During the past couple of years the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has gone through a phase that can only be labeled as different, without enticing heated debate. Oppressors and dictators were displaced. The whole region went through radical changes and Westerners cannot help but wonder, “Do the people who ride camels to work know what democracy is? And they are asking for it?!”
There comes a time in the aftermath – or the after-Spring or whatever the terminology is nowadays – when we have to direct this phase toward something better than “different.” Toward something good and lasting, lest history remember us as vain. For this purpose it is imperative to ask which came first: oppressor or oppressed?
It makes sense that in order for oppressors to exist, they have to have subjects at their disposal to oppress. Without a nation to oppress there will be no oppressors. Only when a people succumb to unfair rule will they be ruled unfairly. Therefore, the oppressed came first.
My proof that people in the MENA let themselves be oppressed is the increasing number of individuals I meet who are willing to keep their dear despots just because their foreign policies oppose the US and Israel. There are so many people who do not mind being pushed around and ruled over as long as their enemies are pestered with. For this oppressed-ness to end – if we do want it to end – and not relapse after this “different” phase, the region will need civic engagement. A lot of civic engagement and active citizenry.
I went to see The Watch over the weekend (this is relevant, I promise). Ben Stiller plays the role of Evan, an excessively active citizen whose passion is to start clubs and civil movements and who initiates a neighborhood watch squad in his Ohioan suburb and ultimately saves Earth from an alien invasion. The movie is meant to mock Evan’s over-involvement in the society, but I could not help thinking throughout the movie, “My God, we need people like Evan.”
You see, the problem with Middle Easterners and North Africans is that they rarely participate in civil society organizations and debates. It is true that there was a large uproar from MENA youths on social networks asking corrupt politicians to back down, but will they continue on this path and adopt activism as principle and lifestyle after the oppressors leave the scene?
If the region is to enjoy political equality, the masses have to affirm their citizenry and get involved in the decision-making and processes that affect their lives. They have to start claiming the roles of assertive citizens – i.e. Evans – and take part in public affairs, discussions of public policies, and monitoring of elected officials.
We need to work towards democracies that are inclusive, prompting citizens to exercise their voices through deliberations and civic engagement and urging them not to remain silent as their fates are being decided upon behind closed doors. Only then will we be able to keep oppressors at bay, and turn the difference of today into prosperity for tomorrow.
First things first though, I need to go feed my camel now. So long.