I’ve been glued to Twitter for the past 16 days.
Too many thought racing through my head to think clearly.
A total emotional roller-coaster.
My generation’s first revolution!
All that I can think of right now is that everything in this region, in our lives, need to be rethought.
I am part of the 1989 generation. I was 19 when the Jordanian mini revolution started in the south of the Kingdom then started spreading north. This promoted the late King Hussein to lift emergency laws, un-ban political parties and allow the country to have a fair and free election, leading to a pluralistic parliament.
So my adult life started in an era of relative freedom and democracy. The political suppression suffered political activists was something my generation read about. But our experience was that of democratic possibility. My university years in the mid 1990’s was marked by a brief period of student political activism, which maybe felt a bit risky at times, but I never really felt very threatened by the state.
But from those hopeful days of early adulthood it was pretty much downhill. Local and regional events ate away at Jordan’s democratic potential.
In August 1990 we woke up one day with the news that Saddam had occupied Kuwait. I can clearly remember the headline of the front page editorial of the normally conservative and government serving daily newspaper Al-Rai, declaring the occupation of Kuwait as “The Correction of the Arab’s National Path”!!
Whoever wrote that headline didn’t know that there was nothing but one defeat and disaster for Arabs in store for the next 20 years. The few months of fervent Saddam worship in Jordan, ended with the brutal defeat of the Iraqi army at the hands of the United States.
Then the endless Israeli-Arab peace process started a year later, with no results beyond a few half-achievements and a string of bitter disappointments.
Elections in Jordan became worse and worse with an election law that ripped the country to tribes and neighborhoods. Political parties became a joke. Islamist were the only political force out there.
The new millennium brought nothing but more disappointment. Osama bin Laden kidnapped the whole muslim world on September 11, 2001. The threat of terrorism became THE issue and democracy only an empty word. The tragedy of Iraq deepened, ending with total American occupation in 2003 and the unleashing of the monster of sectarianism.
The 1989 generation started becoming convinced that Arabs are probably “genetically” unable to grasp progress, freedom and democracy.
Besides authoritarian governance and increasingly conservative if not fanatic religious fundamentalism, consumerism was the only thing “happening” in this region.
Until 16 days ago, I was just another 1989er, barely holding on to the belief of a freer, better tomorrow, almost giving up hope on better governance of social progress.
I was living in a “confused Arabia” as the tagline of this blog declares above!
But wait. This is not the full story.
Against the backdrop of decline and depression, something was moving.
Sometime in 2004, I started blogging.
Then I found out about JordanPlanet, a now defunct site that brought together Jordan’s first bloggers. At first there was only four or five of of us. Mostly tech geeks. But soon enough there were tens then a hundred then we stopped counting.
Through blogging meetups I started meeting people who where at least 10 years younger than me. I saw a generation that was simply different. Willing to express itself openly. Young people with individual voices. Writers who were not about to ask the Ministry of Information or the Press and Publications Department for the permission to publish.
In some of our early JordanPlanet blogger meetups we got to know bloggers from Tunisia and Egypt as well as Jordanian bloggers who lived abroad. A culture of online self expression was bubbling everywhere.
Isn’t it intriguing that the first real post-indepence Arab people-power pro democracy revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt started at the end of the 2010. The year that saw the passing of three of the most renowned Arab thinkers of the late 20th century: Mohammad Abed Al Jabiri, Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid and Mohammad Arkoun.
Here is what I wrote in March 2010 after returning from the ArabNet online business conference and reading what the late Samir Kassir’s book “Being Arab”
Kassirâ€™s views are, of course, controversial. And I am not attempting to dissect the book here. Yet, I found myself intrigued by his ultimate hopefulness. I, like many, might feel a sense of despair at the current state of affairs in the Arab region and often find it hard to believe that change can come from within. But I feel I learned something as the book was drawing to a close: reconnecting to the heritage of Arab modernity and extending is something worth trying.
The last few pages of the book held a surprise for me.
Kassir says that the lack of interface and connection between the culture of creation and the social reality is a big concern .. And here is where Kassirâ€™s says we should seek solutions: â€œIn the galvanizing effect that new media can have on cultural development, and that culture in turn can have on durable economic development.â€
New media. The internet. Mobile. Satellite.
Which brings us full circle to ArabNet and the dozens of hopeful, young Arab faces, from the lebanese girl who wants to invent a better Arabic web font to the Syrian podacasters covering the conference, to the Saudi guy in dishdasha and tennis shoes who want to start an Arab business-rating site, to the many Jordanian startups who presented their ideas. Maybe Kassir was right. Maybe the future can be created at the intersection of culture and commerce happening in the cloud of new media which knows no Arab borders or limitations.
A young man burns himself in Tunisia and a dictator who gripped that country for 23 years falls.
A young Egyptian computer programer, Khaled Saeed, gets beaten to death by Egyptian police on June 6, 2010.
A young Egyptian Google executive, Wael Ghonim, anonymously sets up a page dedicated to Khaled Saeed on Facebook. He calls for a protest on January 25, 2011. A peaceful demonstration becomes a full scale revolution!
Arab revolutions used to be military coups rebranded as revolutions. In other words, with the exception of Lebanon’s Cedar revolution against the Syrian presence, Arab dictators where only overthrow by new dictators and not the people.
People like Jamal Abdelnasser and Saddam Hussein where military officers. What Arab coups have achieved was mostly the crushing of civil society, creativity and even business.
Some years ago I visited the old building of the Cairo stock exchange, a beautiful old building designed by a Viennese architect during the Egyptian monarchy of the early 20th century. I was told that until a few years before, the blackboards of the stock exchange still carried the last share prices from the 1950s when Nasser nationalized the whole Egyptian economy.
Wael Ghonim today pledged he will go back to his day job one the aspirations of Egypt’s youth have been achieved. He doesn’t want to be in politics. He may still find himself dragged into a longer struggle. But he is a symbol of a revolution of a middle class. It’s not fanatic. It’s stance vis-a-vis business and capitalism is diverse. But it is young, decent and full of hope.
The Tunisian and Egyptian revolution have already transformed the Arab world. Things will never be the same again. Being Arab has been redefined.
These are not the revolution of military officers, or the revolt of only farmers and factory workers. They are revolutions for dignity and freedom by a dazzling spectrum of society.
Veiled girls and pierced girls. Bearded guys and guys with ponytails. Someone in a dishdasha and someone in a heavy-metal t-shirt. An unprecedented unity. Coexistence born out of working on a common goal.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the Egyptian revolution today is the number of entrepreneurs and business leaders who are supporting it.
Let’s make no mistake. The heros of this revolution are the millions on the streets right now. But Arab tech executives aren’t usually instigators of regime change! In Egypt, now, they are.
My Twitter stream carries messages of support from Arabs who are comfortable business owners and executives. A successful Egyptian entrepreneur I met in a couple of conferences seems to have nothing to do but go to Tahrir Square and shoot video interviews and post them on YouTube!
Last November, I was there in the hall when Naguib Sawiris, an Egyptian billionaire, was being interviewed by Fadi Ghandour, founder and CEO of Aramex during the Celebration of Entreprenurship in Dubai.
“What is change,” asked Ghandour.
“Change is when the young people in this room overthrow their governments.” shot back Sawiris.
Billionaires talking about a revolution!
How do you solve the street littering problem in Arab cities? Start a revolution.
To me this revolution is personal. It is the most important event public I witnessed in my lifetime. I am happy to be alive and not too old today because I am excited, exhilarated, worried, hopeful about where things go from here.
I feel totally connected, personally, to people in Tahrir square.
If I allowed, apathy or hopelessness to creep into my mind over the past 20 years, the courage of the millions of people on the street in Cairo and all over Egypt gives me a million reason to cast hopelessness aside.
I will be changing 360east’s tagline. Arabia is no longer confused. Tunisia and Egypt have made it clear that people know what they want.