Who are the new revolutionaries filling the streets of Tunis, Cairo, Sana’a and other Arab cities? Where have they come from; to what social, cultural and political background do they belong? What are their aims and aspirations? What do we read into their slogans? These are important questions which, along with many more, occupy one’s mind whilst trying to understand the lexicon of “the alluring Tunisian era”.
It has been clear that most have been fairly young, men and women in the twenties and thrirties from the middle class or even the upper-middle class. One thing they have in common is that they all have strong links to the outside world through internet sites such as Facebook and Twitter. They aren’t poor, nor are they political party activists, having bypassed that traditional route into politics and overtaken their aging leaders onto the streets to push for a new future for their nations.
These new revolutionaries have often been ridiculed for spending too long in front of their computers screens, playing games in seclusion. The snobs amongst us looked down on them for not adopting religious slogans, or leftist and nationalist trends. These are the young people who governments in the Middle East have tried to convince us are closer to the ruling party and the “neo-liberal elite”. And these are the young people who have taken us all by surprise, leading shaikhs and party leaders with their energy.
Governments have been caught unawares and are tongue-tied by the incredible ability to organise (and sacrifice) that these new revolutionaries have demonstrated. Their awareness and consciousness has surprised us, as has the extent of their distaste for the current parties and policies, and utter rejection of corruption. This is the generation that wants to restore the honour of their nation.
Take a close look at their slogans and demands. They have not poured onto the streets because of money, said one young Tunisian man in front of a government building in Tunis. They are crying out against corruption in Tahrir Square and demanding freedom in Suez. They are appalled at the wall that separates Egypt from Gaza, said one Egyptian in his thirties with a child on his shoulders. They are concerned about the loss of the Nile, after the separation of south Sudan. They have many issues of concern.
Their demands for economic and social change are important and should be seen as a credit to them and not a charge against them. The Tunisian intifada grew out of concern for the agony of unemployment, poverty and hunger amongst the masses, but the new revolutionaries have not been content to address these issues in isolation. They know more than most that hunger, unemployment and poverty are caused by the chronic corruption of their governments and regimes. Governments wanted us to believe that poverty and hunger are predestined and cannot be changed. Tunisia brought into the public domain for discussion that while the poor get poorer, the rich get richer. While there are hungry people in every city and village, so too are there those who fill their bellies and pockets. Alongside both are an army of unemployed. Meanwhile, billions of dollars are smuggled to Switzerland and Europe by the “leaders”; if invested in their own countries that wealth would help to alleviate poverty and unemployment.
These uprisings have established the link between politics and economics, and have refused to accept the governments’ attempts to separate political reform from economic reform. As such, the new revolutionaries have made comprehensive reform much more of a likely and positive outcome.
This is truly a digital revolution and, as one commentator put it, a dignity revolution. Across the Arab world the people are regaining their self-respect and self-confidence. This is set to run and run, with much more to come.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.