The Arab spring seems to have run into a squall. But there's no reason to be disheartened.
Admittedly, things don't look all that great. In Bahrain, the demonstrators have been overwhelmed by a Saudi-led invasion force. In Libya, the protests morphed into an armed rebellion, which was failing, and as a result the United States and NATO intervened. In Syria and Yemen, severe repression is keeping the ruling regimes in place -- at least for now. And even in Egypt -- the one of two countries that can boast a successful regime change -- the results are muddled, at best.
"This victory has not achieved its goals," Cairo University Professor Hassan Naffam told the New York Times. "There is some depression, and in these gray stages there is no clear idea about what should be done. There is division, there are expectations, there is waiting."
But there's no sense in giving up so fast. After all, it's been only a couple of months since the uprisings started.
It is good to be reminded, for instance, that it was thirty-two long years after Gandhi returned to India from South Africa that India attained independence. On the way, there were many setbacks, most significantly in 1922 at the town of Chauri Chaura, where an Indian mob set a police station on fire, killing twenty-three policemen and compelling Gandhi to temporarily call off the nonviolent struggle.
It took Martin Luther King almost a decade to get segregation consigned to history's dustbin. Along the route were many disappointments, such as in Chicago in 1966, where a King-led campaign to desegregate housing yielded poor results. But "even when times were bad -- and it was hard to remember when events had been more frustrating and debilitating than over the past three months -- that [inner] voice sustained" King, writes David Garrow in "Bearing the Cross."
Closer to our time, the Solidarity movement in Poland seemed pretty much dead for a long spell in the 1980s. But it bravely withstood repression to emerge triumphant in democratic elections the end of the decade.
Now, this is not to say that things will necessarily be rosy in the months and years to come. The Libyan revolt has taken an inexorable turn toward violence, and there is no going back. But the country is still an outlier -- very much an exception to the nonviolent uprisings all over the region in the same way that the violent insurrection in Ceausescu's Romania was to the nonviolent changes in Eastern Europe. So far, in all of the other Middle Eastern and North African countries -- ranging from Morocco on the western end all the way to Iran on the Pakistan border -- protesters have generally been nonviolent, in spite of all the violence that's been directed at them.
Nonviolence is not a panacea. Nor can it guarantee instant results. But it works twice as well as violent resistance, as a comprehensive study demonstrates. And it is the moral thing to do.
Nonviolent protesters in the Middle East need to persevere. Nonviolence is the means. And nonviolence is the end -- along with liberation.
If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of The Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "Cricket Match Gives Boost to Better Relations."
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