The Spring of Nations

Seven generations ago – in 1848 – Europe was swept up by the revolutionary wave of the Spring of Nations. One generation ago the year 1989 was written in bold letters into the book of History. And now, in 2011, we have again a Spring of Nations, this time first in North Africa and Mid-East, and possibly soon elsewhere, in sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia…

I have been to the nations in question. And I have seen not only the central parts of the biggest towns and cities but also the most remote and impoverished corners of so many misgoverned countries. So, I am not at all surprised by the events that have transpired from the streets of Algiers to the main square of Manama. And I will not be stunned when another crowd will contest their own economic and political circumstances in Bujumbura or in Almaty.

In the aftermath of recent brutal actions taken against protesters in the Bahraini capital, the Interior Ministry said, “The army would take every measure necessary to preserve security.” But I respond, “No such ‘security’ will help save the four decade-long rule of the current regime.” Although in Bahrain, unlike in many other countries of Arabian Peninsula and North Africa, certain steps have been made towards limited democracy, Bahrain must – and will – go further. I believe the same should be said of other states. Hence, do not be surprised if soon similar news reports describe people contesting extant but obsolete political orders from either Asmara, Eritrea (the most beautiful African capital city) or even from Doha, the modern capital city of Qatar, a nation governed with efficiency but without democracy.

Economic prosperity does not serve as a substitute for political freedom and democracy. And, at the same time, a formal democracy cannot substitute for sound economic performance and social development. Remember: events happen the way they do because many trends converge simultaneously.

Interestingly enough, in each city that has experienced demonstrations – in 1848, 1989, or 2011 – there is a main square, or seaside promenade, or wide boulevard, developed as a peoples’ assembly to applaud either the emperor, the king, or the dictator. Now, at the time of yet another Spring of Nations, these public spaces serve once again to commemorate political figures. But cheers will arise only when these cruel governments disappear. And they will.