“Today this country is your country. Do not litter. Don’t drive through traffic lights. Don’t bribe. Don’t forget paperwork. Don’t drive the wrong way. Don’t drive quickly to be cool while putting lives at risk. Don’t enter through the exit door at the metro. Don’t harass women. Don’t say, ‘It’s not my problem.’ Consider God in your work. We have no excuse anymore.”
Egyptian Revolution Leaflet
Tunisians gave hope not only to the people of the region, but also to people around the world. There are documented uprisings in countries far from the Middle East, both geographically and culturally, for instance Malawi and Russia, just to name two of them. In the atmosphere of change the size does not seem to really matter, what counts though, is the proof that people all around the world need the same basic rights to feel they are respected as citizens, and that the regimes cannot feel secure anymore. However, while we are anticipating a great change in Egypt and Tunisia after the forthcoming elections, it may unfortunately turn out to be disappointing for the citizens.
This was my third visit to Tunisia and at the same time the first after the revolution. I was not expecting anything special there in order to avoid disappointment. I think it was indeed a good approach. It was proved once again that revolution is not enough, that after the revolution comes probably even harder times for the citizens simply because of the demand for a huge amount of effort and hard work connected with building the new order. Citizens that overthrew the regime are simply not ready enough to govern their country.
In the case of Tunisia, the regime lasted for twenty three years, which is perfectly enough time to get rid of an organised opposition and also to make people used to the fact that decisions are taken without asking them for the opinion. When I talked to the ordinary Tunisian people they told me: ‘We don’t expect anything from this revolution. Nothing will change for us. We just want tourists, like you, to come to our country so we can maintain our jobs. New government? They are all corrupt, they won’t change anything for us. Maybe after twenty years, our children and grandchildren will enjoy some real freedom from fear and corruption’.
It indeed takes a lot of time to develop an educated elite that is ready to lead the country towards the challenges of the future. The case of my home country, Poland, seems to be especially relevant here. This year is the twenty-first anniversary of our freedom. If you ask me what have we gained from democracy, I would say that the situation is much better than ten years ago. But we still lack real elites that can overcome the political battles and do their job in order to improve the country’s economy for instance. The ‘old – style’ politicians are not enough to ensure the real change to the corruption–free environment in which it is possible to create forward thinking politics.
Going back to the case of Tunisia, the lack of immediate change can be seen almost everywhere. Children are still selling fruits at the side of the roads, taxi drivers still cheat on the price of riding their cabs, and beaches are still full of people trying to sell necklaces, scarves or some fruits. I had an impression that there is even more of these people trying to improve their lives by coming to a big city where possible change should be at the fingertips. The question still remains, how can they possibly make a change? Where can they find a job six or seven months after the toppling of the regime? Obviously, it would be foolish to believe that change happens at once.
The revolutions the world has witnessed in the past always required a spark and a leader. The Iranian Revolution’s leader was Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in India the symbol and icon became Mahatma Gandhi and recently Anna Hazare in his fight against corruption, in Poland of the 1980’s the spark was a rise in the prices of meat and a leader was Lech Walesa. In Tunisia the spark was almost literal, but it lacked a leader. The Tunisian hero, Mohammed Bouazizi, is a symbol and a martyr of the regime and it’s pretty obvious that he couldn’t even dream that his desperate step would lead to such dramatic changes. It is the same in Egypt, Libya (National Transitional Council is an organised body but without one characteristic leader that has stirred it up) and in other countries across the region. After coming to Egypt Mohammed ElBaradei made it clear that he was not usurping the position of a people’s leader.
The uniqueness of the revolution lies not only in the lack of the leader or the electronic ways of communicating between people and using that information against regimes (WikiLeaks about Ben Ali). The very reason for the protests is that all of a sudden a nation realised it shared the same feelings. People thoughts united with the martyr and his family, they examined his situation and came to the conclusion that they lead the same lives without better prospects. They started fighting for the happy end of the story that has just begun with the tragic death, and their fight hasn’t been won yet.
The people I was talking to, whilst I was drinking Arabic mint tea with them, didn’t seem to feel any despair concerning their future. It was indeed a very good job of the regime to make them feel stagnant and make them happy with all they have, even if it’s not much.. even if sometimes it’s not enough at all. But I have a great hope that it’s just a false impression. In the end it’s the Great Hope at the bottom of their hearts that silenced fears and made their needs and dignity speak out loud.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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