[Letters] Jasmine and velvet revolution

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[Letters] Jasmine and velvet revolution

The recent events and protests in Northern Africa and the Middle East are shaking the political landscape, where no such fast and radical changes were deemed possible. Many commentators and experts have been surprised by the rapid course of events.

Indeed, it is premature to foresee if regime change in Tunisia, and similar attempts in Libya and other neighbouring countries, will lead to profound reform of those countries or if they will restore “business as usual” under a new and different blanket. There is not yet a clear vision and the transition could take a long time.

It can also be said that those crises are similar to the 1968 student revolutions, which spread throughout the U.S. and Europe forty years ago. The young represent a large majority of the populations in Northern Africa and Arab countries. There are huge and latent generational gaps that have contributed to the explosion of the demonstrations.

To explain the concept of sensitive dependence on initial conditions, chaos theorists say, with a nice metaphor, that the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can set off a tornado in Texas. What ignited those revolts in North Africa?

In Tunisia, according to records of the events, Muhammad Bouazizi, a Tunisian fruit and vegetable seller, self-immolated himself to protest against bullying police officers, who confiscated his unlicensed street cart.

At only twenty six years old, the wage earner of his family of eight, he could have never imagined that his act of last despair would inspire such consequences in his country and neighbouring ones.

The act by Muhammad Bouazizi reminded me of the self-immolation of Jan Palach, who set himself on fire in Prague in 1969. In Wikipedia, under the reference of Jan Palach, it is explained that his act was motivated “not so much in opposition to the Soviet occupation, but the demoralization which was setting in, that people were not only giving up, but giving in.”

And he wanted to stop that demoralization: “I think the people in the street, the multitude of people in the street, silent, with sad eyes, serious faces, which when you looked at those people you understood that everyone understands, all the decent people who were on the verge of making compromises.”

I cannot be sure, but I would like to think that the sacrifices of those two young lives in different countries and times have the same meaning. I am convinced that young people in Arab countries would like to express their ideas and for others to listen.


Pio Song, an alumnus of Bocconi University in Korea.
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