Revolutions without leadership

By Patrick Hunter Wednesday August 21 2013 in Opinion
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If there is a candidate for one of the most successful revolutions – a primer on how to conduct one – the Cuban revolution probably fits the bill. There was the diligent courting of the peasants and the establishment of a disciplined leadership which took over the reins of government that set about establishing order.


A few years ago, a movement sprung up across North America and Europe evolving from the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, subsequently dropping the Wall Street because of its international appeal. Its claim was that the economy and political power were controlled by one per cent of the population while the 99 per cent was paying for their mistakes.


Good idea, but beyond the protest movement which occupied parks and the attention of the news media, it is difficult to point to one significant change that the movement achieved.


Just over a year ago, something began in Tunisia which drifted across parts of North Africa and the Middle East in particular. What became generally known as the Arab Spring, evolved into the removal from power of a number of long-time leaders. The people had reached a point where they were fed up with the status quo and needed change. Some of the changes were bloody, as in Libya, others were less so. The one holdout has been Syria which has gone beyond just being bloody, and whose leader, Assad, will one day pay the price for his behaviour.


Egypt presented a scenario that, while there were concerns about who would fill the power vacuum after Hosni Mubarak’s demise, the country did elect a government. Now, after a year in power, the experiment of having the Muslim Brotherhood in the person of Mohamed Morsi has failed to meet the expectations of many in Egypt. That gave rise to a coup d’état by the military, ousting Morsi.


However, the hoped-for conclusion took a turn for the worse. Pro-Morsi demonstrators have taken to the streets of Cairo and other places to show their displeasure at the coup, which is not being recognized as such by the United States and others so as to maintain aid to Egypt. The situation has now become very serious. Hundreds of people are being killed in the confrontation between the military and the pro-Morsi supporters. On top of that there seems to be a disturbing element of religious killings which has entered the scene. Reports have surfaced that Coptic Christians are being attacked.


The missing element in all of these scenarios is that the program and those who should lead it when the change of power occurs had never been clear.


“Yes, we want the government to go. We are not sure what we’ll do or who will lead it, but we will decide that when we get there.”


That just does not work. Egypt is now clearly demonstrating the folly of that approach.


During the uprising that overthrew Mubarak, there was a constant state of uncertainty about who was in control. In the immediate aftermath, some of Egypt’s historical treasures and artefacts were looted and destroyed. With the possible exception of trying to safeguard against the widespread destruction, the military tried to stay out of the limelight or taking over.


Elections were held, and Morsi eventually took over the presidency. But the fears of many were realized. Morsi, for them, was not governing or leading with fairness. That led to the challenge which resulted in the military intervention.


There have also been reports of dissatisfaction in the other sites of the Arab Spring. Thankfully, they have not reached the proportion that Egypt has, but the situation bears watching,


There is an object lesson here. It is not enough to oppose or be discontented with a situation. If you want to change the status quo, it is important to consider the alternatives, at the very least. But, more importantly, it is a good idea to conceive of a program and direction in which you want to go.


Granted, the uprisings were somewhat spontaneous. Planning was therefore not as organized as it should be. It will be interesting to see how the current situation is resolved. Trust will be a significant factor in deciding who takes the lead. How will the military function – what will be its role?


Obviously, the design will be to hold elections at some reasonable point in the future. How will that be handled? Could the United Nations be asked to set up a transition government? It is a possibility, but in all likelihood the UN would be asked to provide support and guidance to a respected group of individuals, appointed as a national transitional council under the military’s watchful eye. This would give some time to political parties to come forward, developing a program of action and moving towards an election. Sounds easy, but the challenges ahead are major.


Lessons for our community here in Canada? We have to be ready to deal with the candidates at the doorstep when they come around at election time seeking our votes – what have you done for us lately? More than that, arm ourselves with the facts about how our community is treated. It will become more difficult to do now that the Harper Government has eliminated the more detailed census forms.


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