“We are all Egyptians”

The people of Tunisia and Egypt may not know but they have become the agents of a vast cultural revolution. They have created a new political and social reality on the ground, “People’s Power”. The revolution is spreading like wild fire in most of the Middle East and African countries because people relate to the cause and draw inspiration from it.  It is not about Islam fundamentalism it is not about Christian fundamentalism or other forms of isms. It is about respect of human rights, the rule of law and democracy for all.

I watched a woman commentator on BBC-TV who said, “The demand of the Egyptian people are also our demand, We are all Egyptians.” The beauty of it is that such passion    is being shared by all those who believe in justice and peace. It is also expressed in Eritrean Website; Tesfaye Seyoum the head of Eritrean Global Solidarity (EGS) has eloquently put it in one of his articles at Asmarino.com. He said “We are all Egyptians”. It means the people involved in the revolution are “our voice”; they represent our aspiration, our values, our ideology of justice and democracy.  

The revolution is about awakening. The wake up call, the spark, was done by Bouaziz, the unemployed Tunisian graduate who set himself on fire. The Tunisian people rose up in rebellion. In the process of the uprising (the revolution) the various people ruled by despotic nations have experienced a profound inspiration that will enable them to create new possibilities for a better life.
Viktor Frankl, a professor of neurology and psychiatry in Vienna, wrote “Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which robs you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determines whether or not you become the plaything of circumstances, renouncing freedom and dignity to become moulded into the form of typical tyranny or oppression”.

Misunderstanding people’s power:

In a way it is a war of ideas, the idea of accepting the system that oppressed people or stand up and fight to change it.
Yosief Ghebrehiwet and Zekre Lebona don’t seem, to grasp the meaning of “People’s Power”.  People’s power is not about the strength of the despotic governments. Obviously Governments in terms of resources are powerful. They control the state machinery, the army, the media etc. It is about the commitment of the people to bring change and persist in the demand for change, which in this case is mass uprising. The secret is the realization of the power people have and use it.  The question is do the people know the power they have. Are they conscious of it?

Yosief and company have the belief that the PFDJ would not allow any space for people to come out in protest. In summary, the PFDJ is too powerful and the people are too weak to bring change. Therefore, the revolution in Tunisia can not be replicated in Eritrea.

Yosief’s  and co. are sending a wrong message that people are helpless,  it is impossible to defeat the PFDJ unless outside forces come to the rescue and they opt for Ethiopian direct intervention. To justify that Yosief and Zekere Lebona are in the business of demonizing the armed struggle (the Ghedli) and strip it of its populist character. Yosief is blaming the people of Eritrea for bringing this tragedy to themselves by romantizing the Eritrean armed struggle – the “Ghedli”. On his part in his well written article titled , “Mass Uprising Deficit in Post-Liberation Societies; the case of Eritrea” at Asmarino.com Zekre Lebona has this to say “…Sadly, even nationalist intellectuals such as Petros Tesfagiorgis who like many of his sort adored the might of the proletariat forgot to mention about its current whereabouts in Eritrea. They fail to remember about it because the working class in our land is dead”.   The difference between now and the 60th, 70th are more profound.  Not only in Eritrea, has the working class influence been nil every where. Today the extraordinary prominence of the trade unions (the proletariat) in the cultural and political life of 1970th and 1980th seems to have evaporated. The present struggle is not about class struggle, it is for respect of human right, the rule of law and democracy for all irrespective of race, religion or class. Zekre is talking out of historical contexts.

What Yosief and Lebona did not realize is that they are continuously failing to contribute to the present struggle for democracy; their focus has become the past. They could have made a lot of difference to the struggle had they focused on the present challenge.  It is the present which will shape the future of Eritrea and not the past.  The other misunderstanding is that, even if one begs the Ethiopian Government to intervene it would not do so. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has expressed in no uncertain terms that it is the responsibility of the Eritrean people not that of Ethiopia to bring change in Eritrea. I will expand more on this on my next article based on the interview of Amanuel Iyasu with PM Meles Zenawi and referring to some track records of Ethiopia various policies on economic, social and foreign relations.  

It is true that the condition in Eritrea is different from other countries, in this Yosief is right.

It is wrong to say that the revolution cannot take place in Eritrea. However, one can say that there are conditions specific to a single country that makes the road to change different. This issue was addressed adequately in Assenna.com radio interview with Dr. Asefaw Tekeste.

For example, in Eritrea there is a unique situation that may make any uprising different from the other uprisings. The most oppressed members of the Eritreans society are the youth who are forced to serve as soldiers for an indefinite period of time. Feeling the repression themselves, they may take up the lead for change? The question is what is the level of their awareness? The fact is that no one can know when and how people rise up. Who has predicted whether there will be an uprising in Tunisia or not before hand? It just happened. People can only talk in terms of scenarios but cannot be specific.

All this brings us to the question of what is the role of people in the Diaspora and what are the boundaries of their activities.

To bring the change of regime in a non-violent way is the work of the people inside Eritrea. The initiative will be theirs. No body, particularly those who are living abroad, can know when and how the people will rise up.

So, it is better to define what the Diaspora can do: And what are the boundaries?

In order to address the challenges directly it needs a comprehensive path and vision. The Eritreans in the Diaspora found themselves in an age of a new world view of exceptional political fluidity.

Nevertheless, it is important to highlight some fundamental roles that provide substantial contribution to the struggle for democratic change in Eritrea.

  1. To be active in the work of empowering the people. In this case empowering means to raise the level of consciousness of Eritreans in the Diaspora in an organized way through lobbies and the media and in Eritrea by means of radio and internet.  The slogan of Asmarino.com which goes “The revolution of the human spirit” and that of Awate.com; which goes, “Inform, Inspire, embolden and reconcile” is meant to raise the level of consciousness of people.
  2. The Eritrean Diaspora political landscape suffers from unprecedented conspiracy of silence. What can the Civil Society do to   change this?
  3. To be the voice of the people by exposing the violation of human rights against the people of Eritrea. This can be done by lobbying politicians and peace and justice loving people. And can be done by staging continuous well organised demonstrations. To help the refugees stranded in many countries. In Egypt, Libya, Ethiopia, the Sudan and elsewhere. On these issue a good work is being done by Eritrean and international Human Rights organisations, Civil Societies and individuals

But to achieve all that, are we in the Diaspora putting our acts together?   I don’t think so. What are the obstacles? And what can we do about them? The civil societies are too competitive and less cooperative with each other. Civil societies are not clear in relating to the political movements. They have to learn from EPLF mass associations which ended up being controlled by the Government and failed to serve the interest of their constituencies. Civil societies can not criticize the wrongs of governments and armed or unarmed political movements unless they are independent of them. Thus they can not claim to represent the interest of the people. And they may not take initiatives free of them.
We have seen hostilities against good initiatives such as the Brussels Conference and the Peace movements.

There is also hostility between those who advocate violence and those who advocate non- violent way of change. There is nothing wrong in pursuing violent way of change. They too represent the aspiration of the people of Eritrea to get free from the PFDJ repression. As long as both forms of struggle have the same objectives it is up to the supporters to join one or the other. The supporters have their own criteria whether to support or not to.

In history, we have seen that non-violence and the use of force go parallel with each other. However, at times they are in competition with each other in winning supporters and at times their work becomes complimentary.  

We have good example in the Civil Rights movement in the United States of America.  Malcolm X advocated violence while Dr. Martin Luther King chose the non-violent way. In spite of that both are highly respected historical figures.

So   what do we do about all these obstacles? I Quote Saleh AA Younis at Awate.com Dec. 21, 2010: “At the conclusion, we will ask the same question V.I Lenin asked almost 100 years ago. “What is to be done?
I join Saleh Younis what is to be done to remove the obstacles and move forward.