Beyond the ideals surrounding the Egyptian Revolution – quo vadis, Malaysians?
A sense of revolution is in the air.
Boundless conversations have been sparked by the recent Egyptian protests against Hosni Mubarak’s regime; mostly thought-provoking political analysis, not leaving behind the inspirational vibes one gets from endless accounts of solidarity and resilience in the spirit of Power To The People, uniting against an iron-fisted dictator. The topic is an inexhaustible one. For the most part, some very important lessons were learned. However, the same cannot be said for certain quarters surrounding yours truly. It is with a somewhat deep sense of regret that I feel compelled to admit that for a substantial majority of those in my extended social circle, the profound significance of the “Week of Resistance” was all but lost on them.
The reason why I find this so alarming is simple – it’s symptomatic of the kind of society we live in to see such historical events unfolding in the narrowest light possible, to show support and concern solely on the basis of a shared religion, or the illusion of a common fight, albeit a false one.
It’s pertinent to note that the general view here on the current going-ons in Egypt is that the uprising is one of (mainly) Islamic proportions, and that sympathy is largely directed to what is deemed as a repeat of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. In fact, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself has described Cairo’s protests as an “Islamic Awakening”, designed to exterminate the States’ hegemony in the Middle East. Revolutionary Guard leaders have echoed the same. These statements are ridiculously hypocritical.
I’ve no problem with kicking the States out of the region – they’ve done enough damage playing blind to Egypt’s fake democracy for the sake of having the latter maintain their alliance to the Israeli Zionist regime. Still, if a parallel must be drawn between Egypt and Iran, then the closest resemblance would be Iran’s own Green Movement uprising of 2009; millions of Iranians, the youth making up the bulk of the protestors, marched the streets in what was the largest, most sustained demonstrations post-1979, demanding for democracy. Of course, the current Iranian theocratic leadership neglects to mention any of this, because it’s never in their interest to do so. It’s always politically-expedient for Iran to claim any Arab uprising as an Islamic one, rather than admit that they themselves have continuously stifled any dissent in their own backyard. Sadly, most Malaysians tend to side with this very conjecture.
What’s missing from this picture is that what culminated in Tahrir Square was in truth sparked by Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution that toppled Ben Ali just over a month ago. We all know the story – a 26-year-old Tunisian computer science graduate by the name of Mohamed Bouazizi who was forced to cope with unemployment by peddling fruits and vegetables off a cart, and frustrated with the bullying authorities and corrupt government, ended his life by setting himself on fire outside the governor’s office. This tragic chain of events inspired mass protests calling for liberation, and the protestors prevailed. Ben Ali finally fled. This was what fueled the revolt not only in Egypt, but also the tiny ripples of rebellion in Algeria, Lebanon, Yemen, Jordan (the only other Arab nation besides Egypt to have a peace agreement with the Zionists) – the common folk and liberal intellectuals alike are beginning to stand up for themselves. The fight is one beyond any particular religious rhetoric; for a population that has long been infantilized and oppressed, staging a principled insurrection against a conniving, authoritarian government takes a whole lot of collective tenacity.
In a region where human rights abuses are the norm and leaders-dictators shamelessly hold on to power for far too long (backed by the world’s superpowers handing out military goodies), a popular revolution is a rare gem. Divisive religious and ethnic lines are blurred, solidarity is key. Despite the violent unrest, fueled by pro-Mubarak supporters for the most part, the world have seen solid displays of unity – Christians forming a human chain around Muslim protestors performing their prayers to protect them, Muslims doing the same for their Christian countrymen.
We must remember that it was only last month that Egypt was rocked by a church bombing that left 21 killed. Perhaps it can be best summed up by a statement released by the Muslim Brotherhood, which is not always known by its tolerant or progressive stand (all theories of them hijacking the revolution to further their own interests notwithstanding) – “The Muslim Brotherhood regards the revolution as the Egyptian people’s revolution, not an Islamic revolution. The Egyptian people’s revolution includes Muslims, Christians and is from all sects and political tendencies.” And that, is a fact, regardless of the veiled political intention of who said it.
Malaysians had our very own protest the other day, in solidarity with the Egyptians, and nothing less than FRU trucks were expected to greet the people. There was strength in numbers in the 3000 souls with their rallying cries of support that day, but it was the snide comments by those not present that irked me. An acquaintance remarked that the assembly was highly unnecessary, that it was a waste of time, that it wasn’t our fight to fight, that it was merely politicized by the local political opposition, that the best we should do is to pray for our Egyptian Muslim brothers and sisters, and hope that the Malaysian students trapped there will be brought home safely. And therein lies the problem – this was not an isolated view.
Let’s start with highlighting Najib Razak’s little warning : “Don’t try Egypt style power grab in Malaysia.”, because really, it’s alright to pray for fellow Muslims, but not to be spurred on by their courage. It’s perfectly okay to wish them the best and hope they manage to chase Mubarak away someday, but not to use their story as a reminder that the Rakyat can and will react to a prolonged decay of the system when we have had enough. Regrettably, some foul-mouthed creatures have even gone so far as to suggest that “anti-government” students in Egypt shouldn’t be flown back home so that they can be taught a lesson in being grateful to the government! This remark did not just come from a random cybertrooper, but I’ve actually heard the same being said among my peers. Such is the unbidden ignorance apparent everywhere; all eyes avert their gaze from the real driving force behind the Egyptian struggle – gross injustice and widespread corruption, which is all but present in our own country.
One can’t help but notice the similarities. Egypt has been regarded as an economic hotpot by the World Bank, thanks to its natural resources and neo-liberal policies; almost certainly, the Mubarak family has amassed a sizeable wealth worth billions all to themselves. Cronies benefit just as much. And the people? Well, suffice to say the income inequality gap is glaring, and the lack of comprehensive welfare-centric policies more than fuels their exasperation with the systemically corrupt regime. Any questions or attempts to dig deep into the aforementioned shady deals are met with instant detention without trial by the secret police, with some heinous torture thrown in for good measure.
There is no such thing as freedom of information and transparency. The mainstream media is heavily censored; utilized as the regime’s propaganda machine. The group of young activists who started the protests (no, it really wasn’t the Brotherhood) initially got together in June last year, enraged by the death of one Khalid Saeed, a young man in Alexandria beaten to death by the police – police brutality is rampant there, hiding behind the enforcement of Emergency laws in the name of national security. All of this sounds eerily familiar, no?
I had a chat recently with a group of friends who just arrived from Egypt a few days ago; all of them medical students, happy to be home away from the violence. They related that although they felt scared amidst the chaos of a foreign land, some were touched, witnessing the strong inter-religious bond, while some didn’t give a hoot over what transpired around them. Most of them though, made the same remark – that it’s good to be back in Malaysia where such things are unheard of, and that it’s unfortunate how most people take the peace and harmony here for granted.
That got me thinking. The people all across the Middle East are resolute in fighting for their rights, being the unrelenting citizens they should be. They do so with a price – continuing unrest, disorder, risk of injury, even death. Genuine reforms post-Mubarak is not even a confirmed prospect. Yet the thing to grasp about revolutions is that they’re meant to be a reboot of sorts for governments that are way too high on the rotten-meter; a resuscitation, a revival, that has no guarantees. It is the risk of every revolution – one that the people must not be too afraid to take.
Similarly, our “peace” comes with a heavy penalty. A corrupt political/justice/economic system that not enough are critical of and most are oblivious to, institutionalized racism and the politicization of religion, disgusting hypocrisy, and an endemic apathy that proves to be the biggest hurdle yet in uniting the Rakyat against these damning facets of our society. Not to say we need violence to break these shackles, but hey, we need something.
Radical abstractions will most probably invite accusations of conjuring up dreams a tad too idealistic to realize, yet this writer believes that above all else, that is the kind of steadfast commitment missing from this nation’s young blood. Skeptics and cynics alike only have the most to lose. Fear (and our differences) shouldn’t be holding us back. That is the bigger picture; that is what Egypt should’ve taught us.
Obviously, we’ve yet to learn our lesson.
Beatnik is a reluctant law student in a local university which arguably hosts the largest congregation of prudes in the country. Althought she can’t use her real name here because of an oppressive piece of university law, she insists on not letting the prudes define her though; ideally, she’s just another beatnik. Self-explanatory.