perception. The gap between the interests of the ruling elites and the needs of the people has reached unbridgeable levels. The Arab ruling classes have failed to learn necessary lessons from the Arab Spring of 2011. The people want change but theelites and ruling classes want to keep the status-quo. The struggle between the two has intensified.

The resignation of Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri failed to satisfy the mass movement in Lebanon. Both resignation and repression failed to pacify the street protests. The people are demanding jobs, better living standards, basic services and more say in governance. They want radical changes and reforms in the existing political and economic order. They want a democratic state and participatory democracy. They are demanding an economy which works for the interests of the masses instead of the ruling elite and oligarchy.

In Iraq, brutal use of force has failed to crush the youth uprising against the Iraqi government. More than 300 young people have so far been killed, thousands injured, arrested and abused by security forces – but this has still failed to stop the mass movement.

What do the youth want? Decent jobs, quality education, schools, clean running water, opportunities to develop their creative and innovative potential and abilities and a more equal and fair society. They want more say in decision- and policymaking. They want a safe, egalitarian, pluralist and democratic Iraq. And what do they get? Bullets, tear gas, batons, abuse and torture. Repression is fueling more anger.

A nearly 50 percent increase in the prices of petrol and a rationing scheme triggered a new wave of protests in Iran. Tens of thousands of people have taken part in the protests so far. The regime has responded with the usual brutal state power and oppression. The Iranian economy is crippling under US sanctions. Inflation is around 40 percent and jobs are hard to find in an ailing economy. Unemployment is soaring among young people.

Movements that started against the neo-liberal economic policies of these governments now have developed into revolutionary movements demanding radical changes in political and economic order and more freedoms and democratic rights. Whole layers of youth, workers and students have been radicalised. They have directed their anger, discontent and opposition against political elites and neoliberal economic models.

I wrote a year ago on these pages when mass movements erupted in Sudan and Algeria that Arab Spring 2.0 has begun. A mass movement swept aside a decades-old dictatorship of Umar al-Bashir. The people sacrificed their lives when Sudanese military generals tried to take complete power into their hands.

The events in Sudan and Algeria encouraged people in Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, Jordan and Egypt to take to the streets. The protest movements in Egypt and Jordan failed to develop into mass movements and were repressed by the brutal repressive regimes. But protest movements in Iraq, Lebanon and now in Iran have taken a revolutionary form.

Tyrants, dictators and authoritarian regimes rule by fear. Through their repressive and ruthless state apparatus, they create a strong sense of fear among the people. This fear of death, arrest, torture, imprisonment and brutal repression stop people from showing discontent and dissent through mass protests. Demands for democratic rights, better life, jobs, decent wages, better quality education, economic opportunities and basic services are often met with brutal state repression.

Such regimes can last for decades without facing any real challenge and mass opposition. These ruthless regimes seem very powerful and indispensable. But when they fail to meet the basic needs of the people and to provide them basic services, life gradually becomes unbearable, and mass discontent and anger in society is seen. This process sometimes takes years to take the form of mass protests and defiance. The sudden eruption of mass protests, anger and opposition often surprises regimes and politically conscious people.

That is exactly what is happening in many countries of the Middle East and North Africa. A new wave of mass protests and demonstrations has erupted in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and Algeria. In the last one year, the people have shown – in one country after the other – that they have lost fear. They are no more afraid to be arrested, tortured, imprisoned or killed. They are showing their determination and courage to take on the might of these states and regimes.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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