The Maghreb Revolution; Is it also an
Jubilee Palace, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 1974.Emperor Haile Selassie being led into a small car by junior members of the 'Derg', (The Co-ordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, the Police and Territorial Army) that would take him to a military barracks as a prisoner and subsequently to his allegedly assassination in August of the same year.
The recent string of revolution in North Africa reawakened a vicarious revolutionary spirit in many of us. Some of us are denizens from nations with a history of revolution in the background, albeit either aborted or derailed to a more disastrous route. The rest of us are subjects who more or less fit a description drawn once by a sage on BBC as “the poor, the pushed-around and the never-consulted” wherefore we might be bidding our time to emulate the Tunisians and Egyptians. Being an Ethiopian, when I first heard about the sudden uprising of Tunisians and the way they refused to budge with any concession from their corrupt dictator unless he himself gets out of the picture rekindled my memory of the spontaneous popular revolution of my country that saw the collapse of Emperor Haile Selassie’s regime in 1974. Tunisian reluctance to be appeased by the dissolution of the cabinet with a replacement of a “new” one also reminded me of Ethiopians rejection of the aging Monarch’s appointment of a new Prime Minister called Endalkachew Mekonnen. Endalkachew’s plea for “patience” to the angry public that had already reached at the end of its tether was rebuffed with a wisecrack in Amharic roughly translated “Changing the stove will not make the stew any better.” So the revolution pushed on carrying a motto “Ethiopia forward! Without shedding any blood” with no known personality or group to lead it to its lofty goals. Unfortunately, the military stepped in the vacuum thereby turning the whole exercise into a nightmare. To date, Ethiopia hasn’t recovered from that experience.
From Left to Right: Ethiopian leaders Major Mengistu Haile Mariam, Brigadier-General Tafari Banti and Lieutenant-Colonel Atnafu Abate attend a parade in Addis Ababa wearing their new uniforms. Photo by Keystone/Getty Images.
When the highly infectious revolution in the Maghreb region got transmitted to Egypt, a like-minded lady shared an experience from the perspective of her own country. She put her thoughts on The Telegraph of January 30 under the title “Egypt: Dark forces lurk in the shadows of hope.” The lady called Helia Ebrahimi who is a senior city correspondent readily admitted that “the downfall of 30 years of oppressive rule, and a people’s uprising should create a sense of hope.” She added, however, that “as a Persian born in an early period of a revolution, the prospect leaves me stone cold scared. This is not the Berlin Wall. And what is waiting on the other side is not West Germany.” After pointing out the similarities of the Egyptian revolution with that of her country’s uprising donkey’s years ago, she concluded by saying “It is a miserable fate that the choice has to be between self-enriching despots and controlling clerics who covet power over every aspect of life.” Since that’s not only food for thought but a solid point to mull over, it set me into thinking as to whether the revolution in North Africa has only been directed against dictatorship or whether it’s also a rejection of globalization as promoted by the United States and its Western allies in almost every country in Africa. If so, I said to myself, is there any comparison between the revolution in North Africa and the uprising in the Eastern Bloc that put an end to “communism?” The Media coverage of the revolution is another area that intrigued me to the point of provoking my recollection of the propaganda exchange between the two rivals during the Cold War. As the saying goes in my country, I would also collate the wisdom of “boycotting sleep for fear of nightmare,” vis-à-vis the wisdom of postponing legitimate demands in a revolution for the sake of stability lest rabble-rousers and extremists would take over. Needless to say that I leafed through some historical narratives for the purpose of coming up with my own thesis.
The role of Media on revolutions
Tunisian demonstrators staging an unprecedented
protest in central Tunis
In almost all countries in the Sub-Sahara region where there is egregious repression accompanied by abject poverty, at one time or another spontaneous uprisings had taken place. Unfortunately, these uprisings didn’t manage to attract sufficient attention from the big Medias that play a dominant role in our “global”village. Until it persisted and spread like a bush fire, the coverage the Tunisian revolt elicited was perfunctory before it became a headline. Since the vested interest on Egypt by the big powers that call the shot in our “global” village is enormous, the coverage from the very beginning is not only intensive but focused on regaining influence on that ancient civilization of the Middle East. Dr.Joel Barkan from Center for Strategic and International Studies recently confirmed this on Straight Talk Africa, a talk show hosted by Shaka Ssali on VOA. Reminiscing the CNN’s footage by footage coverage of the Philippinos uprising against Ferdinand Markos, Barkan hinted that the corporate world’s Media coverage in “developing” nations goes with strategic interests. As Ferdinand Markos successfully projected himself as a strong ally to stem the tide of “communism” in the Far East, invoking the contiguity of Egypt to Israel, Hosni Mubarak too had cut the image of a moderate Arab leader without whom the region’s stability would go down the drain. The difference this time is that the Western Media was eclipsed by another powerful Media that dared to show the flip side of the coin; Al Jazeera!
A website called Free African Media/FAM/revealed by quoting The Daily Beast that even Barack Hussein Obama “follows Al Jazeera and the White House has two television sets running, one tuned into CNN and the other with Al Jazeera streamed by satellite, covering developments in Egypt.” Considering the billions of dollars investment by the United States on Egypt’s military alone, one wouldn’t be surprised to see Washington’s nervous interest on developments in Cairo. What’s so surprising is the speed with which the mainstream media in America began to make insinuations and sometimes outright accusation against Al Jazeera. According to FAM, the New York Times portrayed Al Jazeera as having played a “galvanizing role” in Tunisia’s revolt. It reportedly wrote that Al Jazeera “helped to shape a narrative of popular rage against oppressive American-backed Arab governments/and against Israel/ever since its founding 15 years ago.” Quoting an authority named Marc Lynch who is said to have said “it’s almost impossible to imagine all these happening without Al Jazeera”whereby giving an impression that the Qatar based Media is established for the mere purpose of badmouthing Western interest. When one learns as to how Al Jazeera’s Washington bureau chief, Abderrahim Foukara faced snide comments from CNN such as “his channel was inciting revolt and fuelling Middle East insurrection,” one cannot help but be immensely amused by the perennial Western hypocrisy. As a product of the Cold War who grew up being fed by BBC, VOA and later CNN to the extent of being bambzooled, to me Al Jazeera is a welcome break to lay bare the double standard of the Western world. My only regret is that I am unable to listen to its broadcast in one of the richest languages of our world; Arabic. If Al Jazeera is accused of bias, so be it. As the celebrated journalist Robert Fisk once quipped which I paraphrase here “If journalism has to be biased, it has to be biased towards the underdogs.” On another occasion, Fisk dispelled the notion that “Journalism can be objective—what journalism is really about is to monitor power and the centers of power.”
Just one fine day a lady called Rosa Park’s defiance against racism rocked the establishment in the United States or the resolution of an angry Indian due to a seemingly trivial fracas on a train changed the course of history, the gruesome suicide of a hitherto unknown Tunisian called Mohamed Bouaziz served as a catalyst to galvanize the whole region. The rest is history being narrated live without the need to wait for days to hear or read about it, thanks to the digital age. A columnist named Brian Whitaker also drew a similar parallel on The Guardian on December 28, 2010 between the uprising that toppled Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania following the harassment of a nobody ethnic Hungarian priest and the revolt that chased Ben Ali out of the palace and his country. On the other hand, while it’s true that the cumulative effect of injustice may lead to sudden and unexpected revolution, the role of Media particularly propaganda should not be downplayed. Yet, if accusations are to be leveled on the basis of this, the Western Media along with its partners such as Hollywood and various publishing houses would be the main culprit. On top of obfuscating the fact that Ceausescu was one of the few leaders in the Eastern Bloc who rebelled against the Kremlin by openly condemning the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact forces in 1968, the Western Media almost make no reference on the blunder Ceausescu made during the brief honeymoon with Western powers due to his stance against Moscow. He gravely miscalculated by joining his country with the International Monetary Fund/IMF/wherein he borrowed $13 billion which unfortunately turned out to be the main underlying cause for Romania’s economic woes that led to his ultimate downfall. Yet, my generation of the Cold War was duped by a single story of his bestiality through books such as “Windmills of the Gods” by Sidney Sheldon. One can go on like this citing the whole day books and movies churned out to badmouth “communism” without mentioning the role “Radio Free Europe” played.
Globalization to me
“Socialism” came to pass in my country after being propagated during the reign of Mengistu Hailemariam for 17 years without me fully understanding the tenets as expounded by Karl Marx. I also have a hard time understanding “globalization and market liberalization” despite its prominence in the wake of Fukuyama’s declaration on “the end of history.” However, I do understand the common feature both systems share. Both disseminate propaganda unabashedly about achievements of development. In “socialism” development is invariably expressed in terms of rising production while “globalization’s” success is shown in stocks and bonds. Also the harbingers of developments differ. In “socialism” it’s states Media that break the good news; in “globalization” it’s corporate Medias with “accreditation” that gives you the good news as well as the illusion of freedom of speech. My personal experience of “globalization” as an urban dweller informs me that you may have internet access without electricity; you may also have taps without any running water. On the rarest occasion you do have them, you cannot afford the bill. In other words “globalization” is a system where a smart man can live in genteel poverty until he’s unable to withstand it. While “socialism” was paranoiac of anything foreigner to the extent of making contact impossible, in the name of attracting foreign currency and investment “globalization” on the contrary imports all sorts of knick-knacks and quacks into your doorstep giving you the false belief that you can also do the same in the “investors and tourists”countries.By the time you realize that the fruits to be had in “globalization” is slanted only towards north of Mediterranean and across Atlantic whereby their dogs and cats can even flock without any obligation to be quarantined whereas their door is shut tight for you; also by the time it dawns on you that the only beneficiaries in you country are the ones who declared “globalization” just like “socialism” without your consent, either you resign to your fate or you revolt like the Maghreb people.Therefore,it’s my perception that the uprising is not only directed against homegrown dictators. It’s also a rejection of imperialism that came through the backdoors after buying respectability in the form of “globalization.”
Stability vs. genuine democracy
In the Western world, the culture does not allow the society to trade off its basic human rights for the sake of “stability.” In fact, Americans quote Benjamin Franklin who once quipped “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty, nor safety.” When it comes to Africa and the Middle East, we are supposed to postpone our demands on fundamental human rights on account of stability. Extremists and religious fundamentalism have become perennial scarecrows. And, yet it’s in totalitarian system that brooks no space for dialogue that extreme views find fertile ground to mushroom. Whether, it’s out of disdain or ignorance of other people, it’s also a folly that the Western world, particularly America invariably commits in its hegemonic foreign policy. Propping up a regime like Hosni Mubarak’s without a serious attempt at reforming it should not have been undertaken after Shah Pahlavi of Iran. Anyway, now that the concerted action of the people’s power has shown its potency, I am of the opinion that Egyptians shouldn’t backed down by settling short of their original objective. After all, Egypt has offered many geniuses to the world let alone to be short of brains that can navigate it through a peaceful transition out of the jaws of a doddering dictatorship. Last but not least, note how the “international community” that has taken a tough stance on Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire treats Hosni Mubarak with a kid’s glove.
* The author is an Ethiopian Refugee in Uganda. He can be reached at: E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org