Egypt and Tunisia: lessons the west can (re)learn.

I have a lot of friends who take an interest in politics, Global and local. Some are more politically active than others, but a common thread is that there is an active and conscious effort to stay informed. For every one of those people however, there are at least two who take no interest at all or who might cast the whole thing aside with “politics is boring.” I’ve always found this particularly strange. How can people willfully remain ignorant about something that has an impact on almost everything they do?

Consider how much interest people take in gossip, TV shows, purchasing a TV or car, sport, the weather etc etc. These things of course do impact on your life, but politics is different. Politics decides what TV shows you can watch and where the TV’s you buy come from, these effect your choices. Politics decides how much it costs you to put your car on the road, what fuel efficiency that car is required to have and what emissions it puts out are acceptable  – which of course effect how much you pay for it. Politics decides who owns the TV networks on which you watch your sport, it decides what funding certain sports can get and it decides what kind of stadium you watch your sport in. Does politics effect the weather? Climate scientists would argue that it most definitely does.  Politics also decides how emergency services respond to disasters and what to do with the money needed to clean up the mess left behind after the weather lays waste to everything you own.

So I’m often left wondering why so many people take little or no interest in being informed on something that has such an impact on their lives. I wonder at times if it doesn’t come from a sentiment which I’ve heard many times “I can’t do anything about it anyway.”

Which is why the events that took place in Egypt and Tunisia recently can have a lesson for those of us in the apathetic west: you actually can do something about it.

What happened in these countries was fundamentally democracy working at its most raw. Governments fell because the people wished them to. This is something I think that we in the west need to be reminded of sometimes: Governments work for us, the power in a country does not come from its politicians, its military or businesses. Ultimately it comes from the people.

Recall the protests that occurred in Britain and Australia at the outset of the Iraq war in 2003. This war was extremely unpopular in both nations with polls showing large swathes of the general populace were against it and so the general populace marched. There were massive anti-war demonstrations in London and Sydney.  Once, twice and then… the flame sputtered out. Nothing changed, the nations went to war and people sighed, resigning themselves to the fact that they couldn’t do anything.

If you want something bad enough in politics, often you have to fight for it.  I wonder if we in the west have become so indoctrinated with the idea of instant gratification that it has transferred into the way we exercise democracy. Our governments didn’t cave on their positions after a few marches and so “nothing could be done”. One wonders what might have happened in 2003 had the people of Sydney and London stayed in the streets for weeks…

The people are the ultimate authority in a nation. This is a truism in non democratic nations as well but especially true in nations where there is representative democracy, public vote and some form of rule of law. Our governments are all too aware of this by the way: It’s why China doesn’t allow protests without a permit and has laws regarding how many people can gather at one time and why. It’s why Secondary boycotts are illegal in Australia; it’s why the Bush Government instigated “free speech Zones” and it’s a major reason why “free trade” advocates, conservative governments and business interests have been doing everything they can to get people out of unions.

The people organized are a threat to vested interest power – a fact that the former Tunisian and Egyptian governments now know well. These events should come as a shot in the arm for us in the west who want our democracy to be like pizza: Delivered to us in 30 minutes because we’re too apathetic to learn how to make it and then do it ourselves.

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~ by benephobia on February 14, 2011.

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