A reflection on Waheed Hamed’s lecture on the revolutions in the Arab world
In the midst of the Beirut Spring Festival, the Egyptian screenwriter Waheed Hamed gave his lecture on the Arab Spring. He harshly criticized the century old repression of the freedom of expression in the Arab world, which has spread and supported a culture of ignorance. Indeed, the right of free expression is the fundament of every free and prosperous society, and thus it is a sign of unspeakable courage to fight for it, rather than give in to the death of the word. Only the most evil of human oppresses, and the rule of the tyrants in the Arab world is lastly eroding with their very own people tearing at their walls.
History has proven that the oppression of the word is nothing novel. Arab poets were killed by the Khalifas for their differing opinions, and Socrates was sentenced to death for his teachings. While the defenders of the free word have always been subject to repression, the means to silence have evolved in a gruesome manner. The gun has replaced the sword and the bomb has replaced the gun. Livelihoods have been destroyed, reputations shattered and the foundation of humanity crushed.
The Arab Spring has ushered in a new era for the defenders of freedom. But Waheed Hamed questions the very terminology of the Arab Spring. Are we really facing a Spring, or rather an Arab Winter of tyrants; a winter which is followed by an uncertain Spring where new rules apply? The future of the revolutions remains uncertain, and oppression comes in different shapes, colors and forms. Waheed Hamed juggles with the question of the revolution in his own country, Egypt: After the Arab Spring, is there an Islamic Awakening? The pretext of ruling under a god given sentence and manipulating religion are the basis of his skepticism. “Rebellion to tyranny is obedience to God.” Thomas Jefferson’s statement resonates in the words of Waheed Hamed.
Those rulers in the Arab world, who are now facing the wrath of their own nations, began their terms in a pattern that seldom differs from other rulers around the world. By spreading resounding promises, which have the sole purpose of gaining the support of the grand mass. Rulers apply their first lesson of survival; gain the support of the majority and prepare the nation, with all its facets, towards subjugation. This transformation of one’s own wrongdoing is the cornerstone of every dictatorship.
“The pen is mightier than the sword.” The age old adage highlights how development is every tyrant’s fiercest enemy. Rulers have a keen interest in nourishing poverty, depriving education and undermining culture. By doing so, they prevent the consciousness of one’s rights and obligations. Nurturing the mind would be the tyrants death sentence, thus he chooses to starve it.
This renaissance of the Arab world, carried by a new youth, was either ignored or acknowledged too late. Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s compromise came too late; decades too late. Waheed Hamed asks himself why people chose to remain in silence for decades? It took the loss of a young men’s life in Tunisia to ignite the sparkle of the Arab Spring, turning into a full fledge blaze which has not yet relinquished its might. But the desperation, the rage Mohamed Bouzizi felt, has been raging in people’s hearts for years.Waheed Hameed translates this silence into a shortcoming, a weakness of the people, allowing them to be ruled over for decades. However, at the very individual level, one is trapped in their own home. The choice between the fate of one’s own family and rebellion is often a matter of mere survival. And thus the person is left to bathe in rage behind closed doors.
Waheed Hamed has no doubt in the abilities of the Arab people, in their capacity to mount a full-fledged revolution and fight for their freedom. But there lies the paradox. While recognizing a new generation with a clear vision of the future and reality, a generation that will not allow any tyrant to marry his power, a new oppression is on the verge. He professes that the revolutions of the Arab Spring are being hijacked by a plethora of different political currents. The uncertainty of their rule is given, and tyranny is not excluded.
In Waheed Hamed's words: If the people want freedom, they will have freedom. Small steps of courage and belief shape history. Is it entirely fair to attribute the decades of silence to a lack of will? There is a danger of simplicity in that, and far too often it has been a matter of blunt survival, a matter of a small step of courage that allowed for a humble recuperation of dignity. Those small steps, that may not always be visible to the eye, are those that have lead to this very culmination of freedom.
The late American author Ray Bradbury said: “There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.” The Arab Spring has shown that people will continue to fight for their freedom, no matter what means are applied to silence them. No matter if they do so through a whisper, or through a roaring scream. Books may be burned, people may be silenced and violence will rage against the pioneers of the free mind, but in the long run, ideas cannot burn, they cannot be sent to prison, they cannot be tortured, and the cannot be killed. The censor will, in the long run, always lose.