When events intensified on the Tunisian streets, former Tunisian President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali came out and addressed the people, expressed his “grief” for the casualties, and voiced his “sincere and profound apologies”. Subsequently, he uttered his famous words: “I understand…I get your message”, before boarding his plane and leaving the country.
Those last words have echoed in our ears, particularly after the popular uprising in Tunisia shook the Arab World, whereby calls for change formed a huge surge with the youth demonstrations in Egypt. Nearly a month has passed since Ben Ali delivered his last address to the nation, and over two weeks have gone by since the outbreak of the Egyptian popular uprising, but a question remains, worrying a lot of people: “Have we got the message yet?”
In Tunisia, as with Egypt, people are currently manoeuvring, trying to abort the youth uprising, or hijack it and reap its rewards, or even derail and direct it towards a different course than originally planned. Some of these moves suggest efforts to circumvent matters and buy time, with the aim of diluting calls for change and offering the least concessions possible. Such provisions are far less than what is required to bring about genuine changes, to meet the demands of those who were driven by desperation to burn themselves in public squares. Real changes are required to respond to the aspirations of the youth, who took to the streets in defiance of suppression and organized violence.
In Tunisia, the wheels of change are moving slowly, as elements of Ben Ali’s regime try to hold on to the strings of power, and control the pace of the transitional period. Consequently, demonstrations and violent clashes flared up again in a number of Tunisian cities over the past few days. This time, the government moved to cease all activities of the former governing Constitutional Democratic Rally (CDR), and closed its headquarters, in order “to safeguard the best interests of the nation and avoid any violation of the law.” The government’s move came after several sources had revealed that pro-CDR groups, prompted by elements within the party, were carrying out acts of violence and sabotage to create a state of chaos, thus allowing the party to regain the reins, and abort the calls for change.
In Egypt, certain movements and faces have appeared on the scene, to seize upon the youth’s uprising and steer it towards a different direction. Some groups are fighting for a place in the limelight while others are designating roles amongst themselves, either to make personal gains or diminish calls for change. Each is working according to its own agenda, and ulterior motives. Some regime supporters reject change for fear of losing the authority and gains they have accumulated. Others call for moderate changes that would meet some of the youth’s demands, whilst maintain the existing regime in one way or another.
Manoeuvres are also evident among the ranks of opposition parties and powers – although in reality some could hardly be described as anti-government. They are seeking to control the reins of the youth’s uprising and reap its rewards, even if that means excluding the youth from the current national dialogue, and keeping them on the streets as a pressure card. It is difficult to understand the contradiction in the opposition’s stance, and the inconsistency of its statements. It is also difficult to explain the overnight switch in the discourse of some of those who were, until very recently, staunch supporters of the regime.
Amazingly, amidst this vague and confusing political arena, some are claiming to be representatives of the Tahrir Square youth. Then we hear from those camping in the Square, who say they have no idea who the government is engaging in dialogue with. Are there now attempts to fragmentize and disperse this youth movement, after several failed attempts to drive them out of Tahrir Square, whether by hiring thugs to storm the protests, or by sniper fire? Is the regime so adamant on plugging its ears, ignoring the voices in the street and their call for change? Will these tactics maintain Egypt’s stability and restore its strength?
The movements of opposition parties are bound to raise many questions, now that it has become clear they are manoeuvring for political gains. There is a race amongst them to arrive at the negotiating table, despite a lack of any clear position, and the deliberate exclusion of some voices and faces. Because of these manoeuvres, the political powers supposedly representing the opposition have failed to form a unified negotiating front, which speaks in one voice and adopts the youth’s demands. Forming such a front is the best way to reach clear and quick solutions, guarantee a smooth and peaceful transition, and take a real step towards meeting the demands for change.
Everyone, including the Egyptian government, recognises there is a crisis of confidence between the protestors and the regime. There is also a strong feeling of discontent among the protestors, regarding attempts being made to hijack or abort their uprising. Such a situation is not conducive towards successful dialogue, and could complicate matters further, preventing meaningful solutions under a tight deadline.
Under these conditions, efforts to amend the constitution, arrange for a transitional period, prepare for presidential elections guaranteeing a peaceful transfer of power, and further approaches toward democracy, would undoubtedly fail. The aspirations of Khalid Said and Wael Ghoneim’s generation, who sacrificed and endangered their lives to effect change, and who awakened everyone from their deep slumber with a mass uprising, must be fulfilled.
There are people in the Arab World, and abroad, who fear the success of the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, and particularly so in Egypt. They are afraid that the repercussions of such events could spread, and change the political scene in the region. However, there is another possibility that we must not overlook. Aborting the call for change in Tunisia or Egypt won’t necessarily mean that stability and security are restored. In fact, matters will most probably take a turn for the worse, particularly as the fear barrier has now been broken, and repression tactics have been foiled, even if they enjoyed relative success for a while.