The images streaming from cities in three countries in the Middle East region — countries that, tellingly, had sat out the 2011 Arab Spring — spell it out: Demonstrators are out in the streets and town squares protesting against the miserable social, political and economic conditions that have long bedeviled their lives, Gulf News writes in the article Arab protests a call for social justice. There, they are not only giving vent to a national psyche choked by perennial hardships and thwarted dreams, but they are also asking their governments, as much as they are asking themselves, why it is that they have to live destitute, truncated lives while their political elite, imbued with a smug sense of entitlement are seemingly answerable to no one.
Though the demonstrators, to be sure, are from different countries, facing different obstacles, poll them and you will find that, at a seminal level, they are seeking the same basic — very basic — rights: The provision of job opportunities for qualified, able-bodied men and women; decent public services, such as electricity, water health care and education; an end to corruption, including kleptocracy and nepotism in high places; and the freedom for ordinary people to express their views in public, including in public squares, without fear of retribution by agents of the state.
It is sad that it has come to this in Iraq, Algeria and Lebanon, the three countries where the demonstrations are taking place. These are countries, let’s face it, whose ample resources should have endowed citizens with aplenty. Iraq is Opec’s second-largest producer, with 12 percent of the world’s oil reserves. Since protests began there on October 1, security forces have killed close to 300 protesters and injured thousands. Algeria, which possesses the African continent’s largest hydrocarbon reserves, has failed, since independence in 1962, to meet both the challenges of modernity and its people’s demands for equity. Peaceful demonstrations there, dubbed the Revolution of Smiles, will soon mark their 40th consecutive week. And Lebanon, whose denizens are considered the most enterprising in the Levant, with a high literacy rate, took to their streets on October 17 in order to siphon off the discontent — perhaps it is the utter rage — they feel at seeing their country hollowed out by sectarianism and shattered by corruption, which explains the gathering together of Lebanese protesters in Martyrs’ Square in downtown Beirut, and elsewhere, of Muslims and Christians, conservatives and radicals, middle class and working class, young and old, all waving the Lebanese flag. An eloquent statement about national unity.
Why should these countries, you ask, gifted with abundant material resources and/or social capital, be rendered bereft, and their people denied the right to an emancipatory movement.
One thing is plain: These folks’ right to protest is not just a cornerstone of democracy and civil society, it is a universal human right enshrined in article 28 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human rights. And, no, they should not be made to put their lives on the line to exercise it, as they appear to be doing today in Iraq. It may take time, but, rhetoric aside, the mass sentiment of the people, imbued as it is by the will- to- meaning, will prevail, given the fact that historical imperatives are on its side.