If you have missed what has been happening in Egypt for the past three weeks, you must have had your head buried in the sand. The people of Egypt followed suit from the people of Tunisia and overthrew the man who had been oppressing them for 30 years. It was a revolution organised by the people and made possible by the people who for 17 days refused to give in before the man and his collaborators stepped down and handed over the power to the people.
Similar protests have occurred throughout the Arab world, with the most recent being Yemen and Algeria. Jordan recently had its government fired by the king (see Guardian article on Algeria) and there have been rumours of unrest in Iran. Added to this the Iraqi Prime Minister promising three years before the next election not to run for a third term. This is all because the people of these countries have become fed up with being oppressed, fed up with not having a job to go to, not having enough money and living in fear of having their human rights violated.
This entire process of change and democratisation would not be possible if it weren't for the people. If the people, men, women and third gender people together, adults and children, academics, housewives, manual labourers and unemployed youth, did not come together and shout with one unified voice this would not be possible. It is impressive and it is glorious how these people manage to do that, the resolve they have shown. It is inspiring and it is beautiful.
I think there is definitely a lesson to be learned from this for people living in already democratic societies. In the past few decades, voter turnouts have plummeted and people have started experiencing a political apathy. Democratic participation today is not what it was fifty years ago, and this contributes to a downward spiral. People are disgruntled because the politicians do not do their jobs and therefore do not vote, but politicians cannot do their jobs properly if the public does not clearly state what it wants (usually done through a vote, but arguably more civic republican measures such as citizen panels could be beneficial). It is a vicious circle and it benefits no one, apart from perhaps non-person entities such as corporations, which can creep in in the widening gaps that are growing between citizens and their representatives and insert their policy preferences there. There is little that phase us nowadays, and if one does not have a stated interest in politics, or a certain area of society, then there is usually little patience for politics and the power players.
There has been talk about a decline of political capital, one of the famous authors being Robert Putnam and his book about the decline in the American social capital, Bowling Alone. While I do not agree with some of his theories (let's face it, the man is a little outdated when it comes to his slandering of the internet and its potential), he does have a point in that we are not nearly as good at coming together and discussing politics and the state of society. There is just so much else to occupy our minds: TV, the internet, the million various offers of "fun stuff" that are made available to us every day through advertisements. There is so much amusement out there, and we forget about the politics, we forget about the society and we forget about what part we play in it.
This is why the Arab world can be such an inspiration to us in democratised countries. We got the democracy and many of us became lazy. We expect the world to turn out in a certain way, but we also expect it without clearly stating what we want, how we want it and why we want it. We just expect certain things to exist, and when the flaws show, we complain, which is our right and duty as citizens, but we often do not bother to become involved.
If there is anything the past month in Tunisia and Egypt has shown us it is that we can make a difference. We can become the catalysers for change as long as we organise, we mobilise, and we get the message out there. Things will not happen straight away, and neither did they for the people of Egypt and Tunisia, where discontent had been brewing long before the actual protests took place. It seems strange that, in a democracy where we have so many more channels of expression than non-democracies, we would not make use of these and try to express our thoughts and feelings about politics and society. Some have done it, and some have made headway, such as the feminist online movement through, among others, Sady Doyle at Tigerbeatdown with the campaigns #DearJohn (about the proposed legislation in the US House of Representatives that will effectively stop a lot of aid to women who need abortions) and #MooreandMe (when Michael Moore gave into conspiracy theories and told people to never, ever believe someone who accused someone Moore likes of rape).
We need more of this! We need more of people who want to stick their noses out, who will come out and say "Hey! This is wrong because such and such and such." We need more civic participation and less whinging and whining. Keep on pointing out things you disagree with, but do something about it, even if it is just to invent your own twitter hashtag for it, as in the case of Tigerbeatdown.
These Arab revolutions should inspire us and they should make us want to act. Yes, we have democracy, but no, everything is not great, there are always things to be done to improve things. So look at the videos in this Al Jazeera article and feel inspired. It is never a waste of time standing up for something you believe in.
Books mentioned in this post: