Is it possible that the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who took to the streets in support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime had all been paid to do so? Is it likely that the half a million Libyans who gathered outside the Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli in solidarity with Colonel Gaddafi were all pro-regime thugs? Is it possible that the millions of Yemenis who continue to take to the streets in support of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and who celebrate wildly whenever there is any good news about his health, have been bribed to do so? What about all of those who, even now, continue to defend former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, or wish that he had been able to bequeath power to his son Gamal Mubarak? Is it possible that they are all part of Mubarak’s inner circle or interest groups close to the Mubarak family who share interests with him and his two sons?
The answer is, of course not.
What about the millions who took to the street in support of Egyptian President Jamal Abdul-Nasser, calling on him to retract his decision to resign the presidency following Egypt’s defeat to Israel at the 1967 Six Day war?
The answer again is no.
Of course, this does not dismiss the existence of those serving their own interests, those who truly have been paid [by the regime to demonstrate], as well as the hypocrites, liars, and mercenaries who support the leader either out of duplicity or fear. Such hypocrites exist in all regimes and at all times, not just in the “Arab Spring” revolutions However this small number of hypocritical protestors is not sufficient to be the subject of today’s article, rather what concerns us is the huge number of demonstrators who have screamed themselves hoarse by chanting in support of leaders who have already been, or will be, toppled without these demonstrators being paid or coerced to do so. An example of this was the Yemeni manual worker who I recently met in Riyadh. He works 14 hours a day at a local Laundromat in order to support his family, yet he spoke about President Al Abdullah Saleh if he were his own son, and expressed his fears for the country should the Yemeni president step down. Such people are completely indifferent to the talk of the Yemeni president monopolizing power for decades, distributing sensitive posts to his sons and kinsmen, stealing the country’s wealth, repressing its citizens and shedding their blood. If you were to raise such claims to the Yemeni president’s supporters they would respond by providing justifications and excuses, acknowledging that Saleh has made mistakes, but stress that these were only small “stumbles” that do not necessitate him stepping down from power. These masses believe that if the president orders demonstrations to be suppressed then that is his right. They believe that if the president grants the people anything, then this reflects on his generosity, whilst if he doesn’t, then there must [also] be wisdom in this. They even believe that should a president become a tyrant, then that also is his right, for he is the leader, the strongest and the wisest.
Therefore, this is a phenomenon that deserves careful consideration, and if we look closely at this issue of Arab protestors that chant and demonstrate sincerely for their despotic and tyrannical leaders we would see that there is one common denominator, namely that the leaders in questions have been in power for a long period of time, in some cases between 30 and 40 years. There can be no doubt that the longer such leaders were in power, the more their citizens were stripped of their honor and dignity, and almost unconsciously remain prisoners of their tyranny, thereby continuing to support these leaders out of confusion or fear. These citizens cannot imagine life without their leader, and view the future as being dark and gloomy in their absence. This is like a slave who once freed continues to view the world from a slave mentality, not knowing how to live except under the yoke of their former master, no matter how oppressive or tyrannical he might have been. Therefore there are some slaves who voluntarily return to bondage, even after they have been freed, because this has become familiar to them, indeed they cannot imagine living another way. The West has long been aware of this phenomenon, and therefore worked to curb despotism and the monopolization of power by following a democratic path, and even imposing limits on democratically elected presidential terms, as in the case of the US where the president is only allowed to remain in office for two terms no matter how great or wise or popular this leader is. This is precisely what the “Arab Spring” aspires to.