The Domino Effect

Mohammed Bouazizi, the martyr of a fresh series of revolutions in the Middle East, is now resting contently in his grave, listening to the voices of the Arab people. These voices have never been more suppressed, and it was Bouazizi, a street vendor in desperate hope of opportunity from Sidi Bouzid, a city with an unemployment rate of 30 percent, who set himself on fire as a shout out to the international community about the plight of most Tunisians. Bouazizi revealed that corrupt authoritarian regimes might ensure short-term stability. En revanche, they can spark anger from the public’s frustration over living standards, maintain staggering unemployment rates and restrict basic human rights. The martyr’s courageous act immediately ignited the tempers of millions across Tunisia where Ben Ali, having been in office for the past 23 years, was finally ousted. In truth, there have been tragedies before Bouazizi’s that did not receive media coverage—what made this death so significant was the internet. In a country deprived of freedom of speech, with tight censorship on news outlets and online media sources, many youth in Sidi Bouzid decided to challenge the government-imposed media blackout by uploading videos of demonstrations on social networking sites. From there, satellite channels like Al-Jazeera and France24 could retrieve what the web activists uploaded. Though many bloggers and online activists were arrested, and Ben Ali attempted to stamp-out of all protests against him, the country continued to buzz. Shortly after, the domino effect marked its start in the Arab world— Mubarak’s regime collapsed and protests arose across the Arab world. “It is very sad that violent clashes had to happen for the people to stand up for themselves,” said Iman Masmoudi ’14, a Tunisian living in North Carolina. “However, it was the first revolt in decades and it makes me proud to be a Tunisian and an Arab. The conscience of the Arab people has finally revived, and this sense of Arab unity showers me with happiness beyond the spectrum of words.” In the case of Tunisia and Egypt, as well as many other developing Arab states, such as Algeria, Jordan, Libya and Yemen, protests represented the sweeping demand for freedom and ameliorated lives. For Lebanon, however, unrest was rooted in a slightly different cause. Early this year, after three years of peace, the Lebanese unity government collapsed after the Hezbollah members of the withdrew. Having had on and off turmoil for the past 35 years, the confessionalist system that separates the parliament into 18 different sects has kept Lebanon on the brink of religious tensions. When Lebanese President Michel Suleiman appointed Hezbollah-backed Najib Mikati as the Prime Minister to quell any potential uproar, protesters raged the streets. For one, the warm relations between the US and Lebanon might change. But most importantly, though sectarian violence has dominated the stage of Lebanese politics for as long as it has existed, and there has always been a lack of national identity, those in office are trying their best to maintain order within Lebanon, commanding everyone to exercise restraint during this crisis. There were burning tires on the streets but it was in no one’s interest for civil war to erupt again. National unity was their priority. Now, our question is, “Is death the price for freedom?” In Lebanon, the lesson has clearly been learned. “Civil marriage, not civil war,” people exclaimed during the May rally. As far as the recent Arab revolutions went, many civilians sacrificed their lives to this domino effect, including 365 Egyptians. I am sure some of my friends and peers at PA will pursue diplomatic and governmental roles in the future or even engage in activities related to the struggle for all sorts of freedom. The incidents happening today in the Arab world will hopefully enlighten all of us to rule out death as one of the steps. Yet, without tragedy and the media coverage that corresponds with it, many outsiders would not care about the victims of these oppressions. Our duty as leaders and global citizens of tomorrow is to change this reality—to eliminate the concept of “outsider” and to change “they” to “us”. What the Arab domino effect has taught us is that unity will always produce results. Oscar Chim is a new Lower from Hong Kong.