The Brazilian writer, Paulo Freire, in his critically acclaimed book, Pedagogy of The Oppressed, counsels as follows: “Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion.” Non have understood the words of Freire more than the citizens of Tunisia, particularly its youth, whose popular uprisings have brought to a halt 23 years of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s despotic government and in so doing awoke from its slumber the giant of mass mobilisation that has shaken the very foundations of the Arab League from Tunisia to Yemen.
A plethora of factors have been given that gave rise to the popular protests that are sweeping across the Arab world. Chief amongst them has been the rampant rates of unemployment of the Arab youth. Their angst is fuelled by the fact that they pay exorbitant university tuitions only to be faced with bleaker prospects of entering the formal economy of their respective countries. Sound familiar? Well, it should because the youth unemployment rate in South Africa isn’t too different from that which led to 26- year-old Mohamed Bouaziz, an unemployed graduate, after being harassed by a police officer and confiscating his fruits business wares, to burn himself on December 17 as an act of frustration and disappointment with the indifferent manner in which he and his contemporaries were being treated by the autocratic government of Ben Ali. Unemployment is in many ways an extension of indignity, which is in itself a form of dehumanization because without economic participation, particularly in the mainstream, one becomes a statistic that’s at the mercy of others put differently, one becomes a burden.
The other factor that has to be included in the sum total of the discontentment which has characterised the working class citizens of the Arab world can be found across the Atlantic in Washington and its key allies London and Brussels. The United States, because of its strategic interest in that Arabian part of the world, has, through its large sums of aid, been the lifeblood that has guaranteed that the likes Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, who’s been in office for 30-years, remain in office for as long as they have with little regard to their human rights credentials. Yet Washington and company are forever preaching to Beijing to respect human rights. Israel is another reason Washington sponsors the despots of the Arab world because they keep the ‘stability’ in the region, meaning silencing the so called ‘Islamists’ such as Iran and then they, the ‘stabilizers’, are paraded as friends of democracy just like they, the US, funded the brutal regimes of Contras in Nicaragua, General Augusto Pinochet of Chile, Saadam Hussein Iraq and Mobutu Seseseko in former Zaire to name but a few. While delivering a lecture in Lebanon last year, the octogenarian American linguist and political authority, Noam Chomsky, sarcastically, in reference to the US Foreign Policy, said:”It sounds like a contradiction but it isn’t when you understand that “stability” has a meaning. It means US control. We had to destabilize a country that was out of US control in order to bring about stability, and it’s the same with Iran. It doesn’t follow orders and, therefore is destabilizing the regional situation.” When US president, Barack Obama, was in Cairo during his trip across the Arab region in 2009 a reporter asked if he was going to do anything about the authoritarian Mubarak and he is reportedly to have replied thus:”I don’t like to use labels for folks. He’s a good man. He’s doing good things. So, he’s a friend.” What good things, remaining in office as long as Robert Mugabe and still being referred to as a friend?
In mentioning the geo-political dynamics of the North Africa-Middle East, one isn’t at all trying to reduce the frustrations of the peoples of those lands to the politics of religious identity and like but that the governing elites of those countries do so, govern, with scant regard for fellow compatriots because much of the material of ostentatious proclivities can be traced to Washington in particular. The huge spaces between the affluent and the destitute are claimed by the desperate and disempowered who, at that juncture, are usually passed the demand for reforms but yearn for a total overhaul and seek a renewed type of governance that will re-humanize them and remind those that assume the controls of the levers of state that a government that’s sensitive to the bare minimums of its people can’t wait a young man to ignite himself in order for them to awake to the darkening struggle for survival that characterizes citizenry’s daily experience. As geographically far and perhaps situational as we may perceive ourselves to be from the popular protests engulfing the Arab region we aren’t. The grim unemployment rate attests to that, the inequality also suggests otherwise. If anything, the riots occurring in North Africa have demonstrated that the power still lies with the citizens and when they’ve had enough of arrogant politicians, they will rediscover their voice even in the face of death. What, after all, is the value of a life led in a dehumanized state?