By: Wilson Aiwuyor
After 30 years of enduring a repressive and corrupt regime and 18 days of resisting intimidation, bloodshed, and security crackdown, the Egyptian people finally prevailed over dictator President Hosni Mubarak, who resigned yesterday 11 February. Inspired by the revolution spearheaded by the youths in Tunisia, Egyptian youths led a non-violent uprising that began on January 25. Armed with new tools of organizing, including Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, among others, the youths mobilized men and women, young and old, rich and poor, and folks from all walks of life, who flocked the streets in their millions to demand for the resignation of Mubarak and to press for their economic and political rights.
Mubarak who had ruled Egypt under emergency law employed various forms of intimidation against the protesters. His regime cut accesses to internet, cell phone services, and non-state media services. It imposed curfews. It made some gradual concessions in a bid to buy time. Mubarak used state security agents to kill hundreds of protesters, to injure thousands, and kidnap and torture many. But the people remained undaunted. The revolution continued, as the people devised creative means to circumvent and survive all the intimidations. Eventually, Mubarak resigned when he came face to face with the full course of the creative, resilient, and transformative energy of Egyptian youths.
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The new wave of revolution that promises to blow across Africa and the Middle East started in Tunisia, where it ousted another corrupt and repressive leader, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.
YES WE CAN – FROM TUNISIA ACROSS AFRICA
The Tunisian revolution was triggered in December after Mohammed Bouazizi, an unemployed graduate set himself on fire in protest of government’s refusal to accommodate his complaints of police brutality and exploitation. That country’s dictator Ben Ali was complacent, believing that he could quell the ensuing youth demonstrations by using state security apparatus to kill and maim the demonstrators. This move only buoyed on the spirit of resistance among the protester. And finally, his repressive regime which the Tunisians had dreaded and endured for 24 years ended when the president fled the country on January 14. Egyptian youths and youths from many African countries and across the Arab world were inspired by the Tunisian revolution.
The Egyptian revolution is now validating the statement that was made by the Tunisian Revolution: a new Africa driven by the creative energy and transformative aspiration of the youth is possible. We are in a critical moment in Africa, a moment where revolutions championed by ordinary Tunisian and Egyptian youths who yearn for a better society are impacting African politics and the entire international system.
Following the Tunisian revolution, I asserted in an article that, “the move by Tunisian youths is an indication of what is to come in Africa as youths’ creativity, power and energy increasingly become the basis for resistance and transformation.” In less than two weeks after making this assertion, the Egyptian revolution began, and has now proven to be more profound.
The question that abounds in the blogosphere in the Pan African world and in other quarters is: which country is next? There have also been postulations about what made revolutions possible in Tunisia and Egypt. No doubt, there was a convergence of forces that came to a head or a tipping point in Tunisia and Egypt, so that it only took a trigger to set the revolution in motion.
In a New York Times article published just hours before the resignation of Mubarak, the Egyptian Nobel Peace Laureate Mohammed el Baradei wrote: “[t]he tipping point (at which the Egyptian revolution was triggered) came with the Tunisian revolution, which sent a powerful psychological message: “Yes, we can.” I would like to state unequivocally that if the Tunisian revolution was the Yes-we-can moment that inspired the Egyptian revolution, the Egyptian revolution could turn out to be the Yes-we-can moment for more revolutions in Africa and the Middle East.
From Libya to Zimbabwe, Guinea, Ethiopia, Algeria, and Cameroon; from Ivory Coast to Angola, Morocco, and Uganda, there abound corrupt autocrats who perpetuate themselves in power and care less about the wellbeing of their citizens. An end to these regimes and the transformation of many of societies do not seem to be what could happen anytime soon. But the events of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolution prove that in the presence of the right environment at a revolutionary tipping point, characterized by the convergence of forces beyond the control of any one individual, all that is needed to set the revolution in motion is a minor incident, a trigger.
Young people in Africa and around the world should be inspired by the savvy, tenacity, and courage of the Egyptian youths who confronted one of the most entrenched and one of the longest dictatorships in the world to demand a transformed society that would uphold their human dignity. If we examine closely the revolutionary tactics, moral courage, and tenacity of the Egyptian and Tunisian youths, we would find some basic lessons for other African youths.
LESSONS FROM THE REVOLUTIONS
Some common features of both the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions are that they were led by youths, who used Facebook, Twitter, and text messaging to mobilize millions of people independent of any organizational fronts or political figures. These young people declared revolutions, without resort to arms, to demand new regimes and systems that guarantee freedom, human dignity, and democracy.
From the two revolutions, it could be deduced that a revolution requires a convergence of events/forces that get to a tipping point, at which it takes only a little trigger to set the revolution in motion. Once in motion, the intentional acts of pro-democracy and progressive people, who are bent on transforming the society, eventually steers and sustain the revolution towards the desired goal. In Tunisia and Egypt, the youths played crucial roles as they became an indispensable part of the forces at the tipping point. They were in charge of the steering and sustenance of the revolutionary momentum.
Besides the acts of self-empowerment, grassroots mobilization, and political awareness displayed by the Tunisian and Egyptian youths, there is much to learn from the gestures of the Egyptian protesters in terms willingness to transcend religious, sectarian, and partisan divides. Christian youths defied the instruction of some of their religious leaders who were against their participation in the protests. Muslims cautioned their fellow Muslims against alienating their compatriots, and chanted: “Christians, Muslims, atheists, we are all Egyptians.” Christians guarded against the police their Muslim compatriots who took breaks from the protests to pray.
These acts, though anecdotal, are symbolic and remarkable. They hold remarkable lessons for the transformation of African societies for peaceful, multicultural, multi-religious, and multiethnic coexistence. They point to what is possible in societies whose youths are hungry for change and transformation beyond xenophobia, religious divisions, sectional and ethnocentric differences.
A NEW AFRICA IS POSSIBLE
The exit of Mubarak is not an Uhuru (or a mission accomplished) moment for Egypt. Revolution is not an event. It is a process. The socio-economic and political problems of the society cannot be fixed overnight. However, this is a remarkable moment that shows that the birth of a new society is possible. It shows that the old ideas and leadership style that Africa has been subjected to for decades can no longer sustain the realities of the moment. These old ideas and leadership must make an exit for a new framework based on freedom, justice, and the dignity of all citizens.
The youths should remain politicized. They should increase their political awareness and stay vigilant throughout the process of reconstruction. The same courage, tenacity, creativity that it took them to dethrone Mubarak should be drawn upon for the task ahead. The Yes-we- can mindset is critical in the task ahead for Egypt, just as it is for the rest of Africa.
Wilson Idahosa Aiwuyor is a researcher. A graduate of International Relations from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, he was a Public Policy and International Affairs Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University. He could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.