Sir Isaac Newton once noted that “every body persists in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by force impressed.” Also known as the first of his three Laws of Motion, Newton’s basic idea is that an object that is not moving or moving in a constant speed in a straight line will stay like that until something pushes it or blocks its path. And for as much as I have been observing, reading about and analyzing Arab uprisings these days, I haven’t found a more simple explanation for them as this.
If we consider Newton’s body literally, his law would read that populations will remain unmoved until something pushes them. We all know what pushed these Arab populations to move. But we also know where those (Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain) whose struggle is ongoing currently stands…
All the people across these countries have managed to maintain momentum against tremendous odds. Indeed, the more regimes have fought their very own people, the more the people have fought back, unmistaken testimony to Newton’s third law of motion (i.e. to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction) and to the fact that “bullets no longer kill” in this part of the world anymore (see post April 23, 2011). However, popular momentum building unilaterally, without being reciprocated by any breakthroughs from the governments towards change or deep-seated reform, has proven to be a recipe for ongoing killing with no end in sight.
What has been blocking the path of the people then?
The increasing defiance of regimes is somewhat based on their belief that they are the sole repositories of power, security and prosperity for their countries. This, they try to sell to their local audience, as they make the comparison to fearful post-revolution aftermaths, as well as to countries worldwide, who may still not have realized that security over freedom is unsustainable and even dangerous in the long-run (and would they have that in their own countries anyway?).
On the regional level, fears that revolutions will spill over to other countries have certainly led to both overt (Saudis in Bahrain) and certainly covert intervention to stop the spread of revolution, whether based on confessional considerations (e.g. Gulf Sunnis fearing that Bahrain Shi’a will have a greater political role), political considerations (spreading democracy and free elections) or both.
There is Israel, of course, and the way it weighs the advantages/disadvantages of the repressive regimes to its security and occupation, considering the already visible changes in its relationship withEgypt. All of which would be included in Europe and theU.S.’s position vis-à-vis these faltering regimes. The West has made up its mind on Libya. And as long as violence in Yemen is contained, why would it turn up the heat? But violence in Bahrain and Syria has surpassed the red lines and greater condemnation is yet to take place. For as long as Bahrain is artificially contained by the Gulf countries, and Syria continues to be propped up as the key to regional (in)stability, nothing will change on these tracks either.
So what will it take to truly move again to force change?
Given the current standstill, change will only come as a result of increased pressure from the inside and outside. If people will maintain momentum, at expected and unfortunate human costs, the wall at which they have hit will eventually crack. Meanwhile, and as much as some in the region resent Europe and the U.S.’s lack of decisiveness so far and its silence on unacceptable levels of violence against civilians, they have an important key in their hands that would either unlock the floodgates leading to regimes’ demise, or temporarily close the emergency exit for regimes to step out from. Let’s face it, China isn’t exactly a role model to rely on for democracy and freedom (itself doing some recent crackdowns fearing the effects of Arab movements would spread to its backward) nor is Russia.
The world must once and for all realize that security over stability and democracy is not and will not be sustainable. In fact, the longer such regimes maintain a grip on power, the harder and bloodier their exit will be and the more of an uncertain future they will leave behind for their people to look forward to.
It is sometimes hard to remain optimistic about the current revolutionary fever, if only by thinking how fast events unfolded in Tunisia and Egypt. Unfortunately, those were the exception, and we are faced with a tougher rule that dictates that revolutions are usually never easy and never quick.
But whenever the outcome, our revolutions have hit a point of no return and things will hardly be ever the same again…