Today I was at the cigar store of the train station, getting a pre-paid card for my phone. The shelves were full of newspapers and magazines of all kinds, of all languages. Most of the front pages were mentioning the Egypt protests, of course. One of them immediately caught my eye, mainly because of the picture I think – the portrait of a young man, the lower part of his face hidden by his scarf. It was the « Nouvel Obs » magazine, and it was titling « De Tunis au Caire, quand le monde arabe s’éveille » (From Tunis to Cairo, when the Arab World wakens). Wakens… awakening?
Definition: awakening [əˈweɪkənɪŋ əˈweɪknɪŋ] n the start of a feeling or awareness in a person
There is no day since the beginning of the worldwide mediatic coverage of the protests in Tunisia where I didn’t hear or read somewhere this word – awakening. Everywhere, I see journalists analyzing the events as the awakening of the arab word, the arab people, the arab street, the arab whatever. And everytime I wonder the same: what is before the awakening? Sleep or unconsciousness, isn’t it? Does it mean that we were worldwidely considered as being asleep or unconscious?
Maybe am I a bit touchy; maybe I shouldn’t think that much about what is – after all – just a word. But the fact is that everytime I am confronted with ‘the awakening’, I cannot help feeling slightly angry and insulted. Don’t we refer to awakening when it comes to the development of a young child gradually getting able to walk, speak or understand abstract concepts? Those who talk about the awakening of the Arabs, without any doubt, suggest that they were in some kind of lethargy until then, that unlike the rest of the people of the world, the Arabs were lost in some extra-dimensionnal realm of irrationality, unaware of the recent progress of History. There even was frequently journalists/analysts/politicians/whatever that were clearly assuming that our « slow » progress on the path leading to political and civil awareness makes it impossible for now to consider anything else than dictatorship for us. Very seriously. And that giving to Arabs democracy too soon could lead to disasters like whole nations falling into political-religious extremism, violence, chaos. It always sounded to me like a father explaining to his to his 16 years old son why he won’t give him the keys of the car: « Don’t you realize you would be dangerous for yourself and for the others? ».
When I read about « awakening », it makes me feel the same way than when I hear anybody saying that – I am giving you here a hint on how to get me mad in less than 2 minutes – « Columbus discovered America in 1492 ». Columbus did not discover America; the people that were already living on the american continent when he reached the shore were those who did. Or like when I consult some page on Wikipedia on some random african country and that under the section « History », the history starts… the day of the colonization of the country. As if the country was created out of nothing the day an army took possession of the land.
People tend to think that what they have not yet seen or noticed, do not exist; and when it becomes visible, they sometimes don’t get to understand that it is not an « awakening ». It is just that something was screening the view to any outside observer; like the Atlantic Ocean between Columbus and America.
Arabs, we, us, are not living presently our « awakening ». They always were fully conscious, fully aware. But this is what the oppression, after all, is about: seeing everything but being forced to keep silent. Being cautious; how to be anything else than cautious when you know that in some conditions, if you speak or protest, it’s your life, or even worse, your wife’s or husband’s, or your parents’ life that is treatened. And maybe it is because this heavy, unbearable barrier between the Arabs and their freedom of speech and act, the people in our countries always felt that much concerned about the palestinian or iraqi issue: it was the only political topics they could discuss without being put in danger; and read between the lines, it was the only way they were able to criticize their governments.
I always found for example that very few Tunisians will ever tell you directly anything about politics, but always amazed how most of them have an extended ability to give practical answers to overcome the issues created by the lack of citizen rights. As if they always were acting political (not in the derogatory meaning of the word) without speaking political. And when they found the first sign of weakeness of the oppressing entity, the movement was spontaneously initiated and followed. As for Egyptians, they have always been more keen to speak than Tunisians, but when it comes to acts, as they were living in certainly what is one of the most halting conditions you would ever imagine, they were making their way through paths you would never have guessed, and I always found them unbelievabily relaxed about it; just waiting for the right time to do the right thing. And it seems now the right time has come; the tunisian revolution was the triggering factor. Egyptians didn’t wait for that day to become aware of the political spoliation of their rights; they knew it already, it is just know it is also visible to the outside world: the view is no more screened.
Will the tunisian and egyptian protests be the triggering factor to other poeple (not only in the arab world) to defeat tyranny? I hope so and I think so. But again, they won’t create the awareness in other countries, they will just be what they needed for releasing the claims.
Hopefully this would lead to the awakening into a new understanding of our History.