The Centre for Political and Development Studies (CPDS), a Gaza-based think tank centre, held a lecture on Tuesday, February 7, 2011 on ‘The Arab Spring and Palestine’ delivered by Joseph Daher, co-author of The People Demand: A Short History of the Arab Revolutions and founder of The Café Thawra blog ,with the presence of politicians, activists, journalists, and students. The lecture aimed to link Palestine, one of the main or may the main cause of Arabs, to the Arab Spring’s influence and meaning. Several reasons were behind the Arab Spring, which led to mass protests across the Arab world.
“The Arab Spring and the Palestinian question cannot be separated in their dynamics and consequences”, Daher said. “We have heard people talking about it as a conspiracy, which is far from truth. It’s not a revolution made on Twitter and Facebook. It’s a popular movement”.
People took to the streets first in Tunisia in the wake of Mohammed Bu-azizi, a jobless Master of Arts holder, setting himself fire after he was slapped on his face by a policewoman, who took his cart that he used to sell vegetables to afford food for his family. Weeks later, the entire Arab world shook as people in Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Bahrain protested tirelessly.
“There are three main principles that should be considered to understand the Arab Spring: the democratic understanding, the social justice understanding, and the anti-imperialistic understanding”, he said.
The Arab Spring has affected people worldwide, even in what most so called democratic countries. People in the United States and elsewhere, for example, took to the streets protesting the control of their country’s national wealth by a very small number of people: 1%, as the protesters put it.
“The Occupy movement came directly after the Arab Spring”, he continued. “People started saying we should march as Egyptians. We should strike as Egyptians. We should occupy as Egyptians. It expanded to the whole world”.
The absence of democracy has played an important role in pushing people towards revolting against repressive regimes in the Arab world. Countries like Tunisia and Egypt, where dictators had the last world on all issues, were the first to witness uprisings. People there took to the streets calling for the downfalls of decades-old regimes. A process will lead eventually to free elections to choose people who represent the aspirations of the oppressed Arab people.
“They lived in complete absence of democracy. We can’t talk about spontaneous uprisings”, Daher added. “We have causes that brought these uprisings. They were prepared. In Egypt, we had Kifayaa (Enough!) movement, and in Syria, we had Al-nadwa (Discussion Clubs in Damascus and Aleppo). The heads of these movements were the leaders of the revolutions later. In Tunisia, Bin Ali closed universities because they were great centres of resistance”.
“There were several demands, though media tried to limit it to the democratic demand”, he said. “They were other demands like social justice. We are seeing that even Al-Nahdaa in Tunisia talked about it as well as other parties in Egypt, but they nevertheless don’t define it precisely. This is because these revolutions were followed by the international economic and financial crisis in 2008. In Tunisia, we had the Trabulsi, Bin Ali’s wife’s family. In Egypt, we had Gamal Mubrak and all the elite around him buying all these public companies and turning them to their own wealth. In Syria, Ramy Makhlouf, who is close, cousin of the president, to the regime, has 60% of the wealth of Syria in his hands”.
The west benefited from these policies that secured its interests in the region. The US and Europe maintained strong relations with the regimes toppled last year. The US gave and still gives SCAF more than a billion dollars a year.
“We should not forget that though we dreamt about Tahrir Square, we had the biggest strike in Suez Channel”, Daher said. “SCAF decided to reach a truce so revolution wouldn’t reach it. Social inequalities also pushed people in the streets just like elsewhere such as in Syria and Bahrain”.
“ Despite some valuable and true criticism towards Abdul Nasser, this latter gave social services to people, that’s why he was loved”, he added.
Palestine, meanwhile, was also one of the people’s demands in Egypt. Egyptians have in their hearts a great level of solidarity with Palestine. The same happened in Syria, where people were politicised by this cause.
“In Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and other Arab countries, people were mobilised through the Palestinian cause”, Daher said. “This includes Europe, where people were mobilised through BDS and other causes in relation to Palestine”.
The Arab Spring vividly affected the Palestine cause directly and indirectly.
“15 of March movement is one of the indirect consequences, though preparations took part before”, Daher said. “Nakba Day was another. The re-mobilisation of Palestinian refugees is important, because refugees wanted to be mobilised in this battle. The reconciliation pact, which was inked in May, 2011 in Cairo, is a third consequence. Arabs learned from the Palestinian revolution as well. This Arab Spring is important to break colonial agreements with Israel and the West. The more democratic Arab countries are, the more independent they become. Middle ground will not be acceptable by people”.
A French revolutionary once said, Daher concluded, “If you do a half revolution, you dig your own grave”.
CPDS holds lectures on regional and global issues to increase people’s awareness in Gaza, which will help them understand historical events taking place in the world.