The People of the Middle East Share the Desire for Freedom

Posted: 03 February 2011, in Blog

3 Feb 2011

“The people of the Middle East share the desire for freedom. We have an opportunity – and an obligation – to help them turn this desire into reality”. Condoleezza Rice

After a slap, property confiscation, a couple of beatings and utter humiliation, Mohamed Bouazizi self immolated, Tunisia erupted and the regime of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fell.

Now we watch Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and the rest of North Africa and the Middle East with trepidation – or is it with hope?  We are witnessing realpolitik and “Great Power” machinations in action but history demonstrates that people can be “catalysts” for great change and that all empires and dictatorships fall.

In our media, the principle emotion I detect is apprehension. This is observable in the powerlessness of our elites; concerns about commodity markets and economic recovery and moral panic about what democracy in these societies will mean for us – check out Fox News if you want to see this “in the raw”.

It ill behoves us to talk about values and democracy and then deny other peoples the support they need to join the community of democratic nations. For years, our foreign policies have been about “stability” and “security of supply” of oil and other commodities. I wonder how they are getting on in Riyadh just now.

What I get from this situation is that the “Arab Street” does not hate us. The “street” hates the inequality and injustice it has suffered for many years and the support from our elites for despots and their brutes. We seem to have caught a tiger by the tail and Obama’s TV appearance was a study in impotence and inconsequentiality.

So what about social entrepreneurs? We struggle sometimes to explain what we “are about”. Can I suggest that what we talk about is how we exist to address inequality and injustice? “It’s the mission stupid.”

In relation to current events, commentators will no doubt focus on the differences between us “and them”. I’d like to focus on the similarities. I once observed in a poor Egyptian village, local Coptic Christians discussing female genital mutilation (circumcision) with the Muslim Headman and, believe it or not, a Harvard educated Cairo woman who’d taken a vow of poverty to live there. Progress was being made – albeit slowly by our notion of time.

I hope that via social media and the power of the web that the story of Arab social entrepreneurs manages to be heard – maybe we should help that message get across. The hope that injustice and inequality can be addressed is a matter for all of us and it is too important to leave it to Washington, London et al.

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Note: The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Scottish Social Enterprise Coalition.