Tahrir is here

Worldwide tens of thousands of people marched protesting governments’ austerity measures, unemployment, financial institutions run like casinos, public bailouts of those same financial institutions, ecological decay, war, and a host of other things no longer shrugged off cynically.

“The banks got bailed out. The people got sold out,” was one of the recurring signs. “We are the 99%,” echoes Wall Street protesters indicating a silent majority awoken to the fact that 1% control most of the wealth to the detriment of the rest. Police counted 6500 people on the streets of Brussels yesterday. An avid music festival goer I was able to surmise at least twice as many.

Very few signs referred to the start of it all: the Arab spring that’s slowly but surely becoming a global autumn of discontent. “Tahrir is here,” read a lonely banner in a sea of criticism directed against robber-baron capitalism. But even though the protesters in Tunis, Cairo, and other Arab capitals aimed to remove sclerotic dictatorships as opposed to more diffuse sets of demands heard in Europe and the U.S., broad similarities exist. Democracy is first and foremost a technical means of granting everybody a say in what happens with everybody’s tax money. Bread and butter, in short. Disenfranchised Arabs didn’t rise up because they had suddenly read the collected works of Montesquieu. People simple aren’t getting by. The same thing is happening in Europe and the U.S. where voters no longer feel they have any real impact on policy. An increasingly opaque constellation of international institutions, global boardrooms and a maze of special interests trump nationally elected leaders. Arabs demand democracy full stop. Europeans and Americans want theirs back.

So “Tahrir is here”. In a way we are all Egyptians gathered at Liberation Square. And yet one was hard-pressed to point out any Arabs marching in Brussels. With unemployment among the Moroccan community many times the national average, rampant discrimination at the hands of employers and law enforcement, surely they are the most disenfranchised of all. Perhaps they are simply too far removed from the mainstream to feel part of something that’s only just started to outgrow a fractious intellectual movement. Not to confuse things even more I would venture to add a theme that should be part and parcel of an undertaking that extolls inclusiveness: Alongside austerity a class of politicians has risen to the fore that seeks to exploit racial and religious divisions for electoral gain. Fanning irrational fears, say, a sharia-based hostile takeover of the West, they divert attention from ultra-liberal economic policies that run counter to the interests of a majority of voters. Non-issues like head scarves or halal butchering are an easy look-away while Houdini makes pensions and savings disappear. Bread and games, in short.

Zooming out it becomes clear that Arabs’, Jews’, Europeans’, and Americans’ faits, and indeed all of the world’s, are linked. This goes beyond merely becoming emboldened by another revolutionary’s example. Our economic lots have become so entwined as to be indistinguishable. Western affluence derives from decades of artificially cheap energy. Arab dictators, co-benefactors of this greatest heist of all time, are on their way out. Not only is the era of cheap oil drawing to a close. The epoch of oil as such has started a slow but sure decline. The Arab-Israeli conflict will soon no longer be necessary to contain and divide a restive supplier base. At the same time, the discourse of the oil-wars era persists. As do many ‘facts on the ground’. A solution becomes more and more urgent even though most leaders haven’t yet read the memo. From Tunis, to Cairo, to Brussels, to New York, history’s creaky hinges shriek. Looking up one might notice these different hinges in fact move the same big door. It’s ajar. Nobody knows exactly what’s in the next room.

Tom Kenis (33), graduated MA in Middle-East studies and International Relations, has studied Arabic in Cairo, and worked for three years in the occupied Palestinian territories. He currently works for Channel Research, a consultancy active in the field of peace-building, development impact assessment, and corporate governance. Kenis writes extensively on Middle East and international affairs, technology, and sustainable development. He has written “Sinai” a novel set in post-Mubarak Egypt. “Tahrir is here” is taken from his blog about “Sinai”. www.sinaibook.com

Maak MO* mee mogelijk.

Word proMO* net als 2968   andere lezers en maak MO* mee mogelijk. Zo blijven al onze verhalen gratis online beschikbaar voor iédereen.

Ik word proMO*    Ik doe liever een gift

Over de auteur

  • Schrijver, publicist & vertaler

    Tom Kenis heeft een achtergrond in Islamstudies en Internationale Betrekkingen. Hij woonde en werkte vier jaar in het Midden-Oosten en in Berlijn.