Anatomy of Change : What we want and what we get.
Change is a catchphrase that has led to many coups and overthrows. Desirable as it is, Change has been equally elusive or worse still more of a continuation of the same ideas and change of personality or perception only.
The change could be evolutionary or revolutionary, former is the only constant in the world, a long drawn process that goes on sometimes due to us but mostly despite us, latter is what we are referring to today, the kinds we may see people asking for it in the streets or at places like Tahrir Square or Tiananmen Square. It is rather shocking to see how often people ask for Change and how often they are deprived of it in one way or the other.
Stories of people asking for change and being deprived of it are many, some are hilarious others rather tragic, resulting in everything else but meaningful change. People voted for change in the last US election and they got a Troll as a President (Trump). Talking about tragedies, Arab Spring is a story worth telling here, see how the biggest revolution of our times turned out.
Tragedy of Arab Spring.
Arab Spring that started in Tunisia early last decade was a call for change that galvanized the whole of the Arab world, it started when a young Tunisian, Mohamed Bouazizi, a vegetable vendor set himself on fire to protest against police harassment, his act of desperation immediately resonated with others in the town and went viral sparking nationwide revolt and protests against corruption, the rising cost of living and country’s authoritarian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Ali’s 23-year-rule ended 10 days later when he fled to Saudi Arabia. The protests inspired a wave of revolts across the Arab world as people rose up to protest against authoritarianism, corruption, and poverty. A decade later, despite all the optimism and rightly so the Arab Spring has resulted in a divided Tunisia that was better off before Arab Spring politically, socially, and economically.
It has left Libya in a state of a never-ending civil war. Haftar Forces ( Warlord actually) and other rebel groups now control half of Libya and the Civilian govt controls the other half. Strange enough the warlord and rebels enjoy more public support than the civilian govt back home and civilian govt enjoys much more support outside the country than inside of what’s left of the country now. Not quite the Spring Libyans had imagined!
Does massacre count as a CHANGE?
Syria is another casualty of Arab Spring not entirely due to it though as geopolitics and sectarian forces had as much to do with the war against the Assad regime as a call for change. See what it amounted to, millions of deaths, another million rendered homeless, and had to flee their motherland, now camping in refugee camps in Yemen. It resulted in ISIS declaring a caliphate and massacre of thousands of Yazidis on Mount Sinjar.
Egypt; Land of Pharaohs to Military Dictatorship
Egyptian story is one that would make Bollywood plots feel shy, it has seen too much change in too little time and ended up worse than where it started in the first place.
The story begins with Arab spring against 30 years old Hosni Mubarak regime and bringing to power the largely underground Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that had been banned for 60 odd years till it came to power. While people managed to send Hosni Mubarak behind the bars but brought to power a soft fanatic and fundamentalist Mohamed Morsi for president. Not quite the change desired by modernist, secular protesters even that didn’t last long enough and within a year people were back on street against Muslim Brotherhood and constitutional changes that Morsi was bringing. This time Military General (Abdel Fattah el Sisi) was only too happy to oblige and took power in a coup that sent Morsi joining Mubarak in prison and the complete circle was completed.
Abdel Sisi had no intention of letting Egypt return to the civilian fold as people had expected early on and two sham elections and unconditional US support means he has already been ruling for about 7 Years and still going strong. Is that the change people wanted or anticipated? How much change has actually happened has it been for better or worse?
The results of political changes are hardly ever those which their friends hope or their foes fear.Thomas Henry Huxley
Well, you may say it would be an over-exaggeration to account all of this to Arab Spring and conflicts that happen otherwise too. If you have been following the Arab world for the last decade or so you would be able to see clearly the role Arab Spring played in the civil war in Syria, Al Nusra front was a byproduct of Arab Spring, public support it got was unimaginable otherwise, same with rest of the Arab world, the Arab Spring was the release of anger, frustration and aspirations of a population that has lived largely under the rule of autocracies. However, the eventual outcomes were far less than desirable. The fallout only created more failed states amidst an already precarious geopolitical environment, gave birth to newer, more extreme radical groups, and made the larger region more prone to political fallouts.
Who is to be blamed?
You and me to be honest.
We have to stop believing in wild promises and should separate rhetoric from facts let aside fiction. Because what happens when we start believing in rhetoric is that it affects our ability to separate dramatics and posterity from substance. Building a democratic movement for change is hard work, not just for leadership but for the citizenry as well. Arab Spring has taught everyone that democracy, transition, and political movements are not a spectator sport, but require rigor, time, planning, and commitment to see them through; an informed citizenry is the backbone of such process, being the most involved arm of the movement it has to play the role of conscience keeper.
For people to play that role and to transform people’s power into institutionalized political influence requires a clear understanding of historical, cultural, social, economic, ethical considerations and values. Furthermore, such understanding only can empower us to discern real promises from wild claims. The present generation seems largely oblivious to it and is rather stuck in binaries of propaganda and sensationalism.
Understanding things is a boring unromantic process of acquisition from original authentic texts but it is an equally empowering thing to do as it leaves you with the ability to see things for what they actually are.
A book should be an axe to chop open the frozen sea inside us.J. M. Coetzee
Is it unwise to ask for change, I guess not? Given the screwed-up world, we live in there is no denying desirability and the possibility of Change. What matters rather is what you are asking for, Change for the sake of it, or change in substance.
How do you perceive change?
Is it a singular change in power equations or is it something dynamic, multi-disciplinary, and multi-dimensional? Can one person make everlasting change out of nowhere overnight? Yes, there have been people of exceptional abilities and determination, the ones who have shaped the world we live in for good but even they could not do it all by themselves.
Another thing about lasting change is that it comes with time and sudden changes are usually acrimonious to the interests of one and all. The vacuum left by the existing systems needs to be filled by alternative, better systems. As Nehru would say Change comes with fewer bangs than whimpers. For change to be accepted it has to be proceeded by a continuous process of getting institutions and processes ready.
Change for Good
We have talked about all that went wrong with the movements for change, success stories are plentiful too, biggest of them all is the Indian struggle for freedom, a continuous struggle led by virtuous men for years altogether to shape the destiny of a nation like no other. In recent years, look at the abolition of the apartheid regime in South Africa, it took years of struggle to change things for the good, an important lesson it has taught us is that revolutionary change has to be followed by reconciliation and integration for it to last.
I am not antagonistic to change, it is for people to chart out the change they want to see and look at the alternatives rationally. Understanding of institutions of the day will certainly help in facilitating meaningful assessment of the state of affairs and allow people to make an informed choice. It’s far easier to call for a dictator’s downfall than to pressure for boring, unsexy policies that anticipate such downfall years in the future and look for ways to ensure a smooth and uneventful transition.
Lastly, be careful of what you are being promised, for every mistake you make is a chance lost, never to return.
If you want things to change, you should be ready to dig in and hold your ground as it will take a while for things to change for good.