Revolution in South Asia

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Tunisia’s Regime Collapse: Conservative Reflections from Nepal

Posted by Mike E on February 1, 2011

Nepal's repulsive deposed King Gyanendra -- in days when he still had power

“Revolutions elsewhere in the world also bring back memories of our own from 2006: Call it the April Uprising, the Rhododendron Revolution, or the Janaandolan II. There is the same spontaneity of the revolution, the brutal police repression, and the public enthusiasm.”

“…it is a relief to learn from the Wikileaks cables that even the staunchly anti-Maoist American ambassador to Nepal Mr James Moriarty refused to budge from his stance of restoring the parliamentary system despite our then Foreign Minister Ramesh Nath Pandey’s veiled threat of Nepal turning into another Burma….

“No doubt, American strategic interests in Tunisia and Nepal vary greatly – while the ‘war on terror’ is its focus in Northern Africa, checking the power of China is its primary interest in Nepal.”

The following is quite a conservative commentary — marked by its hostility to the Maoist revolutionary forces in Nepal.

But it reveals (in an interesting way) how tightly our world is connected now — and how the knocking down of a dictator in Tunisia provokes thoughts about the toppling of the King in Nepal — and reveals (from the musings on possibilities) how various forces look at the still-unresolved turmoil and stalemate in Nepal.

This piece obviously doesnot reflect the views of our site, but we share it because it is of interest to our readers. It first appeared in Nepal’s newspaper My Republica.

Reflections on the Jasmine Revolution

By DAULAT JHA

Popular revolutions are hard to predict. We can never tell when a movement will reach its tipping point, whether it will then succeed or be repressed, and if it succeeds, what path it will take: Will it consolidate the gains of the revolution or slide into anarchy, will a civilian government takeover or the military intervene. And so, when a 26-year old Tunisian frustrated at not finding a job despite his college degree and, more humiliatingly, disallowed from selling his wares on the street without an official permit immolated himself, few knew that this would culminate in the Jasmine Revolution. This single act of desperation has sent a dictator who brutally held power for 23 years into the arms of like-minded rulers in Saudi Arabia. It has sent tremors of revolt throughout the nations on the southern rim of the Mediterranean Sea – from Jordan to Morocco, with Egypt, Libya and Algeria in between.

Revolutions elsewhere in the world also bring back memories of our own from 2006: Call it the April Uprising, the Rhododendron Revolution, or the Janaandolan II. There is the same spontaneity of the revolution, the brutal police repression, and the public enthusiasm. The string of concessions offered by the exiled autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali is reminiscent of King Gyanendra’s in the aftermath of the April Uprising and late Girija Prasad Koirala’s after the First Madhes Movement of 2007. Regardless of the similarities, it hurts the national ego inside me to say that I hope the Tunisians fare better than us.

Tunisia is slightly larger than Nepal in area but with a population one-third of ours. It is bordered by two giant neighbors – Libya and Algeria. Unlike us, it has access to the seas. It has strong allies in the Western world for its ban on Islamic and communist parties. As US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was admonishing Arab rulers to enact real reform in the strongest of terms, she said that the US was not taking sides in the revolution and reiterated that there was “a lot of very positive aspects of [America’s] relationship with Tunisia.”

The string of concessions offered by the exiled autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali is reminiscent of King Gyanendra’s in the aftermath of the April Uprising and late Girija Prasad Koirala’s after the First Madhes Movement of 2007. Regardless of the similarities, it hurts the national ego inside me to say that I hope the Tunisians fare better than us.

Given this context, it is a relief to learn from the Wikileaks cables that even the staunchly anti-Maoist American ambassador to Nepal Mr James Moriarty refused to budge from his stance of restoring the parliamentary system despite our then Foreign Minister Ramesh Nath Pandey’s veiled threat of Nepal turning into another Burma. (That the cables revealed the pathetic aspects of our diplomacy is an altogether another issue which I shall address in another piece.) No doubt, American strategic interests in Tunisia and Nepal vary greatly – while the ‘war on terror’ is its focus in Northern Africa, checking the power of China is its primary interest in Nepal.

The Wikileaks cables also revealed some shameful truths about the rulers of Tunisia. It detailed how the now-exiled president and his relatives plundered the national treasury, lavished themselves, and even managed to steal a multi-million dollar yacht from France without being punished. Not surprisingly, the Jasmine Revolution has also been called the first ‘new media’ revolution. We remember this being said about the Iranian ‘Green Revolution’ in 2009, when protests against the rigged elections escalated (I personally prefer the nomenclature ‘Persian Awakening’). In an enlightening piece in the New Yorker (Oct 4, 2010), Malcolm Gladwell argued “why this revolution will not be tweeted”.

Tunisia may be a different case though; with one of the highest internet penetration in North Africa and lax internet censorship, Twitter, Wikileaks and Facebook could indeed have had a strong impact on mass mobilization. We only need to remember the protests against the Labor Day protests by the Maoists in May 2010 in Nepal, where texting (and to a lesser degree, other ‘new media’) played a significant role forcing the headstrong Maoists to abandon their program.

Looking back at the April Uprising in the context of recent developments in North Africa (and the enthusiasm of my friends from that part of the world), I get a sinking feeling. I caution them like they cautioned me for my zeal for radical transformation in Nepal in those bygone days. How optimistic we were, and how naïve!

If history teaches us anything, it is that the aspirations of the people cannot be crushed for eternity. A small group of elites – aristocratic, bourgeois or those espousing radical leftist views – cannot “fool all the people all the time”. There will be revolutions; there have always been revolutions. Just in the last decade we have seen the Rose Revolution of Georgia, the Orange Revolution of Ukraine, and the Green Revolution in Iran; the monks protesting in Burma and Tibet; the Red or Yellow shirts in Thailand (depending on where your sympathies lie); demands for autonomy (Kashmir), statehood (Telangana and federalism in Nepal) and secession (Southern Sudan), and countless other insurgencies. The year 2011 has begun on a high note for aspirants of freedom and people power. Let us hope that this is the year of the people.

One Response to “Tunisia’s Regime Collapse: Conservative Reflections from Nepal”

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