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Cover Story North Africa


The army got roses but now the people who gave them are afraid that the junior ranks might hijack the revolution


“ The onus now on the Tunisian


and Egyptian revolutions is to keep things non-violent, non-religious and non-militaristic”


to 40%, and that would come perilously close to the establish- ment of an Islamist state. Most Egyptians fear such an outcome. However, democracy


comes with many such risks in predominantly Muslim nations. When allowed to vote freely, the Palestinians of Gaza elected a militant Islamist government, Hamas. Tere are fundamental differences between Egypt and Gaza. First, tourism is the main- stay of the Egyptian economy and is the second largest foreign exchange earner after revenues from the Suez Canal. Second, the intellectual and cultural establishment of the


country is decidedly secular. Tird, the country, as mentioned earlier, has a large Coptic Christian minority. Te instigators of the Egyptian revolution, moreover, are determined to keep the country’s focus on citizenship rights, economic empowerment for the impoverished majority and social justice. Religion, or rather those who use religion for political ends,


must not be allowed to sabotage the revolution. In much the same vein, the military must not hijack the political gains of the people. As one ponders the state of things to come, one cannot avoid


reflecting on Ghana’s experience during the “June 4 revolution” of 1979. One instinctively feels an ominous sense of déjà vu. Te Ghanaian revolution was hijacked by the lower ranks of the military. Could it be that more than three decades later a similar situation would arise in Egypt, and the lower ranks of the military


12 | March 2011 New African


would sideline the real creators of the January revolution? Only time will tell. Be that as it may, there is no charismatic figure yet who has emerged from the lower ranks of the Egyptian army to capture the masses’ imagination. It is symbolic that the current people’s power revolutions of North Africa are being described in floral terms: Te Jasmine Revolution of Tunisia and the Lotus Revolution of Egypt. Yes, atrocities were committed by the hench- men of the departing dictators in both cases. Let us hope that the Jasmine and the Lotus Revolutions will remain civil and fragrant with the freshness of a new democratic dispensation. Te onus now is to keep it non-violent, non-religious and non-militaristic. So will the winds of the revolution spread down south, across


the Sahara to Black Africa? Unlikely, say political experts. Arab North Africa is a target – already there have been demonstra- tions in Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere in the Arab world. Tese are countries where sit-tight “life presidents” or Kings have ruled with an iron fist and the ageing leaders are not planning to hand over the reins yet. Black Africa, on the other hand, has had years to democratise,


and though the region south of the Sahara may be behind North Africa in terms of economic development, it is far ahead of the Arab North when it comes to democracy and personal freedoms. Moreover, as democratic political parties have taken firm root


down south, the people have become polarised on party lines. As such, it would be difficult to organise people across party lines to take on the ruling parties they are members of, in massive demonstrations as has happened in the North. Countries such as Ethiopia have been mentioned as the likely


targets to be buffeted by the winds of the revolution if they ever cross the Sahara. But, for now, it is doubtful the winds will blow down South (see the vox pop, pages 18-19). But for the countries in the North and the Arab world, this is the time to be afraid – to be very afraid!


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