“The Protester!” The Arab Spring and a New Uprising for Justice

Augustine Sali, SJ (Associate Professor, Sophia University)

  The revolutionary waves of protests and demonstrations in many countries especially in the Arab world (Arab Spring) have attracted widespread support from the international community, while harsh government responses have generally met condemnation. Time magazine chose “The Protester” as the ‘Person of the Year’ 2011, which indicates a trend of the year 2011. The ‘fire’ began on 18 December 2010 in Tunisia, following Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in protest of police corruption and ill treatment.
  Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26 year old street vendor lived in the charmless Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, 125 miles south of Tunis. On a Friday morning almost exactly a year ago, he set out for work, selling produce from a cart. Police had hassled Bouazizi routinely for years, his family says, fining him, making him jump through bureaucratic hoops. On Dec. 17, 2010, a cop started giving him grief yet again. She confiscated his scale and allegedly slapped him. He walked straight to the provincial-capital building to complain and got no response. At the gate, he drenched himself in paint thinner and lit a match. That was the prelude to the revolutions.
  ”Mohamed suffered a lot. He worked hard. But when he set fire to himself, it wasn’t about his scales being confiscated. It was about his dignity.” – Mannoubia Bouazizi, mother of Mohammed with the picture of her son (from Peter Hapak for TIME Magazine) .
  Responding to this incident civil uprising overthrew the Tunisian Government in January 2011. The sparks spread to Algeria, Oman, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Syria and in other countries in a limited way. As of January 2012, governments have been overthrown in three countries (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya). Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on 14 January 2011 following the Tunisian revolution protests. In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak resigned on 11 February 2011 after 18 days of massive protests, ending his 30-year presidency. The Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown on 23 August 2011, after the National Transitional Council (NTC) took control of Bab al-Azizia. He was killed on 20 October 2011, in his hometown of Sirte after the NTC took control of the city.
  This uprising since 2010 did not contain in the Arab world alone. In August 2011, London witnessed a riot which was an uprising towards economic inequality and racism, which began as a police officer shot and killed 29-year-old Mark Duggan during an attempt to arrest him. A peaceful march in response to the police action became a full-fledged riot in the following days, which was finally stopped by the government intervention. Since September 2011, a protest movement began in New York City’s Wall Street financial district called “Occupy Wall Street”. The protests are against social and economic inequality, high unemployment, greed, as well as corruption, and the undue influence of corporations?particularly from the financial services sector?on government. The protesters’ slogan “We are the 99%” refers to the growing income and wealth inequality in the U.S. between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population. The protests in New York City have sparked similar Occupy protests and movements around the world. Again in 2011, an anti-corruption movement under the leadership of a Gandhian Anna Hazare drew huge crowd in New Delhi, India, in protest and hunger strike to pressure the Indian government to enact a stringent anti-corruption law as envisaged in the Anti-corruption (Jan Lokpal) Bill, to deal with corruption in public places.
  The factors led to these protests and demonstrations are political dictatorship or absolute monarchy, human rights violations and government corruption, in other words Social Injustice. There are increased elements of dissatisfaction among people with a large percentage of educated but unemployed youth, extreme poverty and inequality in many developing and underdeveloped countries. The tension between rising aspirations (living standards, education, employment and information) and a lack of government reform keeping authoritarian forces have been contributing factors. The increased information technology and communication through internet and media have made it possible for the people to join their hands.
  Massive and effective street protest was a global oxymoron until a year ago, but it became the defining trope of our times. These protests are civil resistance once Gandhi proposed as non-violent fight against unjust systems. And the protester, once again, became a maker of history fighting for justice. The stakes are very different in different places. What we need to look into is our socio-political system and its injustice in whatever form, and let us do whatever is possible to reduce the injustice in our society.

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