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Lessons from the Arab world

September 18, 2012

Like their Arab brethen, Malaysians too are fighting for justice.

It is true that Malaysians can learn some lessons from the Arab Spring but it all depends on how you see it and who is saying it. If it is the prime minister, he will slant his views to reflect his own outlook on the political turmoil that swept through the Arab world and changed the lives of the people there forever. His views will be deeply coloured by his precarious hold on political power in his own country. Seen from this narrow perspective, the Arab revolution is bad because it resulted in the violent overthrow of governments. This means the same upheaval can happen here if the people were to follow in the Arab footsteps. This is not good for the prime minister because he will lose his job and all the perks and pomp that go with power.

But Malaysians can think for themselves. Seen from their angle, the Arab uprising is good because after decades of repressive rule, the people rose up and broke free from the chains. They dared stare down the barrels of the guns and tanks and braved the rain of death from the air in their relentless confrontation with state power. Eventually they won and their hard-fought victory is a lesson to the world, especially those countries whose leaders have grown oppressive and abusive. The Arab world may be in chaos but it would be wrong to say that the people are full of remorse. They did what they had to do to liberate their countries from their leaders – their worst enemies.

Hold it, says the prime minister. We are Malaysians. We do not do all these violent things. We do not believe in street protests, we do not show disrespect to our leaders, we do not burn their effigies or spit on them or stomp on their portraits. We have our own formula and recipe for success. For more than 50 years this tested strategy has done the country wonders: a booming economy, racial unity, religious harmony. Do we want to risk losing all these benefits in a burst of violence? Our world is unlike the Arab world. We are unique. Do not upset the apple cart. Vote for continuity. But only silence fills the air. The people are not listening to the siren voice any more.

The Arab story is universal and its impact is felt the world over. It will be told again and again and replayed in many other countries. It holds important lessons for leaders who ascend to the throne of power or who are still warming their seat. It will serve as a cautionary tale for any leader who misuses his public office and abuses public trust. The cancer that ate into the Arab body is the same malignant cells that have spread into our body politic. Corruption. Greed. Police repression. Abuse of power. Human rights violations. Attacks on social media. Like the Arabs, Malaysians have woken up and are fighting for change.

New lease of life

Like in the Arab world, the march for change in Malaysia was met with a violent crackdown. The government acted violently because it was afraid the incipient unrest would spread and coalesce into a massive popular revolt. This is a typical reaction of unpopular governments everywhere when they feel threatened by their own citizens. The governments are the main culprits behind most violence that spirals out of control. In the Arab bloodletting, it was the governments that attacked their citizens who fought back gallantly. In the Malaysian arena, the street protesters were beaten back but the shrill demand for change has not quieted down.

Change is good because it gives the country a new lease of life. It revives hope in democracy and strengthens faith in the institutions of government. It invites new ideas on good governance and accountability. It promises to lead the people to a land of plenty, where wealth will be distributed to the many and not concentrated in the few. People have the right to seek change when they want a better life. They have the right to throw an immoral government out into the political wilderness and usher in clean leaders.

The Arab Spring is one road to freedom. It is a useful lesson to all long-serving, corrupt governments: “No state can repress all of the people all of the time.” Like our Arab brethen, the spirit that moved them to fight for justice is the same spirit that drove thousands of Malaysian protesters onto the streets for a similar cause. We, too, we can fight for a New Dawn.

Also read:

Najib: Change isn’t always good


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