By Chitta Behera
If the year 2011 is to be credited with any single greatest happening that has worldwide significance, it is the invention of a new tool in social engineering, namely ‘Occupy’ which has already worked wonders in some parts of the world while on trial in other parts. It all started with civilians in small North-African land Tunisia rising peacefully against the 23 years old dictatorial rule of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who had to abdicate on 14 January 2011 under the mounting pressure of a non-violent mass rebellion. Tunisia thus triggered off a pattern of regime change that soon fanned out to various countries across the globe.
Close on the heels of victorious Tunisian uprising, the Egyptians en masse launched a legendary revolt, a completely peaceful one, against 30 year long autocratic rule of President Hosni Mubarak, and succeeded too within a fortnight. On 25th January began a massive congregation of protesting Egyptians at Tahrir Square in the capital Cairo, which kept on surging forward from day to day braving the bloody reprisals by pro-Mubarak militia and goons. In the face of an overwhelming tide of popular protest, Mr.Mubarak bowed out of office on 11 February, lending thereby legitimacy to a new stratagem of civil resistance, now popularly called Occupation. The Occupation meant peaceful but resolute positioning of the protesting masses in public places, unmoved by ‘come what may’ until their mission is achieved. On another plane, the Occupation meant peaceful reclamation or re-appropriation of the polity and its entire web of institutions by the people themselves from a tyrant and his hangers-on who had usurped it all for their personal aggrandizement harping on the gullibility and disunity among the people. This new meaning the word ‘Occupation’ came to acquire since the onset of Egyptian revolution stood in sharp contrast to its age-old connotation i.e. forcible seizure of a regime or a territory by an armed band of external aggressors or domestic revolutionists in the name of religion or ideology etc.
Almost coinciding with happenings in Tunisia and Egypt, another theatre of Occupation was shaping up in Libya, located in Northern Africa. Though Libyan uprising ultimately achieved its goal through a fight-to-finish armed battle i.e. overthrowing the 41 years old despotism of Colonel Gadaffi, it had started off on a non-violent note like the ones noticed in Tunisia and Egypt. Between 13 and 16 January, the people upset at delays in the construction of housing units and rampant corruption had staged peaceful protests in various cities and occupied the housing that the government had been building. In late January, Jamal al-Hajji, a renowned writer-activist had on the internet called for demonstrations to be held in support of greater freedoms in Libya. But he was arrested on 1 February by police on concocted grounds. Then came the arrest of a young human rights lawyer Fathi Terbil on 15 Feb, which made the Libyans burst out against Gadaffi on the same day by holding peaceful demonstrations before the police headquarters at Benghazi. The vengeful police not only violently broke up the demonstration but also arrested a reputed novelist Idris Al-Mesmari after he gave an interview to the newspaper Al Jazeera condemning police violence. A Day of Rage was observed across Libya on 17th February to protest against the police brutalities of Gadaffi regime. It was also the day when Libya’s Occupation movement took on the colour of an armed insurrection to counter the ruthless violence against the civilians by the pro-Gadaffi forces. Thus unfolded a protracted, bloody civil war between the common Libyans and Gadaffi loyalists, that dragged on until 20 October when Gadaffi was killed by rebel forces in his hometown of Sirte. About 30,000 Libyans died in the civil war that led to the liberation of Libya from Gadaffi misrule.
The Arab Spring which came to symbolize a continuum of mass rebellions in Muslim countries of Arab world in early 2011 did also have a real-time replication in Yemen, located in the southern part of Arab Peninsula. To start with a major demonstration of over 16,000 protestors took place in Yemeni capital Sanaa on 27 January, voicing their pent-up rage against widespread unemployment, economic miseries, human rights abuses and rampant corruption and as well against the government's diabolic move to tinker with the country’s constitution. The protestors' demands eventually escalated to a call for resignation of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had been ruling over the country in various capacities right since 1978. Following several months of peaceful demonstrations coupled with sporadic spurts of bloody confrontation, Saleh couldn’t but sign an agreement on 23rd Nov, assuring to transfer power to his successor-elect on 21 February 2012, in lieu of immunity from prosecution. Again, a welcome news rocked the entire Arab world with joy and jubilation- the award of Nobel Peace Prize on 10 December to Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman, the first ever Arab woman to receive it, for her stellar role in mobilizing youth and women in the protracted struggle against tyranny and misrule of President Saleh both before and during the Arab Spring.
Almost coincidentally civilian demonstrations erupted in Syria on 26 January in the wake of the self-immolation by a rebel Syrian Hasan Ali Akleh, which was similar to Tunisian episode. Protesters called for reinstatement of civil rights along with an end to the state of emergency, which has been in place long since 1963. Moreover, the Syrians suffered miserably and on all fronts under the 30 year autocratic regime of President Hafez al Assad who ruled from 1970 until his death in 2000, only to be followed by his successor-son Bashar al-Assad who has been occupying the presidency since then. On 18 April, approximately 100,000 protesters sat in the central Square of Homs calling for the resignation of President Bashar, but the Baathist regime of Bashar responded with ruthless military crackdowns killing indiscriminately the protestors including children and women. As it happens on the sidelines of popular rebellions, a big chunk of Syrian army defected in protest and got engaged in gunfight against the loyalist forces. An intense fight between the pro-regime military and protesting civilians backed by the rebel forces still goes on, and it is now a matter of days when Bashar would meet his inevitable fall.
Though not as strident in its impact as was witnessed in the above countries, the viral wave of Arab Spring did also drive Saudi Arabia’s 86-year old, complacent King Abdulla to adopt a two-pronged strategy in the face of growing popular disaffection- on one hand, to pump billions of dollars into security and religious establishments the two main pillars of the ruling Al-Saud family and on the other to introduce some reforms like women’s limited right to vote and contest in elections. The latter is not a small-time achievement given the fact that this sprawling land of Arab world had ever remained a den of religious bigotry that sanctified subjugation of women. The stormy Arab Spring did also blow past the tiny island nation of Bahrain, where a series of mass protests erupted in February and March against King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa demanding democratic freedoms and religious non-discrimination. Such protests popularly called ‘Pearl Revolution’ after the Pearl Square in the capital city of Manama, urged also an end to monarchy, soon after the Government let loose a reign of repression resulting in death of 40, and detention and torture to thousands of protestors. However, unable to face the surging rebellion at home and vociferous condemnation from abroad, the King was forced to institute an Independent Commission of Inquiry on the atrocities committed against the protestors. On 23rd Nov the report of the Commission was released confirming the veracity of alleged brutalization, and thereby further refueling the mass fury against King Hamad. Under the domino effect of Arab Spring people’s protests small or big upshot in many other countries such as Algeria, Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania and Sudan in North Africa and Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman and Lebanon in Middle East..
While the Arab Spring was engaged in unsettling a host of long-serving dictators, an altogether different kind of mass awakening swept across Europe and United States in 2011 itself. Though the latter acknowledges the Arab Spring to be the inspiration, there stands out however a basic distinction between the two; the Arab Spring was driven by a zeal to overthrow the deeply entrenched regimes built around tyrannical Kings or Presidents, whereas the leitmotif of US-European engagement, now called ‘Occupy Campaign’ was not to overthrow any oppressive ruler as such but to change the oppressive rules of the system at large. The backdrop was provided by the lingering scenario of economic downswing that kept on worsening since the onset of global financial meltdown in September 2008. Though Occupy campaign is today struggling for its survival in the face of an organized media blackout and indiscriminate violence by State authorities coupled with a harsh winter, its basic positions have been made loud and clear to the world public through a myriad of mass activities undertaken during its initial phase. The Occupy campaign in fact started off on 15 May with a massive congregation of indignados occupying Puerta del Sol in Madrid, Spain by way of encampment for weeks. Conducted under the banner “Real Democracy Now” the Spanish campaign underlines the idea that voting at an interval of 4 or 5 years is not real democracy, which requires real control of public affairs by the people themselves round the year. The classic formulation of ‘Occupy’ as an alternative political praxis was articulated a few months later in ‘Occupy Wall Street’ campaign that took off on 17 September from an encampment in Zuccotti Park in New York, USA under the slogan ‘We are the 99%’. As described in its website, “OWS is a leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants. This #ows movement empowers real people to create real change from the bottom up. We want to see a general assembly in every backyard, on every street corner because we don't need Wall Street and we don't need politicians to build a better society”. In fact, it never bothers OWS as to whether the Democratic Obama or his Republican rival presides over the United States, but whosoever occupies Presidency must work for 99% in place of serving 1% which pitifully all of them have done so far. Though the means of peaceful protest is common to both Arab Spring and OWS, the mission of the former was to topple a tyrant and his regime, whereas that of the latter is to troubleshoot a system-that-be and its institutions. And that is the quintessential difference between the two major narratives that marked the world of 2011.
Chitta Behera, 4A Jubilee Tower, Choudhury Bazar, Cuttack-9, Orissa, India, Mobile-09437577546, Mail: email@example.com, Dated 10 January 2012