As most of you know by now, the recent Tunisia upheavals sent their president scampering out of the country with all the dignity of those criminals who occasionally grace the cover of The New Times awkwardly posing with the items they stole.
Everyone now seems to believe that this is the ‘first strike’ so to speak. Oppressed people all over the world will rise with one voice and demand a better world usually via the media-friendly method of burning things and throwing rocks. The skies will be choked with terrified dictators fleeing from protestors in their private jets. People will sing ‘Kumbaya’ and place flowers in the gun barrels of meek soldiers. Even unicorns and rainbows may put in an appearance.
It’s a lovely idea, but I think it is completely unrealistic. The vast majority of dictators aren’t going anywhere soon except if the grim reaper takes a personal interest in their health. Most of them will react to these events by doing even more to stay in power. I can think of quite a few who wouldn’t be too shy to break up riots with maximum force.
The truth of the matter is, different countries have different conditions and what happened in Tunisia is extremely unlikely to happen elsewhere. Tunisians standing up to ‘the man’ isn’t going to be much help, to say Saudi Arabia, where you can hardly go to the toilet without filling in a state intelligence questionnaire. Tunisia wasn’t foreseeable precisely because such things tend to happen very rarely. It’s not likely to signal a paradigm shift.
This is one of the reasons why the United States’ ‘domino theory’ of the sixties seems deeply flawed to me. They believed that if they let Vietnam fall to the Communists, other countries in Asia would quickly follow suit and in the long run, capitalism would be in trouble. However, when Vietnam did fall to the communists, nothing of the sort happened. Spreading communism is not like spreading The Macarena. The same applies to radical ideas like ‘Let’s overthrow the government!’ Such ideas are difficult to take root in societies that have been oppressed for so long. You need dozens of factors to all come together at the right time, and even then your chances are not good.
And in a twisted way, such events make life easier for other dictators because they get the perfect chance to play hardball even more, having been confronted with a vision of their vulnerability (‘There, but for the grace of God go I’). They’ll be ready once the first rock is thrown and it won’t be rocks that head in the opposite direction.
It doesn’t mean that such revolutions won’t make them nervous (They may contract a short-term case of what is known in football as ‘squeaky bum time’ meaning the tensest moments of the game where you fear your team may concede a goal). But in the long run, they won’t budge. They’ve played the game too long and they know the terrain. It’s not a fair fight in any sense of the term.
And, of course, such governments don’t need to rely on force alone. A wide range of coercion, bribery and cosmetic change can do the trick. A few concessions can make it look like change is coming when, in reality, it is not.
Ultimately no matter how noble or worthy your cause is, change is going to be extremely difficult.
To sum it all up, it’s hard out there for a revolutionary.