Friday, 28 January 2011

The Winter of Discontent

The opening line of William Shakespeare's Richard III reads "Now is the winter of our discontent, Made glorious summer by this sun of York", and if one is allowed to borrow the phrase, I would replace York with Tunis, Cairo and any coming cities where the Sun of glorious change is yet to shine.

There's a concept of political thought called Popular Sovereignty, it's simply an exercise of popular will, and although it's a pillar of western democracy explained through the writings of the fathers of the Political philosophy; Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau, it's a universal act of human behaviour against dictatorship and oppression of human dignity; it was used during both the American and French revolutions 200 years ago and has gained its practical meaning through those two examples. But the most important reason for the exercise of this popular power is the belief in the failure of other more conventional forms of sovereignty; nations usually legitimize their political system through parliaments, which -theoretically- are chosen by the people to represent their interests through the various channels of the political process through what is called parliamentary sovereignty, which -in most Arab states- is a puppet in the hand of the top ruler and an extension to his sole power, giving false legitimacy to the regime. but when the people decide to deny that trust and break the fortified barrier of authority, popular sovereignty becomes the delegitimizing force to any political system and the engine that powers the collective will of the people, and through it, people express the long forgotten cliché printed in most constitutions "The people is the source of all powers" and it actually comes into play, with calls like "الشعب يريد إسقاط النظام" The people wants to overthrow the regime, used in Egypt as we speak, a reuse of Tunisia's original call to overthrow the post Bin Ali government.

The Egyptians are the barometer of the Arab conscience; for the better part of the 20th century, Egypt was the center of Arab nationalism until the Camp David accords of 1979, and the public movement of the Egyptian people has always been the trigger for other movements across the Arab world, but this time; Tunisia took the world by surprise and heralded the era of popular sovereignty conquering rusty regimes that have been in power for decades; powered by youth with ages averaging the age of the regimes themselves and powered by their sheer enthusiasm to change using the Internet and social networks to organize their movement.

The most notable hallmark of these movements is their lack of defined leadership, despite the existence of the multiple colors of the political spectrum in their midst, the youth movement is reminiscent to the movements witnessed in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s which resulted in the collapse of the Eastern block, the other notable hallmark is that they're not by any means the movements of the less advantaged, but rather of those belonging to internet savvy, educated middle class backgrounds; the backbone of the economic and social movement in any given nation. On the other hand, the main players in the political system are known for their old age and long-term chronic physical illnesses; experience can never match enthusiasm, it is physically incapable of matching the speed with which the will of change sweeps across the streets, they can oppress it with force, but this will only cause it to explode with greater vigor. The strength and power of despotism consists wholly in the fear of resistance.

The lesson always overlooked by authoritarians is that sovereignty does not belong to the greater or stronger, it belongs to the people; to the daring small and the fearless few, and those who dare challenge their reality, are destined to control their future.

It is especially entertaining to read the clueless reactions of the US and Israel.


  1. Thanks Ammar for writing about this!

    I liked the way you explained the relationship between experience and enthusiasm.

    Last week when some said that they have fears that Tunis' revolution will move to other Arabian countries, Ahmad Abu-Al'3et said "دا كلام فارغ"!! I guess he doesn't say that now!

    When I read the last sentence in your post I SMILED :)

    Thanks again Ammar for the interesting analysis.

  2. Thanks Rana, abul gheit's reaction is quite normal considering he's an "employee" for mubarak, but arrogance is usually the last barrier of defence to authority, he's now collecting his papers from his "former" office, Mubarak will follow in his steps sooner or later.

  3. Wish to see him & his "employees" leaving soon :) I was naively hoping that after what happened yesterday, he will have some decency or self respect & just resign! But I guess this is not how such persons think!

    I guess the coming few days will be Interesting!

  4. Hi Ammar, I'm not sure if its the cold weather I'm stuck in or old age is crawling up on me, but I'm a little bit afraid of the jump first think later approach. though I completely believe the dictatorships of our world left people no other option...I'm still a bit "scared" and the fact of no leadership, no plan makes me very unconformable.I'm more for planned than poetic

  5. Hi Tamara, I hope all is well, your fear is totally understood, but that "leap of faith" is the only way to escape the prison of fear of the unknown, the fact of no leadership makes it even more popular, it happened all over the world from Eastern Europe to Latin America to South East Asia, the last and least expected region for this kind of movement was the Middle East, trial and error is the only way to succeed, a "planned" revolution is a contradiction of terms, opportunists and external interest serving elements will try their best to influence the events, but people aren't as gullible as they were in the past, and that's what we're betting on.

  6. When Hillary came out on TV the next morning (I say, she should be forbidden to give a statement before her coffee) she looked dumbfounded. Similarly, Obama has been quite hesitant and his words were carefully selected, and all of which are dodgy.

    I believe this revolution is taking the world by storm. It's been a bit over two weeks now and neither the people - nor the government - seem to budge.

    It's the ultimate battle of willpower.