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Where are the Gilets Jaunes in the Arab world?

Protesters wear yellow vests during a demonstration against rising costs of living and fuel taxes in Paris, France on 8 December 2018 [Mustafa Yalçın/Anadolu Agency]
Protesters wear yellow vests during a demonstration against rising costs of living and fuel taxes in Paris, France on 8 December 2018 [Mustafa Yalçın/Anadolu Agency]

The Paris demonstrations by the Gilets Jaunes — yellow vests — movement have grabbed public attention around the world, and have spread to several other European capitals. It has even been said that “Arab Spring fever” has reached Europe to sweep away governments.

The two, though, are not the same. The Arab people rose up against the corrupt dictatorships in power for more than 30 years and which ruled with an iron first. In Europe, the protests are against rising fuel prices and increased taxes. There are no demands for regime change. There is a huge difference between revolutions and demonstrations. Nevertheless, the people of countries such as Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Libya have relived their Arab Spring days while watching the Paris protests.

Revolutions are based on ideology and ideas; they do not die, because ideas do not die. Demonstrations, though, tend to be more spontaneous and in response to specific contentious issues; they come to an end when demands are met. The Arab peoples’ revolutions were truly a spring and there was hope that change would bloom in the Arab world; in France, the protests revolve around the need for warmth in the harsh winter.

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In response to Gilets Jaunes, French President Emmanuel Macron has cancelled his decision to increase taxes and fuel prices. He has even donned a yellow vest himself.

Far from donning protesters’ garb — literally or metaphorically — the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the UAE conspired against the revolutions to thwart them, by paying for the counterrevolutions. The funds expended ended up with the enemies of the Muslim Ummah and have been spent on fighting Muslims all over the world.

We need to observe the difference between how the French police dealt with the Gilets Jaunes and how the police and armies in the Arab countries treated their people. No French citizens were killed and relatively few were arrested. Instead, the police in Paris used internationally-recognised crowd dispersal methods with a high degree of professionalism and skill. When President Macron thanked the police and shook their hands, one officer said: “There is no need to thank me for doing my duty, President Macron, it is my job. However, I am also affected by the taxes that the people have protests against, and I am ashamed when I oppress people who are protesting in defence of my right.”

This was the people’s police speaking and their loyalty is to the people, not solely to the government as they are in the Arab states. Moreover, the French leader’s loyalty is to the people who put him in power, and so he accepted their demands and backed down on his decision to raise taxes and prices.

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A president’s decisions do not have to be imposed by force and accepted without any protest, as they are in our countries. Such is the advantage of democracy and the grace of freedom, which the West in general experiences. This illustrates the presence of a free media in which the people can express themselves; a media which is not simply a mouthpiece and promoter of the regime, as is the case in all Arab countries without exception.

Furthermore, the French army did not intervene or take to the streets. Western armies are rarely deployed against their fellow citizens, whereas thousands of Arab citizens have been killed and wounded by their own soldiers over the years simply for trying to stand up for their human and civil rights.

The Arab Spring countries were on the verge of achieving their objective of overthrowing their despotic regimes; on the threshold of democracy, a dignified life and freedom, like that enjoyed by civilised nations. There was a free and fair election held in Egypt for the first time in 7,000 years, won by President Mohamed Morsi. However, the forces of evil within and outside the country conspired against him so that the country could to go back to the way it was, with the head of state living like a lord and the people as his slaves.

The Gilets Jaunes remind us of our painful recent past, but we will always have hope as long as our dream does not die. It will be passed down through the generations and the will of the people will not fade with time. Where are the Gilets Jaunes in the Arab world?

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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