The Demise of the Last Pharoah

Congratulations to the Egyptians for gaining their deserved freedom from the tyrant, Hosni Mubarak “the last Pharaoh” and finally liberating the state from the authoritarian regime. What a spectacular way for them to end this authoritarian regime. This demonstrates the great power that existed within the Egyptian society in taking things into their own hands. Who would have thought that tools like Facebook, Twitter, and the Internet in general could be such a catalyst in mobilizing the Egyptian people for bringing an end to tyranny in their land, from the heart of Liberation Square (Tahrir Square).

There are numerous lessons that humanity can learn from these peaceful protests in Egypt, which brought an end to the three decades of authoritarian rule. Three points come to mind about this historic January 25 revolution in the land of pyramids. The first lesson is that there is nothing that ordinary people cannot do when they come together to bring about real change even if this means facing the tanks and the brutality of the state police.

The second lesson is that the actions of authoritarian regimes against their own people are unacceptable, the world over, and no matter how long these systems exist they will end. The Egyptian regime, in attempting to stay in power as long as it could, utilized all the state mechanisms to suppress its people, jailing all dissidents and increasing the police in the streets to keep things under control. Since these actions were not built on the will of the people (the governed), they failed miserably. The most important thing in the twenty first century is accountability to your own people as a state, and since the Egyptian government has never been in touch with the poor people and never answered their demands, the result was that the very people it tried to suppress brought it down. Therefore, it meant injustice might last for a while, but not forever. The events in Egypt have shown the world that nothing is impossible if people try hard enough to gain their freedom and civil rights. No matter how long they stay in power, their citizens would always find ways of expressing their opinions.

This leads me to my third point, which is the issue of legitimacy, accountability, and the social contract between the people and the state or in other words the relationship between a government and the governed. According to John Locke, the great social scientist, people in a social contract give up their rights to the state willingly on the condition that the state protects their lives, assets, and organizes their day-to-day affairs. What has become clear from watching the protests in Egypt over the past three weeks is that this contract between the government and the people has not been respected by the authoritarian regime, which over the course of thirty years of existence committed many human rights violations, and crimes against its own people. Once this trust between the government and the governed elapsed, it became impossible for the Egyptians to live under this regime and hence they took to the streets to demand their rights.

A clear message has been sent to authoritarian rulers the world over that they can no longer do business as usual with their citizens. Long live the power of the people.
Hashim Hassan is a former Colin Powell Fellow (’10) and a graduate of the City College of New York.

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Colin Powell Fellows host “Civic Engagement in the Era of New Media” Symposium

The Colin Powell Fellows in Leadership and Public Service are proud to announce our upcoming symposium, “Civic Engagement in the Era of New Media,” that we have been planning since November 2010 with Farai Chideya, New York Life Leader-in-Residence at the Colin Powell Center. Civic engagement in the era of new media is a relatively unexplored topic with a variety of potential consequences, both positive and negative, for the social fabric of communities and the policies that affect them. This symposium will address the simultaneous potential for greater collective action, community building and organization as well as the diffusion of power and sources of information that come with the rise of new media.  We hope this symposium will facilitate direct dialogue among civil society, academia, policy makers and media representatives to construct a vision for a new civically engaged generation. Please check this website regularly for new posts regarding new media and civic engagement.  Looking forward to seeing you there!    – Colin Powell Fellows

Beyond Cairo: Prospects for Revolution South of the Sahara

 

Protesters in the Ivory Coast – REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

I am sure most of you are following events in Egypt with particular interest, especially those of us that are interested in Middle Eastern history and politics. We saw the downfall of Tunisia’s long time dictator, Zine Abidine Ben Ali after almost three decades in power. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak was ousted amidst waves of protests that captivated audiences across the world. As these events continue to reverberate in the media, I cannot help but think about the possibilities of something similar happening in many countries in sub Saharan Africa. I came across a few articles alluding to this, and I thought I should share some of them with you all.

But before going further, the most important question to ask is whether it is feasible, even remotely that an Egypt/Tunisia styled revolution can occur in Africa, south of the Sahara. The answer to this I do not know, but thinking about it raised more questions in my mind, especially as the political situation in the Ivory Coast continues to deteriorate. Protests to get rid of their dictator who refuses to leave power even after losing an internationally certified election have all but grounded to a halt. Yes, I know the circumstances that led to these protests are different, but their respective populations suffer similar prospects, i.e. massive unemployment, economic stagnation, high food prices, and long time dictators refusing to leave power.

Here are some questions for you all to think about: What is the difference between the “revolutions” in North Africa, and the political crisis in the Ivory Coast (Some might argue that the situation in the Ivory Coast is not a revolution)? Why has the Ivorian “revolution” fizzled, resulting in the current stalemate? Does the ruthlessness of the dictator in power matter (i.e. Zimbabwe, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Angola etc)? How about the political awareness of the people? Are Africans making things worse by appeasing dictators with power sharing deals that never seem to resolve the structural and economic problems some of these countries face (i.e. Zimbabwe, Kenya)?

What is interesting though is that I am not the only one who feels this way. John Campbell, a Senior Fellow for Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations tries to answer some of these questions, and suggests why revolutions in Sub-Saharan Africa might not work. According to Campbell:

Sub-Saharan African leaders, particularly those with less than stellar records of accountable governance, are certainly wary of the upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt. Some governments are all too willing to fire into crowds, and a weak national identity means people are not ready to die for their country. In other places, government is so weak, ineffective, or irrelevant to most people that they prefer to rely on their social networks as the state withers away…….

In an editorial from the popular Nigerian daily, NEXT, the editor went on……….

 The Ivorian military stands ready to kill its own citizens; the Tunisian army refused to shoot its own people. Many African leaders seem to have discovered this path to political eternity, by remaining in power only by stamping the lives of their subjects with poverty and misery.

However, is this always the case? In Guinea for example, the military gave up a bid to impose itself on the people after relentless pro democratic protests drove them to organize elections (though hundreds of civilians were massacred in the process). For those of you who are interested in sub Saharan African politics, I would really like to know what you think.

Mohamed Jallow is a former Colin Powell fellow. He graduated with a BA in International Studies in 2008, and currently pursuing and MPA at City College. He is a program associate at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Social media and the Egyptian revolt

I’ve been paralyzed for the past few days following the historic events unfolding in Egypt.  I studied in Egypt in 2009, and I spent a year researching the April 6th Youth Movement (A6YM), an Egyptian political opposition group that played a significant role in organizing the initial protests that have since morphed into a national uprising.  There are a few things that my research on social media in Egyptian opposition movements can add to the understanding of what’s happening in Egypt.

Obvious as it may seem, this didn’t “just happen.”

Clearly, the unrest in Egypt was sparked by the apparent successful uprising in Tunisia.  And it is generally understood that economic, political, and social conditions in Egypt have deteriorated over the past thirty years.  Still, one cannot simply draw a straight line from the events in Tunisia to what is happening in Egypt.  An underlying fabric of opposition has existed for years in Egypt, growing larger and more efficient with the aid of social media tools, and it is this existing opposition which made possible the protests that snowballed into open revolt.

Continue reading “Social media and the Egyptian revolt”

Powell Center Launches Blog

General Colin L. Powell and Powell FellowsWelcome to the Powell Network Blog!  The Powell Network is made up of current and former Colin Powell Fellows at The City College of New York.  The Powell Network Blog is a space for Powell Network members to engage in public debate about issues involving community and economic development, education, international development and global security, health, and the environment.    Powell Network members come from a range of disciplines at CCNY, and bring a wide variety of perspectives to the most pressing public issues of the day.  Check back regularly for new posts; we encourage comments, feedback and rigorous debate.