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Lessons from North Africa

by Akshobhya

Lessons from North Africa
A translated page from the Egpytian pamphlet, "How to Protest Intelligently"
A translated page from the Egpytian pamphlet, "How to Protest Intelligently"

By Akshobhya

From Mayday Magazine


Political protest is not a new occurrence in places like Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, and the other states of the Arab League.  Neither are the issues raised new to these most recent protests.  Rising food costs, political corruption, unemployment, human rights violations, lack of sovereignty, and submission to foreign influence have all been the focus of past demonstrations in the region.

Most notably, in 1979 there was the revolutionary movement in Iran that led to the removal of the Shah.  In 1984, in response to food shortages created by International Monetary Fund (IMF) austerity measures, the people of Tunisia began the “bread riots”.  A few years later, in Algeria, similar IMF measures and increasing poverty led to the ‘couscous protests’. In Jordan, protests against IMF “conditionalities” led to a small opening up of the government. And more recently still, in southern Egypt, around 4,000 people joined in protest against state and police brutality in response to the beating and subsequent death of Khaled Mohammed Said on June 6, 2010.

What we have been hearing and reading about since December 2010 is indeed a new development; it represents a recognition of the current economic reality, and a milestone in  building a more democratic society.  “Breaking the barrier of fear is an incremental process that takes time.  But with democracy we will have no fear,” said Mohamed El Baradei, an Egyptian activist and politician with significant popular support.

In Tunisia, several catalysts had a part in the transition of the country’s movement from demonstration to revolution.  These are moments and actions that inspired people beyond the typical “radicals” to join in and make themselves heard. These include the release of secret Tunisian state information via WikiLeaks and, shortly afterwards, the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in a final statement against the economic oppression by the Tunisian regime of the Tunisian people.  These proximal causes sparked a cycle of protest, repression, and escalation that gathered more and more Tunisians together in the streets to demand the departure of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the focal point of state power in Tunisia.

Over the course of a few weeks, the wave of revolts in North Africa grew from small protests in Tunisia in support of Bouazizi, to several million people occupying Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt -what has been called a “living breathing example of real democracy.”  In Tahrir Square people of all kinds lived together for several weeks, creating an ad-hoc city-within-a-city.  From there, the revolt has extended to multiple sites of protest in Iran, Bahrain, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and beyond.  Each area is taking inspiration from others, and applying external lessons to their particular situation, and using tailored strategies to show their discontent - like the silent marches in Iran.  They also included many groups who are often excluded or who do not participate in protest movements.


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