Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Year of the Protestor: 2011 A. D.

In 2010, out of all the powerful men and women in the world, TIME magazine selected founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, as their coveted ‘person of the year’. This epitomized the change that had been brought to the world by internet and especially the relatively new phenomena of social networks. If someone was skeptical about this selection, they were to proven utterly wrong in the year 2011.

In 2011, TIME selected a masked person as the ‘person of the year’. It is a very innovative and timely decision to award ‘The Protestor’ the coveted ‘person of the year’ award. He or she may have been Mohamed Bouazizi who died in Tunisia, thus creating the ‘big bang’ which ultimately toppled three long standing dictators and gave immense trouble for many more. He or she may have been a martyr of Tahrir square who toppled Mubarak or of Pearl Square in Bahrain. He or she may have been a person in Aden, Algiers, Amman, Benghazi, Damascus, Rabat or any other Arab city. He or she may have been at an “Occupy Movement” march at any of the dozen cities through which it swept across. He or she may have been a Greek in Athens or an Italian in Rome. He or she may have been a Palestinian and even an Israeli where unprecedented protests occurred last year. He or she may be a Russian who protested against the election irregularities. He or she may have been a Tibetan patriot. He or she may still be languishing in prison in Manama or any other place for protesting. He or she may have been anyone and everyone.

The important factor is the role of the social networks in making the protestor who he/she was to be. If not for them, Bouazizi’s self immolation would have been in vain. People in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia would never have known of the young man who died and the wave of protests created by that event in the provincial areas. When these were known, the people expressed their pent up frustration by taking to the streets. President Ben Ali and his Western supporters were largely caught unawares.

These events started in December 2010 but exploded in January 2011. Soon Ben Ali had fled his country. This success brought about unprecedented protests in Egypt and then across Arabia. Hosni Mubarak also fell soon after and it was because of the Western backing that the rulers of Bahrain and Yemen held on to power. Social media had an integral role to play in these protests. It was the utility of the opportunities given by the social media that made the protestor such a devastating force.

However, the protestor became a tool of the West in Libya where Muammar Gaddhafi would never have been toppled if not for the NATO bombing campaign. Also in Syria the Western countries are in support of the protestors who march against an unfriendly regime. But elsewhere in Arabia, all regimes which felt the wrath of the people on the streets were pro-Western. In the eyes of the rulers and their supporters, these protestors demanded reforms at best and resignation of the despots at worst. Overall it can be said that the protestor took to the streets against their rulers whether they were pro or anti Western. What mattered to them was the fact that they wanted to see the end of the despots in their lands.

The “Occupy Movement” is a new phenomenon in the fight against the global capital. This movement which swept across a number of cities was, and still is, nourished by social media. Arguing that “We are the 99%” they have taken the corporate world by surprise. However, it has yet to be seen if this movement will have a lasting effect.

The protestors were not content with toppling the old order. They wanted to create a new, lasting and more democratic order. Thus, they protested the new Tunisian caretaker government’s slow progress. They are still protesting in Egypt. Libya’s future is extremely uncertain as the protestors were turned in to armed fighters. In Yemen, many people were armed before they began protesting as there is an inherent gun culture in the country. Bahraini people are still protesting against huge odds for democracy. Syria is still unstable. Outside Arabia, the Occupiers are still fighting on and so does the Russians.

The streets are still not calm and the protestor still has a role to play in international politics.

Image: Hundreds of Thousands of Bahrainis Taking Part in March of Loyalty to Martyrs, by Lewa'a Alnasr (Feb 22, 2011) From Wikimedia Commons.

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