Part 1 A Warning to Incumbent Monarchs and Dictators in the Region
All of us, inside and outside the Middle East and North Africa, implicated in the changes and events taking place, for all of us have a role to play: we can either hinder or assist in the process. Be warned, those inside or outside of the region who choose to attempt to hinder the process will immediately enter the pages of history. If you wish to be part of the future, and indeed to be alive to live in it, you will be advised to join those who are working for it as it unfolds.
To be more specific, if you are a head of state in the region who presently still retains your position and up to now, by virtue of your position, have exerted your will on the people under you, you are in mortal danger.
If you employ violence in any form, be it denial of communications, the employment of propaganda, extending to the vast panoply of traditional physical means, against the expressions of the will of the people whom you are attempting to subjugate to your will, you endanger your position. If you persist in the use of violence, and indeed escalate its use, you endanger your life.
Despite any protestation you make to the contrary, on whatever grounds, your position, as a result of your use of violence, is identical to those who have already fallen, and to those who are already caught up in the process, and the more you resist, the greater the levels of violence you attempt to employ, the greater will be the certainty that you will be deposed. As greater get the levels of violence you use in a vain attempt to maintain your position, the more you guarantee your demise.
And know this. With the demise of each person from a position such as that which you presently occupy, and with the swift passage of time, as the world gains greater and greater understanding of the legitimacy of demands of the people in the region, including by those whom you attempt to hold captive to your will, so will their fear of these forces be lessened, the wider and with greater efficacy will be the means that the international community uses to thwart your efforts, the greater will be the confidence of the international community in the application of those measures to ensure your demise, as will be the reduction in time which will pass to the implementation of those measures.
What drives you to balk at these demands and to resist them, is fear. No one can ask that you overcome your fear. All that can be asked is, that you, as soon as you can, bow gracefully to them and obtain for yourself an honourable retirement. You face the forces of history and no mortal can withstand such forces. What you are witnessing in square after square in the region, when it comes time, as it surely will for the people to enter and occupy the squares of the towns in the country of which you are nominally head of, know that it is your turn. Bow to the inevitable. You may say, “I am not going without a fight.” But do you gain from this? What gain do you make? You are going to lose. This is not a boxing ring where you slug it out until the knockout blow. Better to leave with the greatest amount of your dignity intact and with a measure of respect from those who understood the courage it took for you to make that decision.
You may, if open to council, adopt dialogue and the outcome of that will depend upon the sincerity with which you engage in it. You should not be surprised, if you have any honesty about you, if your offer is rejected. If it is accepted, then you are best advised to be honourable in your engagement in it and faithful in pursuit of outcomes favourable to the people who have shown a willingness to retain you in some way in the political process. The alternatives are stark, and pragmatism has never been your strength, but if you are willing to survive on terms favourable to both parties, you may make the transition. All choices have risk. One at least leaves you alive, others do not.
To those of you in the region who are monarchs, I can address you with a measure of respect, for I am by birth the citizen of a constitutional monarchy, and have lived the proof of their assured strengths over republics. I also offer, for what it is worth, a degree of sympathy, for you are required to make adjustments in a space of time amounting to weeks where those who successfully made the transition elsewhere in the past did so over the course of centuries. I don’t doubt that in either case the pain of transition was, and will be, considerable. Perhaps a tooth pulled quickly provides relief more speedily than one pulled agonizingly slowly.
So, to those of you who are monarchs, I suggest to you that you can secure your survival and salvation if, and only if, you hand over power to a duly elected body, that you assist with others in putting into place a constitution in your country which sees you as its head, oversee a proper transition of power to that duly elected body, that you announce and adhere to a timetable which swiftly implements the aforegoing, and that you announce from the onset that you are willing and eager to remain head of state as a constitutional monarch. Should this not be to your taste, then make provision to step aside immediately. Should you elect to engage in the course of action outlined in the previous paragraph, know that your position will very rapidly become identical with that of the dictator or despot, Should you change your mind, having embarked on the latter course of action, know that your ability to change horses midstream is unlikely to meet with success.
May I add that, where you as a reigning monarch is concerned, you have vested in the honour of your people as they have vested honour in you. You may squander that honour, or you may retain for yourself honour and dignity by offering and adopting to serve your people. You may besmirch that honour by attempting to purchase the goodwill of your people with your wealth but you should recognize that your people require and demand what none of your wealth will purchase. Take the course of transition to constitutional monarch, retain by you wise and good council, and you will survive to retain the honour and esteem of your people. Give up willingly your power and you will retain your wealth and secure your position for you and your heirs. Best of all, by bestowing upon them their dignity, you will attain the undying respect of your people. Monarchs through wise action can maintain the love of their people, an attribute afforded to few dictators.
Part 2 Emerging Democracies in the MENA: Fundamental principles renewed
Some of the fundamental principle of the emergent democracy in Egypt appear to be that democracy is only partially served by creating and maintaining structures that allow free and fair voting, the creation and sustaining of political parties, the writing of sound constitutions that permit the widest, soundest and fairest possible representation of people and parties, the creation of governing structures that provide for fair and equal representation, and an effective and representative government.
Those at the heart of the creation of democracy in Egypt know what they want. They may lack the means and political wherewithal to implement their ideas which may be why they stand back from the process and seek to guide it rather than implementing it. They know what they want and they may even have a sense of when it is that it is appropriate and necessary to implement that particular piece of the process. It is not clear for the present that they know how to implement the ideas and actions they desire. Those of us outside that process who follow and strive to understand what they are doing and seeking to achieve may be help and assist by pointing them to the tools and resources that are available to inform and educate those charged with their implementation. One example serves at present to make the point: the creation of a civil police force. This is a topic which deserves amplification in a future post.
Any time spent witnessing what groups like #Jan25 are doing, what they are saying reveals that each of the individuals in involved has a sharp and particular grasp of all the elements that they need to see into place for Egypt to emerge with a fully functioning democracy. These and others, as we understand democracy, are all necessary in its fullest implementation. But they are not sufficient. It is no longer acceptable to sustain and tolerate a democratic process and the structures, as presently conceived, which rely upon the will and representation of the people being expressed solely by means of periodic voting of issues and parties. The voices of the people who make up the democratic process need to be better heard than in the past. Their opinions, desires and needs need to be heard and addressed in an ongoing manner that the existing structures, channels and platforms for the democratic process, do not provide. It is no longer tolerable for representatives of the people to take decisions on their behalf, based on the knowledge of their voters gained as they kissed babies heads and shook hands in the markets and squares they visited but once, before vanishing into their legislative chambers, with no further contact with voters, and where they are held hostage to special interests and cronyism, where they are freely subverted as representatives of the people, by corruption and pork, special interest favours, and the insertions into legislation of sweet heart clauses whose sole beneficiaries are their friends and family members, and where they spend or squander the hard gotten earnings of their voters / taxpayers, without further input from their voters as to how that money is spent.
Spice into the previous paragraph your own particular favourite examples of the cynicism which attends the willful usurpation of the present democratic process by our elected representatives. It is no long acceptable that governments, local, regional or national, take actions and implement policies, which result in such anger and resentment that voters take to the streets to express their positions. And further, it is absolutely not possible to for a moment longer to permit, far less tolerate, governments engaging in violent means of suppressing those expressions of will and popular sentiment. For, at its very base, is the principle that the voice of the people shall be heard. Therefore, new structures and means need to emerge which provide for dialogue, dialogue between representatives and those they represent. The democratic process in the West, where by West we mean established democracies, requires overhaul and refreshing. The present structure whereby voters express their views only at election time is not a sufficient expression of people’s voices. That voter turnout in established democracies and that, having been elected into office, politicians feel at liberty to implement policy which they know flies in the face of their voters’ wishes. The present democratic structures are flawed in that, having elected politicians into office, we are devolving to them certain of our responsibilities for an extended period of time, let’s say two to four years. In the meantime, we have no direct means of holding our elected representatives accountable. Politicians elected on this basis feel at liberty to pursue agendas frequently completely at odds with the will of the people who voted them into office.
This is the principle of representative government. We as citizens hand off certain of our responsibilities to others to act on our behalf. This system is seriously flawed in that we are handing off to others power which belongs to us and should never leave us. We are reduced in stature and lose our integrity as humans. We are handing off responsibilities which, in few other areas of life we would willingly do. We are granting power to others which belongs to each of us and only to us. In relinquishing degrees of power to others, we are granting those others to make decisions on our behalf. We have no direct control over the decisions that are made on our behalf. Decisions, under such circumstances, will be made which are irreversible. Decisions will be made which the cost of undoing will make a mockery of undoing them. To borrow a term I heard used recently by, we are infantilized by the process. We need as citizens to more fully exercise our responsibilities. We need to give greater thought as to what we need to do to the present democratic structure to make it more equitable, more responsive. And we need to do this in a way that retains all of the good associated with the present system. We need to identify the greatest flaws and begin to address those flaws in a manner that results in changes or additions to the democratic process to our mutual benefit.
If you asked me to give a term for such a democratic process I would be hard pressed to answer. For, to give it a term would have you ask, rightly, “What do you mean by that?” I would be harder pressed to answer. What we need is a more participatory democracy. It seems to me that if we set out clearly what it is we want from democracy, at least what more do we want than we get at present. If we ask those questions, if we can get consensus that that is what most of us would like, then we will be in a position to discuss how we go about getting them.
This is not about political leanings. This is not an expression of left and right wing tendencies. The ability to vote, similarly, is also not an expression of a left or right wing view. Who gets to vote; yes, that might be.
So too, the principles I touch on are fundamentals. How might it be possible to achieve a more participatory democracy? Well, I think we have tools that would aid in the process. And, having defined more clearly what we want, we will find, or invent, the tools and mechanisms to implement them. Let me point to one tool we have at present that might potentially serve, in an adapted form, among others: Twitter. I can right now tweet the president of the United States, any official anywhere in the United States who has a Twitter account. Or any official anywhere who has a Twitter account. How might this powerful tool be developed? I don’t know. But those with the knowhow would be able to tell us.
The term has been used with regard to the European Union: continually seeking to create a more perfect union. Let us create a democratic system which has this principle at its core. The end point will never be reached. But humans will be around for long enough to try.
I have the hunch that it is no less than this principle that the founders of the new democracies, the groups such as #Jan25, appear to seek to provide as a central element of the new structures they are helping build.
Part 3 An Exhortation to the Media
To the Media: Don’t Hire People, Experts, Who Haven’t a Clue
Do not hire or invite onto your programmes experts who belong to yesterday and how have no knowledge of present events. Do not invite people to talk about the dark side of the moon who have never been there. Invite those who know what is going on the ground. Who have gone in and talked to the people who are making these revolutions possible. If your invitees have never seen an elephant, please do not invite them to your programmes to attempt to discuss one.
Reporting the Revolution: Accuracy of Language in the Media
If there are individuals in and out of the region who listen to what we presently call activists, or the youths of the various moments, – while that term is inappropriate, we have no other for now – and understand what it is that they are saying, what they and their followers are seeking to achieve, then I urge such individuals to speak up, to find whatever platforms seem to them to be appropriate, in order to initiate a debate as to what we are actually witnessing.
To underscore this point, let me draw your attention to the fact that the world’s media, when reporting events in Libya, especially when referring to those opposing the regime in Tripoli, swing back and forth on the hour between talking of rebels, activists, anti-Gaddafi forces, along with a whole plethora of phrases guaranteed to mislead and misrepresent, pulled ready made from the lexicography of historically different insurgencies from the past, to be chided constantly by groups such as #Feb17, @EnoughGaddafi and @ShababLibya, as to the inappropriateness of such the terms. Does the press and media know the difference between the use of the terms “those fighting for democracy” and “freedom fighters”. The use of accurate and appropriate terminology is crucial when reporting an insurgency, since listeners and readers, no less governments, will modulate their responses in accordance with the terms used. Let me be even more specific. One world renowned media organization, name and source not mentioned to avoid distraction, reported of a recent possible action by anti-Gaddafi forces on Tripoli as a “terrorist action”. In making this demand, this is not a case of political correctness nor avoidance of accurate terms. A spade is a spade, and may be a shovel, but it is not a pitchfork. If we can’t get our definitions and terminology correct, our reporting condemns us to mediocrity. Editors and producers must be able to advise staff on the difference between rebellion and revolution, between rebel and revolutionary. The difficulties media face in reporting from the region are legion, there is no excuse for them to exhibit sheer unprofessionalism in the language they use to make such reports. Report the truth and make no attempt to cleanse the language. A beating is a beating and not harassment. Torture is torture and not abuse or harsh treatment or any of the other crap phrases used by oily tongued politicians who wish to sugar coat the truth.
Note to #Jan25 and other groups; conduct a sit-in seminar with world media on this point in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt and charge them a fee for their pains. If we can do nothing else at the present time, let’s at least get the press reporting correctly. The beloved Al Jazeera needs to be there as they are as guilty as any other. They might even consider sponsoring it.
I would like to take this opportunity to offer hearty thanks to the following:
Those hardy souls who have left a comment on the website
Those of you who have linked from your blog or on-line newspaper to my web page
Those who have tweeted me on Twitter and commented on my Facebook page to say that they found a previous article thoughtful, that it made some good points
Those of you who follow me on Twitter