Careful scrutiny of opposition groups that have come to power or who are fighting to gain power reveals that they are often mirror images of the tyrants they replace. Arab opposition political parties are infected with the same diseases of the ruling regimes, with membership of some limited to selected families or cliques. In Syria, for example, the Communist Party leadership rotates amongst sons and other members of a certain family. There is no difference between the Assad regime and its opponents. Just as the Syrian president passed power to his son, it is apparently acceptable for the leaders of opposition parties to do likewise with their children. This phenomenon is also present in Egypt and blatantly so in Sudan. We have to ask ourselves how our revolutions can succeed if this is the case. We are simply replacing Coca Cola with Pepsi, or Seven-Up with Sprite.
The Arab intellectual Abdullah Alqasimi said in 1963: “For every tyrant there is an opposition that will inherit his character once they come to power.” In other words, they become tyrants once in power. What applies to political opponents also applies to the general public, who were brought up under tyranny, especially if they have lived like that for decades. Thus, there is no value in just changing the tyrant without changing the whole culture of tyranny because it can easily produce another tyrant. Changing the management is not enough; we need to change the ownership.
We have seen, for example, that some of the rebels who overthrew the Gaddafi regime in Libya are no different to him; some, in fact, are even worse in monopolising power and terrorising their opponents. The same happened in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, leading some cynics to say, “The only difference between the current regime and the previous one is that in the past we were dealing with one tyrant and his children, but now there are hundreds and thousands of tyrants.” In Somalia, dozens of groups have emerged behaving in the same unacceptable way as the tyrant Mohammed Siad Barre. This pattern has now emerged in Syria.
Although revolutions against tyrants may be relatively short, replacing the mindset within us will take a long time. That is why our revolutions are suffering from the tyrannical “remnants” and their “deep state”, embedded culture. The tyrants’ physical presence may be gone but the psychological and institutional presence still lingers.
New ways of doing things are not learnt overnight. In some cases we might need to wait for the growth of new systems and political groups uncontaminated by the tyrannical touch. Changing people is easy; changing the regime is not so easy, and will only happen when the people are ready psychologically to make that change and want it to happen. We need personal revolutions within each and every one of us if our national revolutions are to succeed.
The author is a presenter at Al Jazeera TV. This is a translation of the text which appeared in Al-Sharq newspaper on 20 October, 2013
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.