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Monday, May 27, 2024

The Fine line between Freedom and Anarchy

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

© Istockphoto

The year 2011 will forever be known as the year of revolt; I just pray that it doesn’t become the century’s most revolting. There are so many revolutions and civil uprisings it’s almost impossible to keep up with them all. And they’re not confined to the Arab world either. The fashion has spread to Athens, where anti-austerity demonstrators have been throwing petrol bombs at riot police.

Even the US hasn’t escaped the trend. Up to 100,000 people have rallied in Wisconsin over a bill to limit the unions’ collective bargaining rights, supported by dozens of protests in other American cities. Former Texas Agriculture Commissioner, Jim Hightower, joined a demonstration outside the state Capitol, saying he was happier than “a flea at a dog show”.

If you imagine that protests in the West are unrelated to the fever gripping the MENA region you are wrong. The rallying cry of demonstrators carrying placards, comparing their governor to Hosni Mubarak, in Madison, Wisconsin, have come up with the rallying cry, “Fight like an Egyptian”.

Mr Hightower feels like a flea at dog show and that’s his privilege but should civil disobedience become uncontrollable around the world, I fear that our freedom will quickly turn into anarchy.

While I sympathise with the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, where people have suffered from corruption and oppression, I’m appalled that sectors of the public in peaceful, prosperous countries, that look after their citizens, such as Bahrain and Oman, have chosen to take to the streets, instead of appointing representatives to put forward their demands to their governments.

God forbid this contagion should spread to the Gulf countries. What could they complain about in a place where the nationals enjoy a lifestyle that is the envy of the world? Could they say that the sea wasn’t blue enough?

Freedom to peacefully demonstrate is one thing; setting-fire to government buildings and lobbing petrol bombs at the police quite another. The idea that a state can run efficiently on people power alone might be Utopian but it’s nothing more than a pipedream. Once the heady days of revolution, when everyone is united, are over, people revert to their own opinions, affiliations and divisions. This is the time to avoid a power vacuum. Any interim government has to assert its authority before chaos prevails. Law and order must be reinstituted. Citizens must return to their jobs. The economy must be kickstarted again so that the state can fulfil its undertaking to provide a better future for all.

Take Egypt for example. As revolutions go, this one was a textbook success. A tyrant is now holed-up in his Red Sea villa. His loot is being frozen. His corrupt cohorts are being arrested and investigations into their dealings are being carried out. World leaders are queuing up to heap praise upon the courageous youth who braved tear gas, live bullets and even tanks in pursuit of their dream. But let’s be realistic. Without the support of the Egyptian military their story could have turned into a tragedy.

Egypt’s Supreme Military Council has, thus far, behaved in an exemplary fashion. Its leaders are currently meeting with youth committees and opposition groups. They have also appointed a panel to revise certain articles of the Constitution, which were unveiled on Sunday and they have promised to hold elections within six months.

Also promised, is the lifting of the emergency law and an increase in salary for public sector employees. In return, they are asking for people to exercise patience and work together to bring some normality to the towns and the cities. I think their requests are very reasonable. Tahrir Square is going nowhere. Yet, a few of the hard core revolutionaries seem hell bent on holding a knife to their throats.

When the military doesn’t respond to their demands - such as a request to sack the Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafik, who was appointed by Mubarak during his last hours as president, as speedily as they might like, they shout, ‘Everybody out’. Ahmed Shafik is just an administrator until there is a ballot. Nobody with political ambition wants to replace him for fear of being tainted, and no one enjoying any popular standing is rushing to join his cabinet.

On Friday, protesters once again pitched their tents in the square and were forcibly moved on by soldiers. Their response was to call on the millions, provoking an apology from the Supreme Military Council, which denied issuing any such orders. Just who is in charge of the country - the military in its role as caretaker or the revolutionaries?

The youth are playing a dangerous game that could end up being counterproductive. What happens if the military gets fed up with being held over a barrel? Are they prepared to face-off against the army? Cooperation is always more effective than continuous confrontation.

Even worse is the public’s attitude towards the police force. The entire country is lawless, yet the police are being treated as pariahs. Few dare to wear their uniforms or drive police vehicles for fear of being insulted or attacked. A case in point was highlighted on Nile TV. A civilian brutally attacked a police officer who defended himself by firing a non-lethal shot. The result was shocking. A crowd rushed to the scene and beat the policeman unconscious.

My sources in Egypt tell me that this is far from being an isolated incident. Policemen have fallen victim to revenge attacks. Prison guards have been beaten, shot at and held hostage. And a rift between the security forces and the people is emboldening criminals and angering policemen. Oneand- a-half million armed and angry police officers roaming the cities is a disturbing thought.

Egypt urgently needs leadership. The revolution is over. Authority must be respected. All Egyptians should roll up their sleeves. The real work must now begin.


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