Tunisia vs. Ethiopia: Could the Northern wave reach East?
By Jawar S. Mohammed*
After a sweeping nonviolent uprising forced Tunisia’s despotic ruler out of office, Ethiopian activists and pundits are speculating a renewed possibility of a similar revolution in Ethiopia. Factors that triggered the Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution”—hike in food price and costs of living, can also be observed in Ethiopia, and are fueling the optimism. As citizens pray for the Tunis wave to reach Finfinne, the Ethiopian regime is scrambling to erect a levy against it. Meles Zenawi’s fear of not becoming the next Ben Ali is not without reason. But what are the odds of his nightmare becoming a reality?
The Demise of Ben Ali
A year ago, after listening to my presentation on strategic nonviolent resistance, a Tunisian activist told me that although theoretically sound, it’s impractical to implement a nonviolent resistance in countries such as Tunisia. He gave a laundry list of reasons for his beliefs;
1) The regime will use excessive force to prematurely crush organized resistance,
2) The military and security forces are very loyal to the regime,
3) The regime has co-opted all religious and community leaders,
4) The opposition is too divided, and lacks a charismatic leader
5) The regime has the full backing of the West, which would not stand by and watch its ally collapse
6) The ruling party has an extensive network of over two million members (20% of the total population) that would enable it to sniff out any possible threat.
Does it sound familiar? What a difference a year can make! Civil insurrection has toppled the once invincible Ben Ali, and the cynical activist I met in Washington, D.C. is now among the youth that engineered the revolution.
A ruler remains in power only as long as he has the consent of the people. In democratic countries, such consent is secured through periodic elections. In authoritarian systems, people consent due to fear, hopelessness, and identification with the ruler etc. The citizens’ consent indirectly translates into cooperating with and enabling the system that oppresses them. The objective of a civil resistance, therefore, is to eliminate factors that force citizens to consent to brutal and corrupt rulers. When people refuse to submit to the wishes and demands of their oppressor, the legitimacy of the ruler becomes questionable. The withdrawal of people’s cooperation increases the cost of making citizens conform. With reduced legitimacy and increased cost of control, the regime’s endurance begins to wane. When endurance is shaking, enforcers start feeling doubtful, so away goes their loyalty, and forcing the pillars that hold the power of a dictator to collapse.
The efficiency of a nonviolent movement depends on the choice and sequencing tactics. Gene Sharp identified some 200 methods that are categorized under three main tactics: protest (persuasion), noncooperation, and intervention. Protests serve as a means of raising awareness and creating unity among victims of the system. Noncooperation weakens the system’s ability to enforce its will, while intervention is obstructing the normal activities of the system and eventually crippling it.
What happened in Tunisia is a classic case of successfully executed nonviolent insurrections. Over the last several years, Tunisian citizens used social networks to expose corruption, human rights violations, unemployment, and repression. By the end of 2010, Tunisians have found one unifying issue – the economy, particularly the towering unemployment. The self- immolation of Mohammed Bouaziz—an unemployed young college graduate—protesting confiscation of his produce by police served as a trigger for a revolution ready to engulf the nation.
A heavy-handed attempt to suppress a rally in Bouaziz’s hometown of Sidi Bouzid was exposed by social media and soon enough other towns joined in solidarity. The movement gained momentum as labor activists and lawyers came onboard. The regime’s attack on those professionals backfired - elites from all sectors condemned the act and the middle class joined the movement. The activists employed brilliantly sequenced tactics completely disorienting the system through unpredictable and dispersed eruption of rallies all over the country. This served two purposes: first, although the number of direct participants was relatively small (less than 100,000 on its final days), the sporadic nature of the protests glorified the magnitude of the resistance. Second, the unpredictability of the events made the regime’s coordinated repressive response difficult.
Seeing the futility of repression, Ben Ali attempted appeasement by promising sweeping reforms. He reshuffled his cabinets, vowed to create 300,000 jobs, and grant full freedom of expression. The activists responded by increasing the pressure, calling on him to step down. When everything failed, Ben Ali resorted back to repression and ordered the military to use every means necessary to quash the revolt. However, the chief of army, Gen. Rachid Ammar, refused to order his soldiers to use live ammunition against unarmed protesters. His replacement followed the same suit. Ben Ali realized too late that everyone was sensing a rapid decline of the system’s endurance and his once loyal subordinates began positioning themselves to the new reality. The military leaders and reformist ministers took sides with the protesters forcing Ben Ali to run for his life.
The Danger of a Dominant Party System
Ben Ali failed to detect the looming troubles due in part to the perceived strength of his ruling party. His ruling party had over two million members who wore shirts with the president’s face on it, and swore to die for their beloved leader. His members proved their loyalty by helping Ben Ali win last year’s election with a staggering 89% percent. Interestingly enough, Meles Zenawi’s party boasts over five million members, whom he credits for winning him 99.6% of the parliamentary seats last May. Following the election, Meles attributed his overwhelming ‘victory’ to the dominant party system he had setup. Tunisia exemplifies the unreliability and even danger of grandiose dominant parties. How long a minority dominated ethnic coalition like the EPRDF would last, if met with a powerful strategic civil insurrection like Tunisia remains to be seen.
Opposition Politics: Leadership and a Unifying Agenda Syndrome
Opposition parties both in Ethiopia and Tunisia are highly fragmented and lack a unifying agenda or leader. With a low credibility rating, most citizens have a pessimistic view of the opposition. However, despite ever-growing harassment and repression, as well as the gloomy prospect of capturing state power, Tunisian opposition remained in the country and continued to participate in elections—even when they had no chance of winning. This proved to be important.
While Tunisian opposition political parties did not initiate or plan the civil insurrection, their presence on the ground was indispensable. By publicly defending the revolution, opposition leaders legitimized the youth movement against the regime’s attempt to dismiss it as extremism and hooliganism. When the resistance grew larger, opposition leaders jumped on the opportunity, directing and guiding the movement to achieve a full political change. They also facilitated communication between protesters and reformists within the government. Their role proved instrumental in reducing causality and preventing prolonged instability that could have resulted in the military seizing power to restore order. Quite startling, Islamic parties that were supposed to have the strongest support and thought to pose the main threat to Ben Ali, had a very small role in this revolution and its aftermath. The leaders of those parties were outside the country, and were out of touch with the reality on the ground—least aware, unprepared, and too far to make a direct impact on the political outcome.
The Role of the Military
Behind the success of the Tunisian revolution lies a constructive role played by the military. With no endurance left in Ben Ali, the military had multiple options: to stage a coup d’état and seize power, or to help civilians form a transitional government. They chose the latter. By defying the president’s order to crack down on the resistance, the military helped speed up the collapse of the old regime. Some went as far as setting up a telephone hotline system in order to protect the protesters against attack by Ben Ali’s loyal militias. Furthermore, by cracking down on the old security apparatus, the military prevented a likely coup against the new regime. In the words of General Rachid Ammar, the Tunisian army was acting as the “guarantor of the revolution.”
The odds of the military playing a similar role in Ethiopia are very small. The composition of the military is starkly different with all key command positions held by Meles Zenawi’s ardent loyalists from one ethnic group. In addition, Meles has been successful in instilling fear and insecurity among Tigrean elites (military, political and economic). They widely believe that the downfall of Meles and TPLF would result in a severe retribution against the Tigrean community and businesses. Therefore, Tigrean officers are unlikely to remain neutral or support a revolution against TPLF. In the event that a well-planned and strategically-guided resistance forces Meles to lose control, two possible scenarios may emerge:
a) The Tigrean generals will stand with Meles and crack down on resistance. At that likely event, given the discontent within the military, officers from other nations may side with the resistance resulting in an unpredictable and very violent episode.
b) Tigrean officers will stage a coup and replace Meles with another TPLF leader, hence leadership transition without a regime change. This could result in temporary relief; however, once wounded, authoritarian systems plunge into chronic crisis and do not last long.
Another interesting lesson from the Jasmine Revolution is the limit of foreign guardianship for authoritarian rulers. Both Ben Ali and Meles Zenawi top the list of Western allies in the war on terror. The despotic rulers and their opponents believe the West will do everything to protect their “Yes Men” from any trouble. Tunisia’s revolutionaries proved the myth wrong. In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama recognized the Tunisian people’s desire to be free. In Tunisia he said, “…the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator.” It is not that the West (especially France) would have refused to help Ben Ali; it is rather the intensity of the resistance that took them off guard. By the time they woke in Paris and Washington, it was too late. Therefore, the United States and France had no option but to stand with the people of Tunisia. They even denied asylum request for their departing buddy.
The fate of Meles Zenawi might not be any different. Argument can be made that the geopolitical importance of Ethiopia is higher than that of Tunisia. Due to the volatile regional situation (Somalia, Yemen, Eritrea, Kenya, and Sudan), the West does not want to see instability in Ethiopia as it could pose grave danger to global security. Yet, past and recent history shows once a dictator loses internal control it is unlikely to be saved by external allies. In fact, my observation of the Obama administration is that while it lacks the stamina to provide practical support for democratic change, it does not stand in the way.
The Economy: Politics of Inflation and Price Caps
Ethiopia is facing more severe economic instability than Tunisia. During the early years of Ben Ali’s rule, Tunisia enjoyed a relatively stable economic growth. But in the last decade, Ben Ali began manipulating the numbers to show a rapid growth in order to hide his authoritarianism (Meles calls this a developmental state). However, as Ben Ali’s extended families and connected friends dominated the economy, little was trickling down for the rest of the country. In the last two years, economic growth plummeted, unemployment rose, and cost of living skyrocketed.
Zenawi gamb1ed even higher. A decade and half experiment with the so called Agricultural Development Led Industrialization (ADLI) with hope of building power base in rural area failed to increase agricultural productivity and reduce food insecurity. During the experiment, urban development and small businesses were completely ignored. When the 2005 election revealed a looming danger coming from urban population and civil servants, the regime began devising economic policies to appease them. Thus, the current market crisis is the result of a number of decisions made to overcome the impact of the 2005 political crisis.
• To win back the support of the bureaucracy, Meles made a significant salary increase. For instance, a district administrator who once received 800 birr got a raise to 2000 or more. The number of state employees also increased, as kebele level administrators and cadres began receiving salary. Since printing the birr is the only logical source of such staggering increase, inflation became unavoidable.
• The sudden explosion of real estate and the construction sector was meant to bring temporary relief to urban unemployment, as well as to showcase rapid economic growth. State owned banks were shelling out loans. Real estate and construction sectors boomed causing the demand for construction materials to spike, hence leading to an acute shortage. The government had to subsidize imports of these materials resulting in a huge trade deficit and shortage of foreign currency. Companies are not able to service their bank loans, nor could they pay state taxes. The speculated fueled demand for real state is nowhere to be seen. The CEO’s are either on the run or have joined the hundreds of political prisoners.
• To compensate for foreign currency shortage, two steps were taken: devaluating the birr and inviting multinational corporations to grab as much arable land as possible. The logic is that revenues gained from export of the cash crop would help balance the deficit. The practicality of the land lease policy in reducing trade deficit is yet to be tested. Nevertheless, the market crisis is not waiting for revenue yet to be earned. Prices of basic goods are out of control, as there is also a severe shortage. (Report shows as much as 33% decline in the supply of bulls). The regime’s intervention by means of placing price caps is not working.. See Dr. Said’s recent analysis.)
The cumulative effects of these policy blunders are prepping Meles Zenawi’s regime for one of the most dangerous crises it has ever faced. So far, every step taken in stabilizing the market has backfired. The regime is in a state of panic as can be seen from its recent amateur policy decisions. Devaluating the birr by 17% has resulted in 14.5% inflation. The attempt to make merchants take the blame for the price hikes failed to materialize. Then, the regime turned to increasing pensions by 84% and salary by 35%. These measures are likely to exacerbate the situation than stabilize it.
Therefore, had there been an organized movement, Ethiopia’s current economic woes provide a great recipe to kick the 20 year old dictatorship in the groin. Even at the absence of exogenous pressure, given the self-isolating decisions Meles has been taking within his party, internal explosion cannot be ruled out.
Conclusion: Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
The hike in the global food price presents a grave danger for dictators and a golden opportunity for their oppressed subjects yearning for freedom. Ben Ali is the first causality of the will of the people and Tunisia has shown the way forward. Algerians, Egyptians, and Yeminis have picked up the torch. We will see the results in the coming weeks. Their victory is the result of extensive and careful planning. Activists of those regions spent the last several years preparing for this moment—they built their capacity very well that, when the opportunity presented itself, they grabbed it. Ethiopians, who have fallen into deeper pessimism over the last years, seem to be waking up as well. I hope Ethiopians at home and abroad are watching and learning a thing or two from Tunisia and the fast-spreading revolution fever up north.
Mubarak is done; his words evoke more fury and anger
Does the US truly see through that public rage in Egypt?
By Genet Mersha
29 January 2011
At least, Mubarak proved wrong many who on Friday thought that he had joined his wife and son in London. It was a reasonable assumption though, given that the president was not seen in public or heard until half past midnight Saturday morning. Since last Tuesday, Cairo has been engulfed in protests and in flames. Saturday morning, the demonstrators have shown both restraint and increased defiance. The test of Egyptian and US resolve is how the Egyptian army would respond Saturday evening, when curfew time begins at five o’clock—two hours earlier.
As a shrewd politician, Mr. Mubarak realizes his end is here. The army he ordered Friday afternoon complied with his order to be out in the street, but has done nothing to enforce the curfew Friday night. In spite the curfew, therefore, protestors were in the streets Friday night, after the president’s speech furiously demanding his resignation. He also has seen since Thursday, the United States keenness to emphasize what he should do more to respond to the protestors, a signal that he has outlived his usefulness. Interestingly, the protestors are also insistent that Egyptians must be allowed to solve their problems, without interference by the United States.
Under the circumstances, what Mr. Mubarak is fiddling with may not any longer be about his stay in power, or responding to the popular clamour. As a typical Egyptian, who is convinced about their uniqueness in the Arab world, he too may be seeking an honorable way out, unlike Tunisia’s Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali. As the protests gathered momentum in Tunisia, Ben Ali began to panic and confessed on television about his wrongs and readiness to mend his ways to ensure democracy and respect for human rights. How could he give what he did not have in his 23 years in power? His choice is now to face the Interpol, sought for stealing Tunisia’s wealth.
Even Ben Ali’s brother, the tycoon Belhassen Trabelsi, is in hiding now in Canada, after that country cancelled his residence permit, having found out that he had arrived on a private plane last week loaded with cash. Although almost in the same league with Ben Ali, in terms of his repression of Egyptian society and corruption in power, Mubarak did not want his personal history to be linked to Ben Ali’s.
One significant blunder by Mubarak Saturday morning was his claim in his statement, "I assure you that I'm working for the people and giving freedom... as long as you're respecting the law." That has lumped him with Ben Ali. A man who has kept three decades of state of emergency in force in Egypt, all of a sudden has turned into a friend of rule of law, a man of the constitution, democratic rights and freedom…
Finally, his promise was, "There will be new steps toward democracy and freedoms and new steps to face unemployment and increase the standard of living and services, and there will be new steps to help the poor and those with limited income." Where has he been in the last thirty years, or even two years ago, when Obama came to Egypt as a new president to speak to the Arab world from Cairo and urged him to do exactly that? Obama’s response was to the point:
When President Mubarak addressed the Egyptian people tonight, he pledged a better democracy and greater economic opportunity. I just spoke to him after his speech, and I told him he has a responsibility to give meaning to those words; to take concrete steps and actions that deliver on that promise…Violence will not address the grievances of the Egyptian people, and suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away…The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights and the United States will stand up for them everywhere…I also call upon the Egyptian government to reverse the actions that they've taken to interfere with access to the Internet, to cellphone service and to social networks that do so much to connect people in the 21st century.
Surely, mobile phone service and Internet are back, even as the new cabinet is being formed Saturday. Nonetheless, the thinking of the military and its response to change in Egypt is yet to be seen. The army is a respected institution having distanced itself from politics under Hosni Mubarak. That was not because he believed in professional army. For that matter, he has no vice-president to succeed him. All his ministers are technocrats, without political party base. He has no patience to aspirants to his power.
I am very much struck by the actions and response of the United States. I have lived long enough to say that this is the first time I have seen the United States listening seriously to the street and giving counsel to its important ally that he would do better if he responded to the people’s demands. President Barack Obama emphasized in his response to Mubarak’s speech: "What's needed right now are concrete steps that advance the rights of the Egyptian people." That is complete departure from hitherto United States permanent partisanship with murderous dictators, such as Pinochet in Chile, Sesse Seko in Zaire, Suharto in Indonesia and the apartheid leaders in South Africa, Savimbi in Angola (George Bush I), … and now Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia.
Therefore, it is time to give credit to the Obama administration for the posture it has assumed on the evolving situation in Egypt. Whatever the outcome, the United States has saved face, for now. Besides what the Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama said on Thursday and Friday, White House Spokesperson person Robert Gibbs Friday afternoon gave more than he could under these abnormal circumstances, even before Mubarak spoke at that ungodly hour, as he faced the hungry press. Clearly, the United States has tightened all lose ends, as it communicated with Mubarak and his officials.
Robert Gibbs Friday said, “It has been communicated [US demands to Mubarak] not just from this podium, not just in the remarks of the Secretary of State, but at levels within the Pentagon to the Egyptian military from the Egyptian military, from the State Department, from the words and conversations that have been had by Ambassador Scobey -- all levels -- and also the words, most importantly, of the President yesterday.”
With every passing hour, the United States is seen distancing itself from Mubarak. As a country that supplies Cairo with $1.3 billion in military aid and $250 million in economic aid yearly, already on Friday it implicitly indicated that, nearly like the Egyptian people without being vociferous, it would have little of Mubarak’s regime. It has also been made clear to the security forces and the army, in the words of Mr. Gibbs “I think that if --[sentence not completed] I think we are watching very closely the actions of the government, of the police, of all the security forces, and all of those in the military. That their actions may affect our assistance would be the subject of that review.” Unheard of before!
Journalists pressed and quizzed Robert Gibbs during the briefing for more information; later rightly analysts called the administration’s position "walking a tight line", euphemism in diplomacy, when a diplomat or a country equivocates not to take clear position. At this stage, there is no doubt that the US could have done still much better, were not for its limited options. Any further obtrusion could have endangered its strategic interests in the greater Middle East, especially the Palestinian question and Egypt-Israeli relations and serving as cordon against Iranian intentions in the Persian Gulf and with respect to nuclear weapons.
Unfortunately, not any differently from the Bush administration, the Obama administration has also been sucked into the anti-terrorism alliance, thereby giving blank checks to worst human rights violators such as Mubarak, Meles, Ali Salah… In recent years, fighting terrorism has become the bonanza Meles and Mubarak are exploiting, because of which they have enabled to entrench themselves in power this long, while becoming intolerably dictatorial and stealing election results in broad daylight. In the case of Egypt, this has also emboldened Mubarak to try to engage in attempts to create a dynasty wishing to install his son as his successor—a man who is among the many causes boiling the blood of Egyptians, especially the middle class.
The door has now been opened for the demands of the Egyptian people. Nevertheless, dazed by power’s aphrodisiac, he might in his folly hope to stay in power for a while. The truth is that, as far as Egyptian people are concerned, he is finished. The US no longer sees in him a leader as useful for their interests of controlling Iran, the Palestinians, and as a go between those Arab countries to whom the US often sends signals indirectly.
Finally, the question is whether this welcome and changed approach by the Obama administration i.e., to show the door to a dictator is based in American fundamental principles, as the president claims. If that is the case, principles are applicable to all peoples thirsting for freedom and human dignity. Principles cannot discriminate between select allies and others. If that is the case, there is no reason for the United States to tolerate a duplicitous Stalinist regime in Ethiopia, whom Washington and London, along with China cuddle, even as he continues to kill aspirations of the Ethiopian people for freedom and dignified life. How could torture be tolerated?
For a clear demonstration of Stalinism in Ethiopia, just go through this comparative table of what Ethiopia is today, compared to Egypt and what would have happened, if there is mass protest today, which is totally shut of by law.
• Since Tuesday, about 35 people have been killed, hundreds injured, over 2,000 imprisoned
• In a few hours, nearly 200 were mowed down in Addis Ababa only and about 40,000 were imprisoned in 2005; Meles would have massacred tens of thousands today, possibly in one day
• Radio and television continued to operate normally, focusing on the demonstrations, although tweets, internet mobile services were pulled off. Restored on Saturday
• No demonstrations were shown on TV; after the massacre of the students, Meles said they were robbers and hooligans; the media began to echo that ad infinitum; sms blocked for
nearly three years after that
• Airlines suspended flights, airport still open
• No flights in and out; airport was shut down
• There is relatively better leeway for the press to operate in Egypt
• Since 2005 media has been reduced to government mouthpiece, cadres operate as
journalists, while members of independent press are imprisoned, flee the country and their establishments closed
• Security forces imprison and torture; no independent judiciary;
• Security forces imprison and torture. More Stalinist than Stalin’s time: no rule of law; no independent judiciary,
• Education is not normally ideologically indoctrinated
• Educational system tainted with false history and ideology for purposes of maintain Meles’s power
• Army is kept outside politics
• Army and security are political instruments of Meles, recruited and promoted on the basis of belonging to his ethnic group
• Worst violator of human rights; at least Egyptians are not imprisoned for criticizing the regime openly
• Worst violator of human rights; even suspected opposition to the TPLF entails being sent to the ‘gulag’ in Kaliti and Maekelawi for tortures
• One person rule, fights the opposition, although civil society organizations operate in Egypt with some limitations
• One person rule, encircled by ethnic coteries, no room for political participation or for independent civil society organizations
• Widespread corruption in the upper echelons mostly
• Corrupt leadership, linked to the prime minister himself and his family and down to party cadres and the ethnically constituted army
• Since 2004, Egypt has found the success to its economic development because of professionals handling policy
• Ethiopia’s economy is Meles’s guinea pig into his fluid thinking picking up one thing and dropping the other every time
• Public frustration grew over time, but Egyptian society remains still united
• Anger and frustration has reached boiling point; fear has kept the lid on it, in a country that is polarized through and through
Effective, But Non-violent!
By Tibebe Samuel Ferenji
So we need not take over the State's decision-making process (elections); we need not physically destroy the State's coercive resources (violent resistance); instead we can win our freedom by striking at the heart of the State's power, disrupting the patterns of cooperation and obedience on which it depends. This is exactly what we are witnessing today in Egypt and Yemen; and what took place recently in Tunisia.
The wave of protests, disobedience and changes engulfing the Arab Nations soon or later would arrive to Ethiopia whether we like it or not. The similarity that Tunisians, Egyptians, The Yemenis and the people of Ethiopia are going through is almost identical. High unemployment, corruption, hyper inflation, power abuse, human rights violations, arrogance, and totalitarian regimes and so on are the root causes of the demand for change and disobedience that is shocking the world. What started in Tunisia is spreading like a wild fire to the rest of the countries ruled by despots. The only differences we have witnessed are the response by the police toward the protesters. In case of Tunisia even the police have joined the general public in demanding the removal of a despot ruler and his cronies.
Mr. Mubarek who ruled Egypt for the last 30 years is now in the verge of departing Egypt. Like his counter part in Ethiopia, Mr. Mubarek held power with fake elections and with the support of his Western Allies in guise of fighting terrorism. The Westerners who have been funding this brutal despot are now unable to defend him; and may be, they are planning his safe exit from Egypt. In Egypt, at least there are well organized political organizations that are able and willing to fill the vacuum should Mr. Mubarek depart Egypt.
The last time we witnessed such a spontaneous movement in our country was in 1974; which in 1975, the military regime deposed Emperor Haileselassie. We wanted change but the change we got was not the desired one. We did not have an effective political organization that could lead the struggle and eventually fill in the power vacuum. The opportunity allowed brutal military junta to take over power and to ruin the nation for 17 years.
This is not the first time that such opportunity presented itself in Ethiopia. In May 1997, we had the perfect “February 1974”; unfortunately, like then, we did not have effective leadership that could direct that perfect storm to force the desired change in Ethiopia. In May 1997, Merchants were protesting the high rent increase by the regime, the Gojam peasants came in mass to Addis Ababa to lodge their grievances, the dissatisfied Taxi Drivers were about to stage a work stoppage, and there was a belligerent and continues human rights abuse by the regime and an angry population was about to join the merchants to protest against the regime.
The opposition slept through it without doing any thing. The Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce and the Ethiopian Chamber of commerce led the protesters and organized the merchants to close their business to polarize the entire city. There wasn’t a single political entity that was ready to take the “Bull by its Horn” and force the regime to reform itself and change the political discourse. It took only a single radio announcement by the regime to threaten the merchants and force them to re-open their shops. In a show of an enormous disregard to the concerns of the general public, the regime imprisoned about 80 merchants, revoked hundreds of licenses and shut down several businesses. This ended that perfect storm. The opposition could only look back with regrets for failing to step to the plate.
As we witness what is happening in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen, we also observe that the opposition in Ethiopia is not providing any leadership so far. We have an enormous crisis in our country that requires sensible leadership. We don’t want this crisis to be hijacked once again that will allow another despot to replace a despot. I am aware that the opposition is agonizing how to take charge of the situation. If the opposition leadership believes that Non violent struggle means to function only at the will of the government, then, they have failed to realize that effective none violent struggle requires sacrifice; it requires saying no to the government; it requires being defiant and mobilizing the general public to demand justice and freedom. Such a humongous task requires strong leadership.
We have a dangerous storm looming in our nation; a perfect condition for public disobedience and nonviolent resistance. In order to direct this storm to a perfect storm, the opposition needs to use the opportunity to galvanize support for peaceful public disobedience to demand that EPRDF either make genuine reform or surrender power to the people. Without effective organization and leadership, it would be very difficult to bring the desired change in Ethiopia and to strike at the heart of the State’s brutal machine. What we need is an entity that will create conducive atmosphere for a democratic system of government where the rule of law reigns. What we need is a genuine change so there can be a protection of human and civic rights. What we need is a genuine change where people live in their own country without fearing their own government. What we need is a government by the people for the people. What we need is a government that governs with the consent of our people. Is the opposition ready to bring this desired change? If the answer is yes, then, the time is now to galvanize support and to direct the current discontent and public dissatisfaction into a perfect storm to bring the long awaited change to our nation.
There is no question that the EPRDF has been a thorn in the path of the opposition and has made it difficult for the opposition to galvanize public support to its cause using its brutal Agazi force. As we see before our eyes, you don’t need the regime’s permission to conduct an effective none violent struggle. All the ingredients are there for “a Revolution” except one thing-LEADERSHIP. I hope the Ethiopian people are watching, the opposition is learning and the regime is paying attention to what is happening in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen. It should not come to street protest and public disobedience to bring about genuine reform in Ethiopia; but if that is what it takes to force the regime to change; then let the opposition lead the public, before the public spontaneously leads the opposition.
Once again, that we have witnessed the achievement of effective none violent struggle. Such an effective struggle needs effective leadership. It is clear that we don’t need to resort to armed struggle to bring despots to their knees. This is the perfect time for visionary and concerned leaders to consult with one another. This is not the time to be hungry for power, but a time to reflect how to establish a democratic system of government in our nation. This is not the time to be pretentious and lecture the impossibility of such action in Ethiopia. This is the time for our patriots to stand up and lead the way to say NO MORE! NO MORE! This is the time to say to Mr. Meles and his cronies ATNESSAM WEY; ATENESSAM WAY; YEGEF AGEZAZ AYEBEKAHEM WEY? As the saying goes you have to break eggs to make an omelet, it is unfortunate that it requires a sacrifice of human lives to get rid of despots who are sucking the life of our nation.
Ethiopia - The ‘Domino effect’ in living color
By yilma Bekele
What is referred to at the domino effect is “a chain reaction that occurs when a small change causes a similar change nearby, which then cause another similar change, and so on in a linear sequence.” We are witnessing that phenomenon right now.
Fear of the domino effect is what got the US involved in Vietnam in the ‘60’s. When The Vietminh under Ho Chi Minh took over North Vietnam and established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam the US was convinced the communists will over run South Vietnam then continue on to Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand and so on. The war was to arrest the Communist juggernaut. Whether it failed or was a success is a matter of interpretation.
A recent example of the fear of the domino effect is the bailout of the Banking system here in the US and Western Europe. The US Treasury came up with the term ‘too big to fail.’ It was felt that allowing a major bank to go bankrupt would start a chain reaction that will threaten the capitalist system, as we know it. The taxpayer was compelled to prop up the banks with no interest loans and a guarantee by the Federal Reserve to do what is necessary to protect the integrity of the system.
This last week the domino effect came home to roost in every capital city where freedom and civil rights have been put in the back burner. Our beautiful and brave friends in Tunisia started the ball rolling in a spectacular fashion. May the almighty bless Tunisians and their ancestors. The elegant system they devised to topple a tyrant of over twenty years was awe inspiring in its simplicity and ease of application. It was a work of art. They are still fine tuning their copy righted manual “Seven Easy Steps to Get Rid of A Tyrant©”
An ordinary citizen named Mohamed Bouaziz set himself on fire because he decided it was not worth living in such an environment. I have no idea if he saw the bigger implication of his one-person defiance. For whatever reason he did it for, his public immolation set the domino effect in motion. Let us just say tyrants everywhere are rethinking their future prospects. No matter what brave face they present or pretend to do business as usual Tunisia has scared the pants out of them.
There was no fighting force in Tunisia. There was no opposition party that seized the leadership. Religion was not a factor. There were no glaring signs that things were simmering. But in less than thirty days the eruption of dis-content engulfed a whole nation. In a blink of an eye el macho, full of himself, the leader for life, tyrant and bully Ben Ali was stripped of his humanity.
It looks like Egypt is the next domino piece to fall. May be not. It really don’t matter, the foundation is showing cracks as big as Abbay gorge. Sooner or later it will crumble. As I write this, it is the third day of spontaneous protests and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel for Mubarak and company. His son who was considered the heir apparent left for London with his wife and family. Now Mrs. Mubarak is reported to be in London too. I assume the tyrant of thirty years will join them soon enough. I will also venture to state that dictator Mubarak and family will settle in the US for the rest of their life in exile. Welcome fellow refugees.
Since I am in this euphoric mood may I predict the fall of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the demise of “The Leader”. For you not in the know, that is how they refer to Corporal Gaddafi of Libya to be followed by Saleh of Yemen. Even Lloyds of London will deny King Abdallah II and Colonel Gaddafi’s life insurance coverage.
With all this excitement twirling in North Africa and the Middle East it was strange to listen to Secretary of State Hillary Clintons advice to the Egyptian people. Reuters reported that “US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday urged all sides in Egypt to exercise restraint following street protests and said she believed the Egyptian government was stable and looking for ways to respond to its people's aspirations.”
It sounds familiar to Ethiopians. In the aftermath of the 2005 elections the US and European Diplomats were urging Kinijit to show restraint. It is sort of strange advice after her forceful statement congratulating the Tunisian people. It would not be surprising if the Department of State condemns the abuse of power by former President Mubarak and his associates of course after his downfall. It is not only dictatorships that refuse to learn, super powers are short sighted too.
With all this drama around us, it is not asking a lot to see if we can learn a few lessons so we can make our transformation less painful. The last two times we tried this game of change we sort of stumbled and fell hard. Let us hope the third time it will be a charm.
We have a lot in common with both Tunisia and Egypt. All our leaders have abused their welcome by twenty years and over. The regimes are based on single party rule. Opposition is not tolerated. They speak the language of democracy and emerging economies. They trade heavily with the current currency of being anti terrorism. They are favored by both the IMF and the World Bank. The youth unemployment hovers 30% and more. No matter how much rosy picture the IMF and their propaganda machines paint, the reality is their economy has stagnated. It cannot support the aspirations of the people.
Compared to the two, Ethiopia is a little different. We are lot poorer. Ethiopia is still a peasant society. Communication like Internet, Television, and Radio are deliberately suppressed. Our leader understands knowledge is power. In Ethiopia there is a Communications Department that oversees what is being said and printed in the country.
In both Tunisia and Egypt what is being called ‘Social Media’ played a big role in the citizens ability to be informed and organize. Facebook and twitter are the new heroes. That is what we lack in Ethiopia. The Meles regime was aware of the power of information and suppressed the media. The 2005 general elections proved to Meles and company the danger of even a half free press.
But we are innovative people. We will always find a way out. We created ESAT. I know Voice of America and Deutche Welle are doing an excellent job of informing our people. But ESAT is different. ESAT is you and I. It is the result of our own labor and sweat. It is accountable to no one but us. ESAT is our Facebook and twitter. The TPLF regime knows that. They will spare no amount of expenses to shut ESAT down. They have done it once. They will try again. We will deny them that pleasure.
You know how we do that? We make ESAT strong. We make ESAT independent. We contribute to make ESAT to have the best capability to inform our people. It is easy. Go to ethsat.com and you can give using pay pal, bank transfer or just call them. It is not how much you give. That is not the issue. It is all about building from scratch and encouraging the best in us. There is no point feeling good about Tunisia and hoping for Egypt. We can help them by contributing our share of liberating our corner of the world. Go to ethsat.com and give your share. It could be ten dollars or a thousand but what matters is you gave. Are you up to the challenge?
North Africa: From Jasmine to the Nile Revolution, to Ethiopia?
By Genet Mersha
The Egyptian regime went about employing, in a typical fashion of a besieged regime Tuesday afternoon, to bedevil the thousands of protestors in the streets. In Egypt, officially this was supposed to be a Police Day. Egyptian dubbed it a ‘Day of Anger.” By late Tuesday afternoon in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Mansoura, Mahalla al-Kobra and elsewhere, thousands of protesters came out to call for the Mubarak regime to go. Some lives were lost—both civilian and policemen. Several protestors were injured. Egypt has not had such a fury in decades.
As in Iran during its last election, social media has done good by popular action, summoning the people for protests. The New York Times reported more than 90,000 people signed up on a Facebook page to join the protests, “framed by the organizers as a stand against torture, poverty, corruption and unemployment.” From what I saw in the media, all classes of Egyptians were out there to inform Mr Mubarak and his entourage that people were tired of his thirty years in power.
Egyptian cartoon: self-immolation—the height of ultimate distress
Courtesy of Al Ahram, 20 January 2011: “Acts of self-immolation spread throughout the Arab World, replicating what happened in Tunisia.” Cartoon by Fahi Abul Ezz (by Lina El-Wardani)
Wonders never end; Egypt’s Interior Minister Habib Al-Adly has not read the writing on the wall. He warned the protestors on Police Day that they would be detained. And indeed, the police took some of them. Seemingly exhorting himself and his colleagues, the minister said, “Security authorities are capable of deterring any danger to citizens’ safety or damage to properties.” The regime also diminished Internet and mobile phone services.
What is interesting is in unusual concession from the regime, where emergency law has been in place for thirty years now, he said, “the protesters will be protected only if they are merely gathering to express their opinion.” Nonetheless, as if all dictators and their officials graduate from the same school, Mr Al-Adly described the protestors as "a bunch of incognizant, ineffective young people.” However, what the world witnessed on television were experts, women doctors, lawyers, workers…explaining why they are angry, not “incognizant... “
Mr Al-Adly’s words reminded me of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s murderous electoral escapade, in which his forces mowed down in one-day nearly 200 young lives in 2005. Ato Meles went on BBC interview with Stephen Sucker days later accused of stealing election results to claim those he ordered killed and the survivors were “unemployed.” Any ways, what difference does that make? Still he is responsible for their death.
Today, Egyptian police used water cannons and barrages of tear gas on thousands of people that converged in Tahrir Square, not far from the US embassy, the Interior Ministry, and an environ of upper class hotels, according to news reports. Nothing was able to deter Tuesday’s angry protestors. They are determined to initiate in earnest Egyptian requiem for the Mubarak regime, guided by the spirit of the Nile Revolution.
Civil society organizations quickly moved in the protest areas. About 30 Egyptian human rights groups have set up operations unit in downtown Cairo to provide protesters with legal support. Tuesday’s public protest, organized on the social media, is the largest ever in Egypt in years. Initially it was peaceful, even the brutal Egyptian security forces showing unusual restraint, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), “in what appeared to be a calculated strategy by the government to avoid further sullying the image of a security apparatus widely seen as little more than corrupt thugs in uniforms.”
A recent visit to Cairo gave me the shock of my life, where within ten days I heard a chorus of complaints from everyone I met, as never before, about the difficult life in Egypt. The chitchat everywhere is about money, cost of living, the dreaded political suppression and brutality of the regime. In a country where only 20 percent of the population is below the poverty line, in this difficult time, it seemed every Egyptian have their wails. Beyond any shadow of doubt the middle class is unhappy with Mubarak and his regime. Bear in mind, this is a class that has relatively done well under him, especially since 2004.
I would not like to think how deep the rage must be in Ethiopia. Under normal times, according to the 2010 UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI), the population under distressful life conditions, measured on the health, education and living standards] metrics is 94.2 percent. Especially this time, in a country where poverty has dug deep, and inflation at 15 percent last December that keeps on rising, has been hitting them hard on a daily basis. The ‘ethnocratic’ regime has kept on feeding them false hope about the continually rising economic growth that bears no fruits ordinary people can eat. Is it too much for these people to seek change by any means to their conditions of life?
I recall writing my discontent on behalf of my people, when I discussed in a 31 January 2010 article "The Rise of an Ethnic Oligarchy", www.addisvoice.com, dealing with the level of institutionalized corruption in Ethiopia. With poverty rising significantly since then, the depth of anguish and anger must have no limit. Water is a good conductor of currents; hopefully the currents of change would pass from Tunis to Cairo via the Nile, enabling Ethiopians to seek their redress.
Professionals I met in Cairo were sarcastic about the regime’s efforts to silence them, their second nature humour intact. They have plenty of funny jokes about the old man and his regime. As in any society under the grips of fear, Egyptians crack their jokes in the privacy of their homes and amongst circles of friends. Day and night, they shred Mubarak’s regime to pieces; they despise it for its corruption. As the BBC after the protests put it this afternoon, Egyptians despise the regime’s lack of vision and sense of the future.
Mubarak fell low in the eyes of the people not only for the corruption and brutality of his regime, but also for daring to pretend Egypt is a democracy for which he is preparing his son to take the mantle of power. The young think and believe they have never had leaders in a long time, embarrassed about the senility of the ‘emperor’, who is now dynastically brokering Gamal’s succession in an election that would take place less than a year from now.
Even separated, as they are by income differentials, taste and life styles, what binds together young Egyptians, the working-class folks and members of the middle class and higher ups is their hatred for the regime that has lost its ways for a long time now and is organizing an election in which, irrespective of the vote counts, his son would be declared a winner.
On 19 January, I read an article on www.almasryalyoum.com. I never realized that it was sign the time has come. It simply surprised me that, in a country where the media is censored and journalists are dismissed or imprisoned, almasryalyoum dared to write the following:
“Before former Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s unceremonious ousting from power, he resorted to the desperate tactic many dictators attempt when faced with questions they can’t answer. He blamed “hostile elements in the pay of foreigners…manipulated from outside the country.”
When Egyptian leaders employ this tactic, by “foreigners” they might mean Islamic fundamentalists from other countries. But more often than not, it means just one thing: It’s a Zionist conspiracy.
It took less than two days for some prominent members of Egyptian society to blame a Zionist conspiracy for the five Egyptian copy-cats of the Tunisian man who burned himself as a form of protest against the government.
In an effort to analyze the would-be suicides, member of the Al-Azhar-affiliated Islamic Research Academy Magdy Mehanna told Al-Youm Al-Sabei newspaper, "[Suicide] is an objection against God. [...] How can a Muslim do this? [...] It must be related to the Zionist plans to bring down the Arab and Muslim world.”
From orchestrated power outages to remote-controlled killer sharks, Egyptian accusations against Israel range from the plausible to the ludicrous. The frequency and sometimes absurdity of finger pointing in the Israeli direction has left Egyptians vulnerable to ridicule in the foreign media. Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal went so far as to dub Egypt “a nation of political imbeciles.”
In the case of Egypt, therefore, the Nile Revolution would witness, if it is not crushed with the level of impunity only cruelty knows, it would have stronger support. What will make today’s protest in Egypt potent is not only its vehemence, but also the non-participation of the Moslem brotherhood that has chosen to sit out, according to Annette Young of France 24.
Quoting the Associated Press, WSJ wrote,” Mothers carrying babies also marched and chanted, "Revolution until Victory!" while the young waved signs reading "OUT!" that were inspired by the Tunisian protestations of "DEGAGE!" Men sprayed graffiti reading "Down with Hosni Mubarak."
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