by Vera Macht in Gaza: The West and the revolution
We in the West, we like to have the feeling that we have the Arab world under control. The states there are strategically important, full of oil, and the people strange, in what is for us a disturbing way. But they are hopefully largely under control by dictatorial regimes and the political or sometimes military interventions of the West. The Western discourse revolves around the question of whether Islam is at all compatible with democracy, and thus whether Arab Muslim immigrants can be integrated into European societies.
But now this through oppression installed stability has started to crumble in the Arab world. In Tunisia, the dictator has already fallen, in Egypt the 30 years old chair of Mubarak is broken, and other dictators in the Arab world have started to feel uneasy. But it is not the salvation and democracy bringing West which has brought this development to roll, no, it wasn’t even able to predict it, so that at first no Western politician was really sure how to react.
It was the people of those countries themselves who had enough of oppression, poverty and dictatorships. The millions of people who flocked to the streets are the same ones whose religion and mentality seemed contrary to the human and civil rights of a free political system. Millions of Egyptians have been persevering in liberation square for over two weeks, united in the fight for freedom, democracy and justice in their country. The only perhaps democracy compatible Arab Muslims risked their lives for a new democratic system, the revolution has cost hundreds of lives so far. Muslims form human chains for praying Christians to protect them as human shields from harassment.
All this contradicts our image of the Islamic world so much that it is something almost reassuring when you can lead the success of the revolution back to media such as Facebook or Twitter. Western media, that at least we have exported there and is now being used in the best sense of democracy. And if you ask yourself, while you are sitting at home on the sofa, what you as a very democracy compatible Christian citizen have recently done politically for the fight for freedom and justice in your own country, then you feel a lot better if you have pressed "take part" on the Facebook button for the "virtual march of solidarity with Egypt". That's half the battle after all, according to the exuberant cheers for the "Facebook revolution", and you forget that even without any Internet access it has gone on very well networked.
For a revolution, it takes more than to press the "I like it" button on Facebook. You need the necessary degree of despair about the political and social situation, but above all strength, courage, and faith in a better future. The Internet merely reflects the reality, it doesn’t create a new one. Where there is no revolutionary spirit, Facebook doesn’t create one, even when the popular social network may have contributed heavily to the mobilization of the youth. But to believe in the success of a revolt against armies of police acting with an incredible brutality and ruthlessness, it requires a social networking that goes beyond online relationships. At the danger of ending up alone, you don’t risk your life. No, in Tunisia and Egypt a collective anger about the situation has grown over years, an anger which has emerged with a common act of courage and collective strength.
In a country like Egypt, where over 40 percent of the population live on less than two dollars a day, where 28 percent are illiterate, it was probably only the Western-oriented elite of the country, which has organized themselves on Facebook.
Looking therefore to liberation square during prayer times, when thousands of people bend in harmony to the "God is great" call to prayer, one should perhaps rather question his own conception of the world than celebrate the multi-billion dollar Western media giant Facebook. Because while in the West we prefer to check each individual Muslim on his democracy ability before he can settle down with us, we now see on television thousands of Muslims gathered in prayer and in the struggle for democracy.
Perhaps it is exactly this religion that scares us so much that made people there have the strength to keep going, perhaps it was rather the religious community networks which have brought people far from the small elite so well organized to the streets. Perhaps it is this subconscious knowledge that makes us also look slightly worried to Egypt, the usual fear of Islamist terror always present on our minds.
Perhaps we should all just shut up for a while and learn from the Egyptians what courage means, and commitment to justice, reform and the fight for a better tomorrow. Because the fact that even sitting at home on the sofa we are able to be inspired by the events while they are happening and are in almost direct contact with the protesters via Facebook and Twitter is definitely a great achievement for this media, and must be honored. And should be used. With the revolutionary Egyptians being just a mouse click away, you can bethink yourself again of democracy meaning above all not to divide people in "we" and "them". Remind yourself that you shouldn’t build up concepts of an enemy because of strangeness, but rather remember that all of us, whether in Europe or in Egypt, share a common humanity.
And this is perhaps the time to just close the laptop, stop checking our Facebook pages for the hundredth time of the day for the latest news of virtual friends, and step out into the real world. Because our society also needs the Egyptian spark for the fight for a better tomorrow.
Vera Macht lives and works in Gaza since April 2010. She is a peace activist and reports about people´s daily struggle in Gaza